karmapa in the usa
// ARYA KSHEMA TEACHINGS BY KARMAPA //

THE LIFE OF THE EIGHTH KARMAPA

Over the course of four weeks, the Gyalwang Karmapa taught on the life and lessons of the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje. This special event was live streamed daily as part of the Arya Kshema winter gathering of Kagyu nuns. The transcriptions, summary, and YouTube recordings are listed below. You can jump to any day.

Day One: The Black Hat Lama

February 15, 2021

In December 2020, the Winter teaching on The Four Dharmas of Gampopa was the focus for the Kagyu Winter Dharma Debate, held annually for the monks’ shedras. This teaching is the Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Gathering directed at the nuns’ shedras, though monks’ shedras, dharma centres and a worldwide audience of laypeople are also watching.

Seven nunnery shedras are participating: Tilokpur and Palpung Yeshe Rabgyeling in India, Ralang Kyegue Dhagmo Chosling in Sikkim, Karma Samten Ling, Thrangu Tara Abbey and Karma Thekchen Leksheling in Nepal, and Karma Drubdey Palmo Choskyi Dingkhang in Bhutan. Before the webcast commenced, the nunneries made mandala offerings to the 17th Karmapa.  Nuns from Karma Drubdey nunnery provided the backing as His Holiness sang The Praise “He searched thoroughly”  and recited the opening prayers.

Introducing the topic for the month’s teaching, the Gyalwang Karmapa commented on how many scholars within the Kagyu tradition felt a particular affinity for Karmapa Mikyö Dorje:

It is not just that he wrote commentaries on the Middle Way, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, and Abhidharma. It is also because he used the power of his own diligence at learning and the power of his intelligence to write many complete and unerring explanations of the intent of the sutras and tantras; the assertions of the great texts; the view, meditation and conduct of the Kagyu masters of the past, and so forth.

At one point during the teaching, His Holiness quipped, ‘Today I’m just telling stories all day long!” But, as he had explained earlier, this teaching was not intended to be a history lesson. The Gyalwang Karmapa’s aim was twofold. His first intention was to help us understand the origins of the lineage and appreciate its greatness:

If we think we should uphold, preserve, and spread well the teachings of the Practice Lineage, we need to know what its origins are, how the forefathers initially established the teachings, how later masters upheld them, and in the end, how much hardship and effort they went through in order to spread them… The more we research and study this, the more we can understand what the majesty, the essence, and the true value of this lineage are.

Secondly, we are dharma practitioners and any study needs to be internalised. The real instructions of the great masters of the past were not written down but are evident in the way they lived their lives, their thoughts and activities; the test of authenticity is whether the guru’s thoughts and activities accord with the dharma. These two autobiographies demonstrate how “an ordinary person, an ordinary monk worked hard to make his life be in harmony with the dharma…they are direct instructions from his experience during his lifetime.. profound instructions on real practice”.

Citing a wide range of sources as evidence —Tibetan histories, sacred biographies, Chinese texts, and documents discovered at Dunhuang —His Holiness explored the origins and meaning of the name “Karmapa”, the origins of the Black Crown, and the relationship between the first three lineage holders, Dusum Khyenpa, Karma Pakshi and Rangjung Dorje. He concluded from his research thatDusum Khyenpa was the first bearer of the Black Crown, that Karma Pakshi was the first to be known as Karmapa, and that Rangjung Dorje, the Third Karmapa, was the first to be recognised as a tulku. This is further substantiated by Karmapa Mikyö Dorje who wrote, “the omniscient Rangjung Dorje, was the second to bear the name Karmapa and the third bearer of the Black Crown”.

The Karmapas have become known as the Black Hat Lamas. The Karmapa asserted that the Black Crown tradition definitely originated with Dusum Khyenpa and the first black crown was either made by him or by others under his direction. It was not offered to him by a king, high lama or any other person. Dusum Khyenpa was the first to wear the Black Crown, and his students visualised him wearing a black crown. Karma Pakshi supports this:

Because he [Dusum Khyenpa] was the same in essence as Saraha, as a symbol of the unchanging dharma nature, he wore a crown of black silk with a gold blaze such as had never appeared anywhere before on earth, representing the unrepresentable through co-emergent wisdom mahamudra and through various symbols…

These early crowns were unelaborate and stitched from ordinary material. An example still exists— Karma Pakshi’s crown at Karma Gön.  Further, His Holiness pointed out that the Karmapa’s crown is not black but a very dark blue. There are several explanations for this, one being a connection with Buddha Akshobhya in the Vajra Buddha family in tantric practice. His Holiness quoted another explanation of its symbolism as described by Rangjung Dorje:

Namo guru! I prostrate to the lord gurus.
Dakinis, grant your blessings.
I shall explain in part the qualities
Of this black crown with garuda wings and gold blaze.

The base being slightly dark
Is a symbol of the unchanging dharmakaya.
The sides being square is a symbol
Of the four immeasurables.

Having two garuda wings
Is a symbol of the inseparability of means and prajna.
Having three points is a symbol
Of the three kayas being complete in him.

Having four colours is a symbol
Of accomplishing the four activities.
Being adorned with five silks
Is a symbol of the five families dwelling above the head.

Having the parasol, sun, and moon
Is a sign that the guru is a wish-fulfilling jewel
And always accompanies, never apart.
Having a blaze on the forehead
Is a symbol of knowing the one dharma that liberates all
And understanding everything known to be one.

This crown that has these symbols
Is the rainbow of the great Brahmin.
It was bestowed by the dakinis.
It is the crown of Dusum Khyenpa.
May those with faith and devotion for this crown
Meet glorious Dusum Khyenpa.

The Black Crown itself has changed many times during its history. In the Chinese court, hats indicated status, and the histories and biographies clearly state that the Mongol and Chinese emperors gave crowns to the Karmapas. Karma Thinley mentions two such crowns in the Great Encampment: “one made of Mongolian fabric that the Mongol emperor Timur Khan offered to Rolpay Dorje [Fourth Karmapa], and one called Dzamling Yeshak studded by many jewels given by the Chinese emperor Qing Ha to Lord Tongwa Donden [Sixth Karmapa]”.

Indeed, the Karmapas accumulated a great treasury of gifts and offerings they had received, but many of these treasures were lost at the time of the Tenth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, during the war with Gushri Khan. Even more were lost during the cultural revolution. All that remains is locked away in the treasury at Rumtek Monastery.

In addition to wearing the Black Crown, the Karmapas also perform the Black Crown ceremony, but, as His Holiness acknowledged, its origins are less clear. The histories suggest that it began during the time of the Seventh and Eighth Karmapas, but it is possible that it began earlier. In his biography of Sonam Gyatso [Third Dalai Lama (1543 CE – 1588 CE)], the Great Fifth Dalai Lama recounts how the Karmapa performed a Black Crown ceremony specially for Sonam Gyatso, which had a great effect on the latter.

The format of the ceremony has changed several times. Even during the lifetime of the Sixteenth Karmapa, many small changes were introduced. The main point, however, is that the ceremony was a thongdrol or “liberation on seeing” and its aim was to encourage virtue. Participants were urged to recite ten million mani mantras, to perform life releases, and to keep pure conduct.

Another tradition associated with the Black Crown ceremony, and widespread across Tibetan culture, is reciting the six-syllable mantra [OM MANI PADME HUM], singing it to a melody, and carrying a mani prayer wheel. This tradition of mani recitation originated with Karma Pakshi, whose main yidam deity was Red Chenrezig, Gyalwa Gyatso. Karma Pakshi spread the practice across Tibet.

There seem to have been two different crowns used in the Black Crown ceremonies which can be identified— Meaningful to See and Dzamling Yeshak. These appear to have been more elaborate and jewelled than earlier crowns, but the basic features remained the same. No one is sure which of these the 16th Karmapa wore.

The mani mantra was used by the Karmapas from the time of Karma Pakshi until at least the time of the Fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa, and then it was replaced gradually by “Karmapa Khyenno” meaning “Karmapa! Please watch over me. Please protect me.” However, as His Holiness reminded everyone, the name “Karmapa” means “the one who accomplishes the Buddha’s activities” and as such applies to any authentic guru. Whenever we recite “Karmapa Khyenno” we should visualise that we are supplicating all the lineage gurus and spiritual friends not just those in the Karmapa lineage.

Day Two: Liberation Stories – Sources of Faith and Good Deeds

February 16, 2021

Following the recitation of the opening prayers, on the second day, His Holiness emphasized two important but interrelated topics – how liberation stories reveal the path to practitioners and the crucial necessity of faith.

Regarding liberation stories, His Holiness first contextualized the background on the collected works of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje. He explained that the Fifth Shamar Könchok Yenlak compiled the complete catalogue of Mikyö Dorje’s collected works, but a few of Mikyö Dorje’s liberation stories are found elsewhere.

For instance, Sangye Paldrup’s commentary on the Good Deeds says:

…The liberation story prepared by Akhu Atra, the liberation story by the master of siddha Gampo Khenpo Shakya Senge, and the liberation story by Lama Pönyik…

Sangye Paldrup mentions several different stories of Mikyö Dorje’s liberation. Other than the one prepared by Akhu Atra, the other two liberation stories are not found in the collected works.

His Holiness explained the texts to be discussed in this teaching are: The Life of Karmapa Mikyö Dorje Called “Good Deeds” Written by Himself and the Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…”. The Good Deeds is the longest and most complete autobiography of Mikyö Dorje. The edition of the Good Deeds that he is using comes from the first volume of the Collected Works of Mikyö Dorje that has been preserved in the Drepung Nechu Lhakhang library.

His Holiness shared a story about his delight in first encountering the Collected Works of Mikyö Dorje. When he was in Tibet, there were more than one-hundred old Kagyu manuscripts and  texts in the libraries of the Potala, Norbulingka, and Drepung Nechu Lhakhang.The old texts were from the Tse Lhagang Monastery in Kongpo in the same location as the treasury of the Karmapas. According to the Great Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography, the texts were brought to Ü when this monastery was destroyed.

Many of these cloth-wrapped texts were still sealed with red stamps and had not been opened and read in 300 years, but Tsurphu Khenpo Loyak carried all these old manuscripts back to Tsurphu Monastery. His Holiness shared his fond memory of the experience,

“I still remember that day very well. I brought a stick of incense down to welcome the texts. It was the first time in my life that I was an incense bearer. We arranged silks on top of a table and placed the books there. At that time, I was next to Lagen Drupnam and he opened up a volume of Mikyö Dorje’s collected works. Mikyö Dorje’s collected works were held together with wooden boards and leather straps. When the leather straps were undone, they fell apart into many pieces because they were so old. When we touched the cloth covering the text, dust clouds billowed up. Looking at it from the outside, you would have thought the text inside had decomposed. Instead, the pages shone. Most of the text was handwritten and we were so delighted to see it; we all gasped ‘Ah!”

His Holiness animatedly expressed his pure joy when he encountered the collected works of Mikyö Dorje or any of the Karmapas. While at Tsurphu his quarters were right across from the library, so he would always get texts and read them including the collected works of the Thirteenth Karmapa and Fifteenth Karmapa. One story he particularly enjoyed was in the Thirteenth Karmapa’s collected works. In the story called “Dharma Taught to the Little Mouse Drupgyu Tenzin,” a mouse teaches meditation to a vole. The vole was unable to sit cross-legged so they made a meditation belt out of grass so that he could.

Gyalwang Karmapa went on to explain the meaning of the title “Karmapa”, the one who performs activities. He commented that in the word “Karmapa”, karma is from Sanskrit, not Tibetan. When we translate it from Sanskrit into the Tibetan term, las, it means action. Then it includes the nominalizer, pa, signifying the person who performs the action. Many Tibetans do not know that the term ‘karma’ comes from the Sanskrit. So when they write it in Tibetan, they use spellings for other Tibetan terms that sound similar such as ‘star’ (skar ma) or ‘white’ (dkar po) instead of the spelling as transliterated from Sanskrit (karma pa).

Next, His Holiness shared the meaning behind liberation stories. When the Sanskrit term vimoksha is translated into Tibetan, namthar (rnam thar), it means liberation story. Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye’s autobiography describes liberation stories classified according to the three types of beings – the greater, middling, and lesser type of individual. For the lesser type of individuals, they achieve liberation from rebirth in the three lower realms due to having pure faith and believing in karma, cause, and effect. Middling individuals achieve liberation from the ocean of samsara through the true wish for emancipation. Greater individuals achieve liberation from both extremes of existence and peace through the altruistic intention to benefit all sentient beings. These liberation stories tell how masters have been liberated from suffering and its causes and then freed other beings from their bonds.

In Acharya Aryaśūrapada’s Jataka Tales, it says:

These fine tales of those with marks of fame,
Teach the path of becoming a sugata.
Those who lack faith will gain faith.
They will be delighted with dharma tales.

The liberation stories of great beings show us what is the path and what is not the path. Also, those who lack faith will develop faith. In this way, liberation stories are directly related to faith.

His Holiness illustrated the importance of faith through the example of the Buddha’s decision to turn the wheel of Dharma. After the Buddha was enlightened, he did not immediately teach the Dharma. During that time, Brahma came down to the human realm and asked the Buddha to turn the wheel of Dharma. The first time he made this request, the Buddha replied that the Dharma was so profound that ordinary people would be unable to understand it. When Brahma asked him a second time, the Buddha thought to himself, “All buddhas teach Dharma in order to tame all sentient beings and I should do the same.” So, he promised to turn the wheel of Dharma. Then, the Buddha said to Brahma, “Today, I have uncovered the flavour of amrita nectar, all those with faith will be delighted. I shall teach them the true Dharma.”

His Holiness emphasized that “the Buddha said, ‘all those with faith will be delighted’.” Gyalwang Karmapa elaborated:

The Buddha did not say all those who are generous will be delighted, nor did he say that all those who keep discipline will be delighted, nor did he say all those who practice will be delighted, nor did he say that all those who have diligence will be delighted, nor did he say that all those who meditate on prajna will be delighted. He did not say those who have great prajna will be delighted. He only said that those who have faith will be delighted. The reason for this is that the true Dharma is profound and immeasurable. It is inconceivable. So those with great worldly prajna cannot realize it. It can only be realized by the omniscient. So worldly people will not be able to immediately understand the teachings of the Buddha. Therefore, the condition for ordinary people to enter the Dharma is based upon faith.

His Holiness concluded by describing the interconnection between faith and liberation stories. The main point is that liberation stories reveal the great qualities of liberated beings. Since beginners must rely on faith and devotion, liberation stories show great beings’  qualities such as little desire or attachment to the world, intelligence as scholars, experience and realization as meditators, and how their deeds on behalf of the teachings make a lasting imprint.

Part 2 – The Homage in Good Deeds

For the second part of his teachings, His Holiness directed our attention to the text Good Deeds. Mikyö Dorje’s liberation story recounts thirty-three of his different good deeds. His Holiness rhetorically asked and replied, “What is a good deed? A good deed should be understood as a virtuous act.”

In the sutras, the Buddha taught the three types of harmful deeds and good deeds. Harmful deeds refer to the unvirtuous actions of body and so forth whereas the virtuous actions of the body and so forth are called good deeds.

The three types of good deeds are also called purifiers. For example, all the good deeds of body, purify the body, the good deeds of speech, purify speech, and the good deeds of mind, purify mind. The reason they are called purifiers is that the stains of harmful actions of body, speech, and mind are purified through good deeds.

Sangye Paldrup, a direct disciple of Mikyö Dorje, wrote a meaning commentary on Good Deeds with an outline of three main sections of the text as follows:

The Autobiographical Verses called “The Good Deeds”

  1. Homage and pledge to compose
  2. The nature of the biography
  3. Conclusion

For this teaching, His Holiness covered the first topic. Regarding the first section it is divided into two parts, paying homage to great beings and the pledge to compose, as seen in the verses:

To those with unrivaled compassion—the Three Jewels
And gurus—I pay homage with respect.
Great beings would see nothing wondrous here,
But some childish beings might enjoy these words.
A few high masters have encouraged me
By saying that it would be meaningful
If I recounted some of my good deeds.
Since I know best what I experienced, I’ll relate a few.

Among the first of these two parts is paying homage to the great beings; the text states:

To those with unrivaled compassion—the Three Jewels
And gurus—I pay homage with respect.

His Holiness explained the meaning in general terms. Mikyö Dorje is paying homage to the Three Jewels and the gurus. He is prostrating to them. What are these three jewels and who are the gurus to whom he pays homage? The Three Jewels refers to the Buddha as described in the Mahayana – a buddha with the nature of the three kayas. The Dharma means the truth of cessation, freedom from attachment, and the truth of the path which leads to freedom. The Sangha is the irreversible noble beings with the qualities of awareness and liberation. The basis for that is all them, is all glorious gurus.

Gyalwang Karmapa noted, “The homage is extremely important.” Generally in Tibet, all authors begin texts with an homage to the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and gurus. The purpose of this is to prevent any obstacles to writing or completion of the text. As His Holiness explained, Good Deeds begins with prostrations, offerings, and praise because Mikyö Dorje’s greatest aim was to protect all sentient beings from endless suffering now and in future lifetimes. Writing his autobiography depended upon  favorable conditions including the kindness and great compassion of the Three Jewels and the great lineage holders.

As emphasized in the Kadampa oral tradition, no matter what action you do,  you should prostrate and make offerings to the Three Jewels. Prostrating to the Three Jewels and the gurus removes obstacles and helps us accomplish our desired aims. In fact, there is nothing more powerful than having belief in the Three Jewels and the gurus.

His Holiness then turned to the second of these two parts – the pledge to compose. This comprises five different points:

  1. Expression of modesty
  2. How this is for the faithful and receptive
  3. The actual topic
  4. Refuting that this is inappropriate
  5. Dispelling exaggerations and denials

For the expression of modesty, we see the line:

Great beings would see nothing wondrous here,

The meaning of this line is that the great beings are already free from delusion about what should be done or rejected. Great beings would not feel amazement since they have already reached nirvana and omniscience.

The second point of these five is – How this is for the faithful and receptive. This relates to the line:

But some childish beings might enjoy these words.

Childish beings refers to the ordinary individual, in particular, those who have a longing for the Mahayana. When they see or hear the story of Mikyö Dorje’s liberation, they might feel faith, develop delight, and train and follow in his example. He is teaching this liberation story specifically for their sake.

The third point is the actual topic. The text states:

If I recounted some of my good deeds.

The meaning is that the author, Mikyö Dorje, will recount several of his good deeds.

The fourth point is refuting that this is inappropriate. The passage states:

A few high masters have encouraged me
By saying that it would be meaningful

His Holiness explained this passage. Here, Mikyö Dorje was neither influenced by the eight worldly dharmas nor is he a charlatan. In fact, the author did not feel that he had to tell this story but his students consistently encouraged him to do so.

The fifth point is dispelling exaggerations and denials. The text reads:

Since I know best what I experienced, I’ll relate a few.

If someone else had written this liberation story, a different author, they might have exaggerated Mikyö Dorje’s qualities. Since his experience of his deeds is only vivid to him, he wrote the text himself.

His Holiness ended the session by elaborating on this. When the students write their guru’s liberation stories, they make too many proclamations and only praise the guru. But when the guru composes his own story, his experience of liberation is clearly recorded, just as seen in the Good Deeds.

Day Three: First Deeds of a Nirmanakaya

February 17, 2021

His Holiness began by offering welcome to the khenpos, teachers, nuns, shedra students, and all others listening to his teaching.

Aided by appealing graphics, he then began explaining the second of the three main sections of Mikyö Dorje’s autobiographical text, Good Deeds. This section, “The Nature of the Biography,” has two parts:

A. The preliminaries: how to enter the dharma
B. The main part: how he practiced the paths of the three types of individuals

Part A has six subsections:

  1. The meaningful deed of a supreme nirmanakaya
  2. Abandoning the impediment to dharma, negative friends
  3. The favorable condition: following great spiritual friends
  4. Abandoning meaningless distractions
  5. Giving up on this life because impermanence has taken root in his being
  6. Going for refuge to the undeceiving Three Jewels

The second stanza of Good Deeds demonstrates the first point, “the meaningful deed of a supreme nirmanakaya.”

Once I had gained a human life with leisures and resources,
I dared not squander it pointlessly. With single-minded focus,
I did all I could to practice dharma just as the Buddha taught.
I subjugated forcefully any wrong thought that arose.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (1)

In this passage, Mikyö Dorje explains how he took on a human body, entered the gate of the Buddha’s teachings, made vows, and performed virtuous deeds to make his life meaningful. This is the first of the thirty-three good deeds given in the text.

His Holiness began illuminating this stanza by explaining a prophesy made by the 7th Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, based on his pure vision of gurus, yidams, dakinis, and especially Padmasambhava, who predicted that if he entered strict retreat for three years, he would live to the age of eighty-eight. Intending to follow this guidance, Chödrak Gyatso went to Kongpo and spent a few months in retreat. But the people of Kongpo had a great desire for an audience with the Karmapa, and the monks in the encampment asked him to grant this request because they were running out of food and needed offerings to support themselves. The 7thKarmapa granted their request but said, “Are you going to eat the meat without milking the cow?” He left retreat in 1506, dissolved his nirmanakaya and appeared in sambhogakaya form to a hundred thousand people who gathered to see him. He passed away the next morning with no illness, leaving a testament saying, “I have no birth but will display a birth.” Chödrak Gyatso specified where he would be born and the names of his parents. He left this on his table.

His successor, the Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, was born in Upper Dokham near the monastic seat of Karma Gön. This was the same region where the 6th Karmapa Tongwa Donden was born. There’s a debate about the identity of the 8th Karmapa’s father. According to Mikyö Dorje’s autobiographical Account of the Past Actions of Mikyö Dorje, his biological father was Ser Jadralwa Jampa Shennyen, but he was raised by Ajam. His mother was named Dongsa Lama Drön.

Mikyö Dorje’s conception and birth were miraculous. Spheres of light appeared inside his parents’ house, as if the sun was shining inside. He probably entered his mother’s womb at that time, and she had a wondrous dream about a plain filled with beautiful flowers. Inside a majestic tent were splendid offerings, texts, and statues; pieces of white conch shaped like stupas fell like rain. A turquoise-colored mist surrounded the scene. Boys and girls adorned with jewels danced and sang as they circumambulated the tent. The mother put on bone ornaments and also danced while picking up a golden vajra in her hands. Seeing another woman with a white conch, she took it and made a beautiful sound. Everyone heard the conch. There was a throne inside the tent, on which a monk sat. He said that everyone had heard the conch she blew. Ajam had a prayer wheel and began singing the mani melody while others joined in. Then the monk gave the mother a mala made of conch and told her to recite the mani mantra. She woke up to the sound of the mantra. Enveloped with feelings of pleasure, she experienced great joy. In general, parents of the Karmapas are often associated with white conch shells, His Holiness added.

From the time of conception until Mikyö Dorje was born, there were sounds of scriptural recitation around his house. Light surrounded his mother and his home. He also protected her when he was in her womb. When she went to collect wood for a fire, a voice told her there was going to be a great hail storm. She got back inside her house just before the storm began. The baby also chanted OM MANI PADME HUM within her belly. Once his father and mother got into a fight, and he hit her with a frying pan. The child within admonished him not to do that.

During this time, when his father was coming back from the fields, he saw a person with bone ornaments, who gave him a black crown made of rainbow light. Some thought he had seen a ghost, and they did repulsion rituals. Even the neighboring villagers had miraculous dreams during this time.

In 1507, his mother gave birth to Mikyö Dorje without discomfort. He immediately sat up, wiped his face and said, “I’m the Karmapa.” There was a rain of flowers, the scent of incense, and a rainbow-colored column of light that went up from the roof of his house into the sky. Significantly, the Ming Emperor Zhengde was enthroned on the same day in China. He said that he was an emanation of the Karmapa.

After he was born, Mikyö Dorje said OM MANI PADME HUM and made other holy utterances. Because of that, some people believed that he was the rebirth of Chödrak Gyatso. Many people came to see him in Ngom. At this time, Situ Tashi Paljor visited the area, learned about the baby, and consulted the 7thKarmapa’s prediction letter. Mikyö Dorje’s father confirmed the facts of the letter, except that the names of the parents were not one hundred percent the same. His birth year indicated that there would be an obstacle to his life. Situ Rinpoche gave instructions to overcome these obstacles and told the father that the child might say something significant. In fact, he did say, “E Ma Ho. Do not have any doubt in me. I am called the Karmapa.” Situ Rinpoche sent one of his patrons, Tsokye, who also examined him. Mikyö Dorje said the six-syllable mantra seven times. Another group from a local monastery visited him, and Mikyö Dorje spoke again, happy to see them. As a result, they felt a lot of faith.

The tulku had tiny teeth, the size of mustard seeds. His father touched them, and that night they disappeared. From that time onward, his tongue was somewhat inflexible, and his speech was a little bit uncomfortable.

From the time of his birth, Mikyö Dorje told stories about people he knew in previous lives and displayed other miraculous abilities. When he was only seven months old, he was invited to Riwoche Monastery, the major seat of the Taklung Kagyu lineage. The master of Riwoche was Jigten Wangchuk, and he was extremely kind to Mikyö Dorje. He gave him food and clothing and unconditional support during a succession dispute between the Eastern and Western candidates. But Jigten Wangchuk engaged in violent activities. He supported the military, and his faith in Mikyö Dorje did not get stronger. However, Mikyö Dorje had a dream about a house in which Jigten Wangchuk lived. The tulku saw Avalokiteshvara on a lotus seat inside the house. He felt faith in Jigten Wangchuk as if he were Avalokiteshvara. (The Karmapa had this dream much later when he 31.)

The early period of the 8th Karmapa’s life was somewhat unsettled. When he was nine months old, Mikyö Dorje was brought to Lhorong Dzong Monastery. Until he was six years old, he was shuttled between Dzongsar, Lhorong and Riwoche Monasteries.

The last part of His Holiness’s presentation concerned a succession dispute that complicated Mikyö Dorje’s recognition as the 8th Karmapa. He began this topic by noting:

So with the situation of the 16th Karmapa, there are two or three people recognized as the tulku. People think that this is unprecedented, and they can’t get their minds around it. This has actually happened before in history, so we should . . . understand this.

One difference between now and the time of Mikyö Dorje, however, is that the Karma Garchen [Great Encampment] still existed in Tibet, and it functioned as the main center of the Kagyu lineage. The tulku had to be recognized by the Karma Garchen before he could be enthroned as the Karmapa. Even though it was widely known throughout Kham that Mikyö Dorje was the reincarnation of the 7th Karmapa, he had to be recognized by the Karma Garchen.

The regent of the Karmapa at that time was the Second Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Tulku Tashi Namgyal. A lama named Sönam came to Gyaltsap Rinpoche and told him that the rebirth of the 7th Karmapa had occurred in Ngom. However, there was another lama from an area in Amdo called Kongpo who was a crafty fellow—a bit audacious. He had a child, and when this son was born, there were also miraculous appearances and auspicious dreams. The lama trained his son to act like a tulku. Because most of those in the Encampment were from Kongpo, and since the crafty lama bribed them with beer and other things, many were on his side. In addition, a student of Chödrak Gyatso also verified that the Kongpo candidate was the reincarnation of his teacher. Gyaltsap Rinpoche looked into the testament and was convinced that Mikyö Dorje was the Karmapa, but he was forced to examine the other candidate. When Gyaltsap Rinpoche presented the child a kata, the recipient inauspiciously gave it back three times. This was a bad sign. These days, the receiver immediately gives the kata back to the offerer; but in the old days, the offerer would give a kata and then the one being offered the kata would give a different one. To return the offered kata was a sign of disrespect, as if to say, “I don’t need this.” So Gyaltsap Rinpoche did not feel good about the Amdo candidate.

To resolve the matter, Gyaltsap Rinpoche and the head of the Encampment invited the Amdo candidate to an important monastery where all the treasuries of the first six Karmapas were kept. The Amdo tulku was asked to do a bit of a retreat there. When Gyaltsap Rinpoche examined his dreams during this time, all of the regions to the West were black and unpleasant looking, while the Eastern ones were filled with light and very beautiful. Likewise, he dreamed of a white lion in the West who could not roar, but in the East there was a grand dragon, and when it roared, the lion in the West turned into a white dog. In fact, most intelligent people believed that Mikyö Dorje was the true incarnation of the 7th Karmapa. The head discipline master recognized that the father of the Eastern candidate was very crafty. The father had even admitted, “It’s very easy to make a tulku. . .  The child just needs to know a few sentences to become a tulku.” However, the majority of people in the Encampment still favored the Western candidate.

Few people in the Encampment took any interest in the parents of the real tulku. For that reason, food and clothing became very scarce for Mikyö Dorje’s parents during his early life. They had to live as beggars. The earlier Karmapas were recognized at a very young age, and their needs were always addressed. Mikyö Dorje wasn’t recognized until he was seven. He had illnesses that nearly caused him to die, but his parents didn’t have the resources to do anything about it. It was a very difficult situation. At that time, he thought to himself:

Once you are named as a rebirth or tulku, you can’t do anything for the sake of future lives. You have to spend all your time working for this lifetime. In this lifetime, you don’t even have control over your food and clothing. . . You are caught in the great mire of suffering. . . Let me be considered an ordinary person. If I’m not given the name Karmapa, in the future, I’ll go to a monastery in Ü Tsang in Central Tibet and practice listening and contemplating and meditation in the same way as the great masters of the past did. And in that way, I’ll do whatever I can to restore the teachings that have been lost and to benefit sentient beings.

His Holiness added jovially, “And so he thought about it, and he was kind of happy. I don’t have to be the Karmapa! It’s kind of nice.”

At that point, many students of the previous Karmapa did a divination and had Mahakala Bernakchen possess the Eastern candidate. A prophesy emerged that this boy would be recognized as the Karmapa by the emperor of China and all the people throughout the world. At the same time, masters with samadhi recognized Mikyö Dorje as the reincarnation of his predecessor. Simultaneously, those who examined the Western candidate could find no reason to affirm his status as the tulku. Other affirmations of the Eastern candidate were presented, and at that point, Gyaltsap Rinpoche invited Mikyö Dorje to the encampment. Those who came to welcome him decided not to prostrate to him or ask for blessings when he entered the compound. The situation was similar to that of the Buddha’s first five disciples when they first met him after his enlightenment. They were unhappy with Shakyamuni and made a rule not to venerate him when they saw him again. But when the Buddha approached, they were so overwhelmed by his magnificence that they prostrated to him without hesitation. Likewise, when the lamas and monks actually met Mikyö Dorje, their perception changed. They prostrated and offered katas—everything that they said they weren’t going to do. He recognized almost all those who had served the previous Karmapa and called them by name. They shed tears due to the power of faith, and everywhere there was a joyous noise.

Mikyö Dorje then met Gyaltsap Rinpoche, who asked many questions designed to determine if the boy was the actual tulku. Mikyö Dorje answered with confidence, but still the monks of the Encampment were uncertain and couldn’t decide.  The tulku addressed Akhu Atra, a student of the previous Karmapa, and Jangchup Rinchen, the Secretary of the Encampment:

None of you teachers and students in the Encampment know how to make a discussion. You don’t know how to make any plans. I’ve shown so many signs that I actually remember past lives. . .  and [there are] so many omens, but none of you understand anything, no matter how many signs I show. . .  How are you actually going to recognize the Karmapa? Will anything good come of this? . . . You must decide the question with your mind.

In the end, members of the Encampment summoned both candidates—the one from the East and the one from the West—and asked them questions. They tested them with the previous Karmapa’s teacup. The Amdo tulku was seven (by Western calculations). He failed the tests and started crying. The boy’s father tried to scare the Eastern tulku. But Mikyö Dorje was not afraid; he was in fact a little bored. “There’s no point to this,” he thought.

Despite the clear outcome of these tests, the father of the Western candidate still had many under his thumb, and Gyaltsap Rinpoche couldn’t do anything about it. It was a difficult, sad situation. Those from Mikyö Dorje’s homeland were so incensed that they were about to attack the Kongpas. They wanted to kill the supporters of the Eastern tulku, so the Kongpas backed down and said to Gyaltsap Rinpoche that he could do what he wanted.

At last, Gyaltsap Rinpoche prayed to the deities to find out who was the real tulku, and he had a visionary dream. Mikyö Dorje came to him in this dream, offended. “You still have doubts about me. . . Do what you are going to do,” he said. Gyaltsap Rinpoche offered him the best cushion, but the tulku didn’t take it and left. A little later, a woman came before Gyaltsap Rinpoche with a huge white conch. She said, “I have blown this conch in every land. . .  But you still aren’t taking care of the conch. So what’s that about?” She left in the direction that the tulku had gone. Then a woman with a wrathful appearance came to him, counseled him not to listen to lies and then went away. After this visionary dream, Gyaltsap Rinpoche developed faith that Mikyö Dorje was the unmistaken successor to the 7th Karmapa.

So finally, on an auspicious day, the Eastern tulku was enthroned and, at that point, everyone felt profound faith. They could not believe they had previously doubted Mikyö Dorje was the authentic Karmapa. Where did the Western tulku go? Mikyö Dorje proclaimed that he was a tulku from Surmang; the boy entered monastic life while his father, the Amdo lama, fled. After that, things didn’t go well for him.

With this, the Karmapa concluded his brief account of the dispute between the Eastern and Western candidates. He ended the session by announcing that in the next teaching, he would speak about the birth places and birth dates of the previous seven Karmapas.

Day Four: A Historical Examination of the First Eight Karmapa Reincarnations

February 19, 2021

His Holiness opened the teachings by greeting everyone warmly. He then announced that today was Chamgön Vajradhara Tai Situpa’s birthday. He asked the audience to join him in reciting Long Life Prayers for Tai Situ Rinpoche, as written by the previous Drupön Dechen Rinpoche, and pray that Tai Situ Rinpoche accomplish his vast activity just as he wishes.

Researching the lives of the first eight Gyalwang Karmapas

His Holiness has conducted extensive research on the lives of the first eight Gyalwang Karmapa reincarnations, examining and comparing historical texts, documents, and chronologies of the Karma Kamtsang written by past Kagyu masters. In particular, the First Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s biography of the Seventh Karmapa titled The Liberation of Rangjung Kunkhyen Tsokye Dorje Mipham Chökyi Gyalpo, and a manuscript named The Dates of the Incarnations of the Karmapas were used as the bases for the first part of His Holiness’ teaching today.

From these sources, His Holiness was able to collect biographical information on the first eight Gyalwang Karmapas. This information included the names of their family clans, birthplaces (as they are known today), birthdates, parents’ names, names when young and after ordination, and the dates of their passing. His Holiness presented tables for each Karmapa summarizing the essential information he has uncovered. He then thanked the many dharma friends who assisted him by travelling to the Karmapas’ various birthplaces in China to research old place names and to take pictures of the various regions as they appear now.

The First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa: His birthplace clarified

According to the table, His Holiness had made, Dusum Khyenpa was born to Gompa Dorje and Lhatok Sagang in the year of the Male Iron Tiger (1110 CE). He was named Chökyi Drakpa after taking ordination, and he lived until the age of 84 according to the Tibetan way of calculating one’s age.

There had previously been some confusion about the First Karmapa’s birthplace, which His Holiness now clarified. The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, was born in Raktak (also Ratak, Rathak, and Ratsak) in Tre (also called Trewo, Krewo, and more recently Treho), located in the Kardze district of Kham. Later, the Ninth Karmapa and one or two Shamar Rinpoches were also born in Tre. For this reason, up until the 10th Karmapa, many Kagyu monasteries and teachings flourished in the region of Trewo. However, the Mongol invasion destroyed all but three Kamtsang monasteries and, as a result, as the years passed, fewer and fewer people took an interest in Karma Kagyu history. In addition, the stories of the Karmapas and Shamapas have been mixed up. His Holiness hoped that with today’s explanation, histories would become clearer.

These days, people often say Dusum Khyenpa was born in Bochok; some of his descendants continue to live there, there are many stories related to this, and there are many of Dusum Khyenpa’s artifacts that they can show. In 2010, for the 900th anniversary celebration of Dusum Khyenpa’s birth, his birthplace was listed as Bochok in His Holiness’ book and on the internet. However, His Holiness noted that in written texts, Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace was said to be Raktak. As it happened, one or two years ago, His Holiness received an old document called the Vajra Splinter Travelogue, written by the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s personal physician and attendant, Gelong Shangkarwa Jikme Ngakgi Gyatso. His Holiness then showed on screen excerpts from the Travelogue, paired with modern photographs of the regions described. Among the descriptions of the various regions through which these attendants passed and among the details of the journey presented in the Travelogue, His Holiness was able to confirm that Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace was Tre (called Trewo Rangtak in the Travelogue). An examination of another text, the Golden Garland of the Kamtsang, which quotes an autobiography of Karma Pakshi, also indicates that Kamkhyim in Tre was Dusum Khyenpa’s place of birth. His Holiness’ research suggests that Bochok was actually the birthplace of one of the Shamar incarnations, whereas Dusum Khyenpa was, in fact, born in Raktak in Tre.

The First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa: Establishing the Three Seats

According to His Holiness, one of Dusum Khyenpa’s most important deeds was founding several monasteries, including the three main monastic seats, and establishing the foundation for the teachings of the Karma Kamtsang. There are several ways in which the three monastic seats have been described and identified. For example, they have been called the Upper, Middle, and Lower seats (a classification scheme based on the monasteries’ geographic location) or the Places of the Three Chakras of Body, Speech, and Mind.

For today’s teachings, His Holiness used the Sixth Shamar Rinpoche Chökyi Wangchuk’s Guidebook to Kampo Nenang in which he wrote:

Gampopa had students as numerous as stars in the sky, but [Gampopa} said to Dusum Khyenpa, “I have the highest hopes in you, white-haired Khampa”, and he entrusted the teachings of the Karma Kagyu to Dusum Khyenpa. He said to Dusum Khyenpa, “Go to Kampa Gangra in Kham and do retreat there,” and predicted, “Your benefit to beings will spread throughout Kham, Ü, and Tsang.” 

For that reason, Dusum Khyenpa went to Kampo Nenang in Kham, made a retreat, and realized the Dharma Nature. He then nurtured many students and founded the first monastic seat, Kampo Nenang.

The three principal seats associated with the Karmapas were:

  • Kampo Nenang – the lower seat – the chakra of body (now a Gelug monastery)
  • Karma Gön – the middle seat – the chakra of speech
  • Okmin Tsurphu – the upper seat – the chakra of mind

The Sixth Shamar Rinpoche also wrote of Five Sacred Sites. In addition to the sites of Body, Speech, and Mind, he named Pongri in the east as the site of qualities and Dapba Pangpuk as the site of activity. Subsequent teachers, such as the 13th  Karmapa and Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, had different classification systems. For example, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye’s Nonsectarian Dharma History lists two places of qualities: Pungri in the east and Kamkhyim in Tre, near Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace; and two sites of activities: Bara and Drama Drushi.

Many famous monasteries were founded by successive Karmapas and their heart sons, but in terms of history, there were three seats and five sacred sites of body, speech, and mind. His Holiness said it is better if we consider these to be the monasteries founded by Dusum Khyenpa. He reminded listeners that Dusum Khyenpa practiced at Karma Nenang, realized the truth of the dharmata, and established a monastery at that site. The people of Karma Nenang monastery became known as the Karma Nenangpas, or the Karma Kamtsang.

The Second to Seventh Karmapas: Biographical overviews

His Holiness continued by briefly covering the biographical information he had collected about the Second to Seventh Karmapas. Generally, he stated, all incarnations of the Karmapa are the heads of the Karma Kamtsang teachings, and therefore the seats they established are the most sacred. Dusum Khyenpa’s monasteries in particular provide the foundation of Karma Kamtsang’s teachings. Many of these monasteries have now fallen into disrepair. Nevertheless, His Holiness urged listeners to respect them and recognize why those sites are important.

The Second Karmapa, the mahasiddhi Karma Pakshi (1206-1283), restored Dusum Khyenpa’s three monasteries and preserved and spread the teachings. It was during his time or later that the name “Karma Kagyu” emerged. The year of Karma Pakshi’s birth is uncertain; there are differing accounts, perhaps because there were different traditions of counting years. Consequently, between the passing of the First Karmapa and the birth of the Second, there was a gap of at least ten years but possibly more. His Holiness noted that this is the longest gap between two successive Karmapa incarnations.

His Holiness continued by presenting information on the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), who passed away in Xanadu, one of the two capitals of the Mongol Empire. The day after his passing, many people saw Rangjung Dorje’s image in the moon, leading to the tradition of painting the Third Karmapa in a full moon.

The information on the Fourth to Seventh Karmapas was similarly covered.

The Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje: Beginning The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly”

The first stanzas in the autobiographical praises the Good Deeds and He Searched Thoroughly are related. His Holiness noted that Mikyö Dorje initially offered  The Praise  “He Searched Thoroughly” to Karma Trinleypa, who felt he did not have the qualities to accept it. Therefore, he offered it back to Mikyö Dorje.

The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly” is taught in terms of nine different points. The first point explains how the Eighth Karmapa first entered the teachings and then brought others to them. The first two stanzas read:

He searched thoroughly for the unerring essence 
Of the teachings of the unrivaled Teacher,

Had the discipline that leads to the true ways,
And practiced the teachings in full—to him I pray.

Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa explained that when Mikyö Dorje entered the teachings of the Buddha, he was not satisfied with merely the names of teachers or with the saying that monasteries and representations of the body, speech, and mind were teachings. Instead, Mikyö Dorje felt compelled to understand the actual meanings of scriptures. Only at that point did he enter the teachings. Afterwards, he was able to introduce the teachings to others.

His Holiness spoke of the stages by which Mikyö Dorje entered the teachings–  through the Vinaya. Primarily vows of individual liberation, the Vinaya includes novice vows that one may take upon entering the teachings and the bhikshu vows of ordination. His Holiness’ explanation included the vows Mikyö Dorje took from the age of seven to full bhikshu ordination. Additionally, His Holiness talked of the first two Gyaltsap Rinpoches, as the Second Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Tashi Namgyal, conferred lay and novice vows upon Mikyö Dorje.

His Holiness concluded by saying that the teaching would continue on Day Five with the second topic, the difficulties the Eighth Karmapa faced, especially regarding abandoning harmful friends, and how, because Mikyö Dorje did not have much power, he came under the control of attendants and stewards.

Day Five: Mikyo Dorje’s Second Good Deed

February 20, 2021

His Holiness the Karmapa started today’s teachings by sending his greetings to Bokhar Khen Rinpoche, whom he saw in the audience yesterday, as well as to the Khenpos and Geshes, the nuns of the shedras, foremost among the sangha, as well as all the Dharma friends who were watching over the webcast.

Referring to what he had mentioned the day before, he explained that although he had planned to speak about Mikyö Dorje’s birthplace and birth region, he decided that it would be much better to say as much as he could at the respective time rather than trying to push through, thinking, “I have to say this, I have to say that, I have to teach this today and that tomorrow”… Thus, although he had prepared a schedule accordingly, he found that to follow such a schedule did not really work.

Following his initial remarks, the Karmapa then turned towards the second verse of Mikyö Dorje’s autobiographical text, Good Deeds:

Without disdaining inauthentic gurus and companions
Or following them along the paths they taught,
I did all I could to overcome the thoughts of the three poisons—
Impediments to reaching the dharma’s culmination.

I think of this as one of my good deeds.

His Holiness explained that the topic of the second good deed is inauthentic gurus and companions and refraining from following the paths they taught. He reminded us briefly of the first of Mikyö Dorje’s good deeds, which describes how Mikyö Dorje entered the teachings and began to practice the dharma.Once we have entered the dharma, His Holiness commented, there are many impediments and harmful conditions, and if one were to follow negative friends, then many difficulties would arise. Mikyö Dorje’s second good deed, therefore, relates how he overcame impediments to practicing the dharma, such as negative friends.

However, Mikyö Dorje did so many amazing things that people could see; they immediately felt great faith and respect for him as the reincarnation of the Karmapa. Furthermore, Situ Tashi Paljor looked at the testament left by the Seventh Karmapa and, to a great degree, accepted that Mikyö Dorje was the Karmapa and instructed people to respect him as the tulku. Unfortunately, Situ Tashi Paljor passed away soon after the Karmapa was born and was unable to continue working towards his recognition as the tulku.

Then Mikyö Dorje went to Riwoche, where the master of Riwoche, Jigten Wangchuk, showed him great respect and said that there was no mistake in recognizing him as the reincarnation of the Karmapa. As Jigten Wangchuk was the leader of the Lhorong community there at that time, he told the people Mikyö Dorje was the reincarnation of the Karmapa and that they needed to take great care of him. The Lhorong community accepted this and agreed. They invited Mikyö Dorje to Lhorong monastery and promised that they would provide well for him in terms of food and clothing.

In an autobiographical liberation story of Mikyö Dorje’s, written when he was at Namtrö mountain, he related how the people of Lhorong failed to keep their promise. Instead, when he reached Lhorong, they treated him like a lowly herdsman,  someone who looks after donkeys, horses or dogs. They did not give him more than to such a person. Also,  the Garchen had supported the claim of the western tulku, and so there was doubt whether Mikyö Dorje was the true reincarnation of the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso. Consequently, they failed to take care of him. Until he reached the age of seven, he and his entire family were reduced to living as beggars in the region of Lhorong. Thus, before he was recognized as the Karmapa, he faced great difficulties, lacking basic necessities such as food and clothing.

Even though Mikyö Dorje displayed so many wondrous signs, they did not recognize him but instead listened to the audacious Amdo lama and took care of the western tulku, and were about to recognize him as the reincarnation of Chödrak Gyatso.

His Holiness explained that these situations arose because the people in the Garchen did not listen to the regent Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal, even though he had been appointed by the Seventh Karmapa and held the highest rank in the Garchen. During the time of the Seventh Karmapa very strict rules were enforced in the encampment; beer and meat were forbidden inside the encampment, and women could only enter during the daytime and were not allowed to stay overnight. However, after Chödrak Gyatso passed away, people began to disregard these rules. In addition, there was much criticism of Gyaltsap Rinpoche. He was even accused of causing the death by poisoning of a monk called Tashi Döndrup from Karma Gön Monastery. Finally, it was made too difficult for him to stay in the Garchen and he went to Jang.

The Seventh Karmapa had many great students but the Garchen monks had no respect for them. Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, for example, who later become one of the most important teachers of Mikyö Dorje, was vilified as a bad person and a charlatan. He had no power or influence in the Garchen. The monks had a modicum of faith in Chöje Karma Trinleypa, who was well-versed in both dharma and politics, but they did not give him the chance to come to the encampment to give them his advice or guidance. As for appointing a tutor for Mikyö Dorje, it should have been someone suitable and worthy of being his tutor, such as Shamar Chökyi Drakpa, but the people in the encampment accused Chökyi Drakpa of breaking samaya with the previous Karmapa, and warned that if his shadow were to fall on anyone, they would go to hell. Even when Mikyö Dorje invited Shamar Chökyi Drakpa to the encampment, the people would not even allow them to meet. The main reason they thought so badly of Shamar Rinpoche was that he had become quite powerful politically and religiously, so the members of the encampment envied him.

The leaders of the encampment decided that Drom Tashi Döndrup would be the best tutor for Mikyö  Dorje, but on his way to the encampment, just before he arrived, he vomited blood and died. He was the custodian of the Seventh Karmapa’s sacred objects, and when he died, his wife and servants appropriated them.

His Holiness reiterated that these problems were caused by the deterioration of conduct in the encampment. The monks didn’t keep the monastic rules and didn’t even wear robes.

After Chödrak Gyatso passed away, the Garchen should have erected a stupa for his relics. But when Chödrak Gyatso’s remains were cremated, a miracle happened and there was an image of Avalokiteshvara in each of his vertebrae.  Eventually, they were placed in a stupa. However, as Mikyö Dorje remonstrated, from the start they should have been placed where everyone could see them, but they were not. Consequently,  nobody was taking proper care of all the sacred objects and relics and nobody was making offerings; it was really a very bad situation.

Later, when Gyaltsap Rinpoche returned from Jang, he built a reliquary for the remains of Chödrak Gyatso and recognized Mikyö Dorje, the eastern tulku, as the Karmapa. This turned out well until Gyaltsap Rinpoche suddenly fell ill and passed away. Not only that, nobody took care of his remains properly; they were buried in sand. Later, there were many ringsel the size of mustard seeds.  His Holiness suggested they might have buried him in sand because they thought that he had been poisoned.

Such really depressing, revolting situations, His Holiness continued, are not mentioned in many liberation stories. However, Mikyö Dorje later wrote a letter, criticizing and scolding the people in the encampment and explaining these events in great detail. This letter is no longer extant but we know of its existence from the namthar of Six Kamtsang Gurus and Students written by Ne Gowa Karma Shenpen Gyatso at the time of the 13th Karmapa. Likewise, the Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography briefly mentions that these events happened.  Sangye Paldrup also describes many similar events in his commentary on the Good Deeds.

The Vajra Vidya library published an edition of the Good Deeds based on a manuscript from Drepung Monastery library. When the Good Deeds were being translated into English and Chinese and proofread [prior to this teaching], His Holiness fortuitously found another old manuscript of the Good Deeds. By comparing these two editions, in which sometimes a couple of lines or pages were different, it was possible to fill in missing sections. Sangye Paldrup’s commentary is particularly important because it was reviewed by Mikyö Dorje himself, who told him what should be deleted and what needed to be added.

Next, His Holiness described incidents that illustrate how Mikyö Dorje was not in the least influenced by negative friends. For example, in the recently discovered edition it says that when Mikyö Dorje was young, most of his attendants would use a ganachakra offering as an excuse to eat an entire sheep. Mikyö Dorje forbade them from doing this; he maintained that eating these weak animals while calling it a ganachakra had no benefit and was dangerous.

Another time a brick of tea went missing. The monks seized a suspect and put him in the encampment prison. The attendants then threatened Mikyö Dorje and pressurized him to pretend that his clairvoyance confirmed that this man was the thief. Knowing that the man was innocent, Mikyö Dorje refused to lie, whatever the attendants threatened to do to him.

Later, his attendants suggested that Mikyö Dorje act in certain ways in order to acquire things from people, but he refused because it constituted breaking the precepts; it was taking what is not given. If people had faith and offered things, that was fine. He was not influenced by the negative friends around him but stood on his own two feet.

People would tell him to wage war on others or to cast a spell on them. Mikyö Dorje said he did not know how to do it.

During the Mahakala puja, the monks would bring meat and beer, claiming that they were offerings to Bernakchen. They would then eat and drink as much as they could. In response, Mikyö  Dorje explained that the important thing was to act in accord with faith and samaya. If one practiced in the correct manner, things would be fine, but if one were to engage in negative deeds while requesting the support of the dharma protectors, they would become misdeed protectors,  and in the end, the ruin would fall on oneself. So Mikyö  Dorje said it was better to stop the practices entirely rather than committing unvirtuous acts and harming sentient beings.

People advised him on how to behave, arguing it was the tradition of the Karmapas. Later Mikyö Dorje said that,  from his childhood, many people had come to teach him the eight worldly concerns. He could have followed their advice, but because this human life is just momentary, he would rather spend his time practicing dharma. Thus, he chose to practice the dharma, gave up non-dharmic actions, and advised people to do likewise.

At the same time, he showed equanimity towards evil people and said that he had unbearable compassion for them. Mikyö Dorje’s character was such that when he actually saw or heard of people’s suffering or that they were doing non-virtuous actions, he could not bear it and it made him sick to merely think about it. Nor could he bear the way in which the attendants in his retinue would criticize each other, or the dharma practitioners would try to point out each other’s faults. People would criticize the great masters too.

In the twenty-one volumes of his collected works, Mikyö Dorje sometimes refutes scholars from other lineages, Karma Kagyu scholars, and even his tutors Karma Trinleypa and Tashi Öser. He used his own intelligence to get to the heart of the matter. It didn’t matter which tradition the scholar belonged to. He used logic to test everything. Irrespective of tradition, if it was logical, Mikyö Dorje would approve it. If it was illogical, he would refute it, even if it was from his own tradition. People did not understand this and he was criticized, in particular for refuting the secret mantra Nyingma tradition.

But this does not mean that he lacked faith in the masters of other traditions. For instance, he composed a praise of five great beings who had written the great treatizes: Sakya Pandita, Jonang Kunkhyen (Dolpo Sangye), Omniscient Butön, Bodong Panchen, and Je Tsongkhapa.

The Karmapa recounted how one time, when he had gone to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, they had spoken about Mikyö Dorje’s praise of Tsongkhapa. In that praise Mikyö Dorje said it was very well-known and undisputed in Tibet that Tsongkhapa spread the teachings of the vinaya throughout Tibet. And although Mikyö Dorje occasionally made refutations of Tsongkhapa, he wrote praises of him too.

The  Karmapa then shared the praise which he finds most evocative. It comes from the Collected Songs of Mikyö Dorje and is what is called in Tibetan a gur, a type of song which primarily describes feelings and experiences .

It begins:

In the snow land of Tibet,
When people merely wear the robes of the vinaya,
The one called Lord Lobsang Drakpa
Took the ways of the Bhagavan Shakyamuni,
And innumerable monks, wearing the saffron colored banner,
With conduct like Shariputra
Filled the world.
If you do not have faith in this lord, who do you have faith in?

In this praise, Mikyö Dorje makes a supplication and confession to Je Tsongkhapa, Lobsang Drakpa. At a time when people did not heed the Vinaya teachings, Tsongkhapa was like Buddha Shakyamuni actually appearing in the world. He upheld the teachings of the Vinaya. Moreover, he had many students who were like Shariputra and Maudgalayana and they “filled the world” i.e. the land of Tibet. Then, Mikyö Dorje is asking, if one has no faith in someone like Lord Tsongkhapa, then whom does one have faith in?

People who had been partisan maligned him.
I had been caught by harmful friends
And confess my wrongs done from ignorance.
Please look after me in all my lives.

His Holiness filled in the background drawing on his own experience.  There was a long-standing tradition of rivalry between the Kagyupas and Gelugpas, which was exacerbated when the armies of the Mongol Gushri Khan attacked the Karma Kagyu at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama and the 10th Karmapa. The Karmapa recounted how, when he was young, a thangka of the thirty-five confession buddhas hung on the wall at the back of his room, and Je Tsongkhapa was depicted at the top of this thangka. His attendant said that this was not good, so he covered the part which showed Tsongkhapa. However, His Holiness continued, from the time he was young, he had had special faith in Je Tsongkhapa and also some affection for the Fifth Dalai Lama, as the latter had written a poetry text which the young Karmapa had studied. He appreciated the Fifth Dalai Lama’s writing but felt somewhat strange when the Fifth Dalai Lama criticized the Kagyu.

The next verses praise:

  • Bodong Rinpoche, Chokle Namgyal, who was an incredible scholar. His collected works contain over a hundred volumes. They include works on how to read the alphabet all the way through to Kalachakra tantra. There are excellent works on sutra, tantra and other fields of knowledge. He had about fifteen secretaries, who could write a great amount of texts in a short time.
  • Je Ngorchen, who was one of the three great tantric practitioners. At that time in Tibet, ganachakraswere used as an opportunity to kill animals in order to eat their flesh and to drink alcohol. Je Ngorchen asserted the moral conduct which accords with the practice of secret mantra, including abstention from killing.
  • Je Rongchen Shakya Gyaltsenwho is very important in our philosophical tradition. His explanation of difficult texts ‘shone like the sun’ and he had a great influence on Mikyö  Dorje when the latter was writing texts on sutra and tantra.

The summary at the end of this praise is very important. [What follows is a rough translation.]

Now innumerable beings uphold the precious teachings of the Buddha,
and the realm of the fortunate aeon flourishes.
The supreme refuge rare in the world, the jewel of the sangha covers the earth,
so joy is equal to space.

His Holiness explained that the “precious teachings of the Buddha” is inclusive of all traditions of Buddhism, not just Tibetan Buddhism, though here Mikyö Dorje is referring primarily to Tibetan traditions. The teachings spread and flourish because of the kindness of the masters from all lineages, as does “the jewel of the sangha”. This is a source of joy.

Instead of being envious
that other dharma lineages flourished in the path,
there is no way but to be caught up
by the horse of regret.
I feel such great regret that I dare be like this.
It is intolerable, so I confess.

In the past, Mikyö  Dorje confesses he may have felt envious when he heard of the success of other lineages but now he deeply regrets that.

Though I feel intense regret now,
until my awareness is clear in an isolated place
and I am filled with the light of devotion
for the undisputed Kagyu mahasiddhas
such as Sangye Nyenpa, I will supplicate fervently.
I understand this is authentic blessing.

His mind had become clear while he was in retreat. Now he feels such intense regret that he is driven to confess. He feels great devotion for the Kagyu mahasiddhas and realizes that this strong regret is an authentic blessing.

If you think you follow me,
do not make dharma lineages into me and you.
It is fine for the Buddha’s teachings to spread.
Do not think with bias
that your own friends should flourish.
May the worry about teachings of all lineages
burn intolerably as the wind in the heart.

This advice is for those who consider themselves his students. Our concern should be for all lineages to flourish, not just for our own lineage. And this concern should burn intolerably in our hearts. His Holiness emphasized that we need to have a much wider perspective because the entire framework of the Buddha’s teachings needs to survive. If the teachings were to disappear, there would be no Tibetan Buddhism and no Kagyupa either. When Buddhism divides into factions, we see others’ teachings as  a fault, they see our teachings as a fault, and this creates great danger to the teachings themselves.

Mikyö Dorje was a great lama of wisdom and power; however, he himself said he was just an ordinary person, and admitted to feeling anger and jealousy in the past.  Subsequently he developed regret. Very few teachers mention in their autobiographies that in the past  they had afflictions such as desire, hatred or envy. Or that they felt regret for doing so. In contrast,  Mikyö Dorje spoke very clearly and forthrightly and made his intentions very clear; if we want to follow him, I, is in our hands.

In brief, Mikyö Dorje always thought about other sentient beings and worried about them; because of that, he became very thin and did not sleep well, due to which his body became very weak. When we look at paintings of Mikyö Dorje, we can see that his cheeks look very hollow. His attendants and others tried to persuade him to commit misdeeds but he maintained his equanimity towards them. He was also humble. Of his own experience, he commented that the times were degenerate. There were people who pretended to be monastics whose conduct was even worse than that of lay people. They were not tainted by even a whiff of the dharma, yet they enjoyed the offerings to the Three Jewels with abandon.  He did not adopt their behaviour, neither did he criticize or scold them, but stayed in a state of equanimity and worked even harder for their sake. He was never apart from enjoying the true Dharma, which he considered one of the best things he had done.

He studied diligently and focused carefully on his work. If thoughts of the eight worldly dharmas occurred, he paid them no attention. Before he went to bed, he would pick up his mala and count all his good and bad thoughts that day. Then he would count the good and bad words, he had uttered; he happily dedicated all the virtue for the benefit of sentient beings and confessed the unvirtuous actions, promising never to repeat them again.

Mikyö  Dorje was surrounded by many different types of people, not only monks but laypeople. Consequently, some were critical and opined that he should surround himself with scholars and meditators, increasing his status and bringing in more offerings.

One story tells of a visit from Lama Shab-Jenpa. He scolded  Mikyö  Dorje saying, “Of all the incarnations of the Karmapas, you are the one who has done the most harm to the Kagyu teachings.” Lama Shab-Jenpa claimed that if he were to take the Karmapa’s place,  it would only take him a minute to gather 5000 bhikshus. In Kham, he boasted, he had 500 good monks who wore the dharma robes properly and abstained from drinking alcohol, whereas the Karmapa was surrounded by people who drank beer.   Mikyö  Dorje replied, “I prostrate to those who are able to gather a retinue of those who have the three robes and the three trainings, and gather as many sangha as Tsongkhapa.” Later,  Mikyö  Dorje said that Lama Shab-Jenpa was not an authentic spiritual teacher. It was reminiscent of the tale of the lion. Many people thought that they could kill the lion easily but they were unable to get close to him. However, the lion had a weak spot– it never hurt anyone wearing dharma robes, so they put on monastic robes.

Mikyö  Dorje would never say that he was in meditative equipoise and should not be disturbed. Every day, he would memorize texts, make tsatsas, meditate, do yogic breathing exercises and practice as an authentic vajra master. Yet, being very humble, he never displayed this to others. Where he mainly put his effort was in teaching the Dharma and explaining philosophy to others. Many people at that time said that Mikyö Dorje was really lazy and, because they thought he was not doing practice or giving empowerments, they claimed that he was harming the teachings.

In any case, His Holiness concluded, Mikyö Dorje went through many difficulties in his life, particularly when he was young, which for people like us, would be really difficult to bear. It was important to realize how high a vision Mikyö Dorje had. Because of his efforts, he  is one of the greatest among all the incarnations of the Karmapas, one who really stands out.

During the last part of the teachings His Holiness briefly related some of the difficulties he had faced in his life. The first seven years of his life were the happiest, because he had no responsibilities; he was with his parents and described his home as a very beautiful place. Then, from the age of seven, he was recognized as the Karmapa. People think of  this as a very high position. They  assume that as someone in such a position, he would get very good food and clothes, and that his attendants would obey his orders immediately. But that, His Holiness confirmed, is not how it is.

He gave some examples.  After His Holiness was brought to Tshurpu monastery, people made offerings to him, which were then taken by the people behind him. For example, there were people he knew from Taiwan who came. They were aware that the steward would usually take any money they offered to the Karmapa. Thus, secretly, they would secrete offering envelopes under the carpet for His Holiness to retrieve and give to his parents later. But the steward found this out, and when His Holiness had to leave his quarters to attend a puja, the attendants would search his room and remove any gifts they found. If they were challenged, they would claim that they needed to check for poison. These items were never returned.

On another occasion, His Holiness was asked to recognize the reincarnation of Pawo Rinpoche, and the director of Nenang  monastery made an offering to him of a chain with a large golden buddha. A day later, the same lama asked His Holiness why the steward was wearing the golden buddha round his neck. Not only that, the steward even told others to take a look at it, saying, “Doesn’t it look beautiful?”

His Holiness continued. The tradition was for the monastery of a tulku to offer his parents a house but they failed to do this, and the young Karmapa  was hardly able to see his family because his mother and  sisters were not permitted to visit him at Tshurpu monastery. Finally, his father reached the end of his tether, and confronted the labrang officials: “We do not need many offerings; we just want to see our child when we want to and that his siblings can meet him. If you do not like that, then I will take my son with me and go!” Upon which the officials became worried. They agreed to family visits and gave His Holiness’s parents lots of new clothes.

When he was a little boy, the steward bullied him too, hurt him physically and reduced him to tears.

Approaching the end of the teachings, His Holiness reminded us of the difficulties the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje faced, particularly when he was young. To begin with, there was the controversy over the western and eastern tulku, and not only did he have to live in that environment, but he also had to perform the activities of the Karmapa.

For that reason, what we need to think is —though Mikyö Dorje was probably an emanation of a buddha or bodhisattva, though we cannot know for sure— as an ordinary human being he faced a lot of difficulties. We should remember what he did for the benefit of sentient beings and the teachings. That is why we should consider him so important and identify that really clearly. Only then will we ourselves get some real confidence in this lifetime and feel that we can do something on behalf of the teachings and sentient beings.

Day Six: Ascertaining the True Dharma and Favorable Conditions for Following Authentic Gurus

February 21, 2021

Part 1: Discarding the Husk

His Holiness began the sixth day of teachings by offering a warm welcome, reminding us that we all have this opportunity to enjoy the true dharma together. The organizers of the Arya Kshema requested these teachings for all the nunneries; the shedras are participating as well. His Holiness emphasized we can still speak as if we are in each other’s presence in spite of the difficulty of the pandemic and our inability to gather together in-person. In fact, these teachings are most important because they offer the opportunity for many to listen to Mikyö Dorje’s liberation story in ways we may have never dreamed of previously.

For any student of Kagyu philosophy, hearing Mikyö Dorje’s liberation story is of utmost importance because we learn about his character and beneficial actions. As we come to know what he taught, we can develop and feel real faith.

Through a series of slides, complete with detailed names, dates, and images, His Holiness drew our attention to Mikyö Dorje’s birth in a village two hours from Changdu City, on the 4th day of the 11th lunar month of the Female Fire Hare, 1507 in the Western calendar. He explained that Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal gave Mikyö Dorje the monastic name Chökyap Drakpa Pal Sangpo.

Additionally, His Holiness showed vivid images of a memorial stupa for Mikyö Dorje, a tree planted in the year of his birth, and tree bark said to have been used for wrapping his mother’s body after she passed away. Additional images included ruins of a house built in his mother’s memory as well as two images of Mikyö Dorje’s footprints.

Then, Gyalwang Karmapa turned to the second stanza of The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…”.

Seeing that those who try to make pseudodharma
Of the disobedient and naturally unwholesome
Into true dharma remain outside, like a husk,
He taught the fine meaning well—to him I pray.

According to the Fifth Shamar Könchok Yenlak, the topic of this stanza is, “How he abandoned the impediments to the teachings himself and also got others to do so.” His Holiness further clarified the meaning of the stanza: “When we are practicing the Dharma, it is really important for us to know the dividing line between Dharma and non-Dharma.”  In order to recognize this, we need to ascertain in our mind what should be taken up as dharma or discarded as non-Dharma. Not only do we need to understand this meaning, but also it must be put into practice. Only if we are able to put it into practice, can we be counted as a pure Dharma practitioner, and, to actually apply it, primarily depends on our strong longing and determination.

For the path of the Hearers and the Pratyekabuddhas to take root in our being, we absolutely need the intention of achieving Nirvana. We must set aside things that get in the way such as wishes for fame, respect, and material goods. For the Mahayana path to take root in our being, we should consider others as more important than ourselves. Often, however, we take pleasure in an adversary’s suffering. When doing tantric practice, we should meditate on the entire world as a pure realm and all the beings who inhabit it. Yet, everything appears as an enemy or something we dislike.

His Holiness elaborated further on the last two lines of the stanza. He noted that when we do not know what we should do and what we should give up, we confuse the practices of the three vows. We are taught we should discard the disobedient and unwholesome actions; however, we do the opposite, and put them into practice. Even though we are not actually Dharma practitioners,  on the outside we look as if we are. We act as if we are, but Mikyö Dorje said this was pointless. It is like the husk which needs to be discarded and not something to keep.

Mikyö Dorje taught the unmistaken path of the meaning to others; and so we pray to him because he taught this meaning so well. For instance, Lord Tsongkhapa wrote in his Summary of the Stages of the Path: 

I, a yogi, practice like that. 
You who want liberation, do the same. 

Later this was modified slightly:

The jetsun gurus practice like that. 
You who want liberation, do the same. 

Similarly, we need to practice just as the venerable gurus. When we read The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…”, we must think about practice as we recite these prayers.

Part 2: Meeting the Authentic Gurus

Through the autobiography Good Deeds, His Holiness drew our attention to Mikyö Dorje’s authentic gurus. First, His Holiness read the third good deed:

When I saw that the Mahayana masters were unmistaken,
I became captivated by their excellent qualities
And acted in harmony with all of their august examples.
The great beings therefore granted me their blessings with delight. 
I think of this as one of my good deeds. 

According to Sangye Paldrup’s Commentary, The Bright Lamp, this third good deed is the third section on, “the favorable conditions following great spiritual friends.”

There is also another text Mikyö Dorje composed called Past Deeds of Mikyö Dorje where he describes how he met spiritual friends and made connections:

I met the great being, the Nyewo Goshri Tulku Tashi Namgyal, an emanation of Milarepa’s disciple Shiwa Ö and of the bodhisattva Paljor Döndrup. He gave me the Mahayana fasting vows and empowerments, blessings, and pith instructions including Bhagavan Gyalwa Gyatso, Vajravarahi, Mahakala Bernakchen. I esteemed him highly with unbreakable respect and made him the object for gathering merit and confessing misdeeds. 

Then, His Holiness taught the brief biographies of Mikyö Dorje’s principal teachers, including the Second Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal and Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, also known as Denma Druptop.

Gyaltsap Tulku Tashi Namgyal’s Short Biography

His Holiness went on to give a brief biography of Mikyö Dorje’s first guru, the Second Gyaltsap, Tashi Namgyal. He was born in Nyemo valley in Central Tibet in the Fire Sheep year  [1487 CE]. The Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso recognized him as the reincarnation of Goshri Paljor Döndrup. In the Water Pig year of 1503, as Guru Rinpoche had prophesized,  Chödrak Gyatso gave him a red crown with a golden blaze, consecrated with the essence of speech of the Vajra Amitabha Lama Gongdü practice. This is the origin of Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal wearing the orange-colored crown.

During the time of the Seventh Karmapa, Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal received empowerments, transmissions, and so forth from the Goshri tulku, Drung Situpa and his brother, Drongbu Goshri. Additionally, he received instructions and monastic ordination from the tradition of Je Kyasé. Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal received transmissions from all the different lineages in Tibet, and after Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso passed away, he became the regent and received the title, Gyaltsap meaning, the tulku’s regent. He built a golden stupa for the remains of the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso. Then he recognized and enthroned the Eighth Karmapa. He passed away in the Wood Pig year [1515 CE] at the age of 29.

Then His Holiness shared how Mikyö Dorje met Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal in on the 11th day of the 2nd lunar month of the Year of the Bird (1513) when he was enthroned as the Eighth Karmapa.

On the 3rd day of the 4th lunar month of 1513, Mikyö Dorje took the Mahayana fasting vows from Gyaltsap Rinpoche and was given the name Chökyap Drakpa Pal Sangpo. On the 3rd day of the 8th lunar month in that same year Gyaltsap Rinpoche gave him the monastic vows.

In summary, Mikyö Dorje considered Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal extremely kind to him. Not only that, he also treated Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal’s reincarnation very respectfully as evidenced in several texts. For instance, Pawo Rinpoche’s history of Dharma: A Feast for Scholars says:

He thought of Shamar Könchok Yenlak, the nirmanakaya of the fourth holder of the Shamar crown, and Drakpa Paljor, the tulku of Gyaltsap Rinpoche, as his actual lamas. He did not think of them otherwise, as students. 

He considered the Fifth Shamar and the Third Gyaltsap’s reincarnations as his actual gurus. This is also clearly described in Mikyö Dorje’s autobiography:

After that, I approached the nirmanakaya of the lord himself, great Avadhūtīpa Drakpa Paljor. Though I did not actually make offerings with body and speech, mentally I took him as worthy of prostrations and respect, and did as much accumulation and purification as I could, as fit my mind.

The break fell at this point., and the audio transformed into the beautiful chanting of the nuns of Karma Drupdey Palmo Chokyi Dingkhang.

The teaching resumed and His Holiness gave a short biography of Mikyö Dorje’s most important guru, Sangye Nyenpa Druptop.

Sangye Nyenpa Denma Druptop’s Biography

Among all the gurus he followed, Mikyö Dorje had the most faith in Sangye Nyenpa. The first Sangye Nyenpa was called Denma Druptop. From the age of ten, Mikyö Dorje followed him as his most influential guru.

His Holiness described Sangye Nyenpa’s early life. He was born sometime during the 1440s in the valley of Denma in Kham. He was a descendent of the Lord of Denma. When he was young and first heard the name Karmapa, he had goose bumps, shed tears, and could not eat nor sleep. When he was six years old, his parents brought him to have an audience with the Seventh Karmapa. Immediately upon meeting, it was like a father and son uniting and they had a feeling for each other unlike any other. At that time, the Seventh Karmapa gave him the name Tashi Paljor. At the age of 8, he went forth as a monk under Bengar Jampal Sangpo and Paljor Döndrup. From the age of nine until 16, he studied the five dharmas of Maitreya, Nagarjuna’s Collection of Logic, and other teachings of sutra and tantra. Having studied and read philosophy, he thought he also needed to practice. He needed to follow a guru and receive pith instructions.

His Holiness focused on some important aspects of Sangye Nyenpa’s aspiration to practice the dharma fully. Sangye Nyenpa went to the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso and made the request to practice. When the Seventh Karmapa agreed, Sangye Nyenpa never separated from him for a moment. For that reason, he only subsisted on food scraps and received the nickname Nyenpa Ngökyok meaning “Gnarled Blue Nyenpa.” By the age of 23, he had received many instructions and decided to devote himself one-pointedly to practice. With the Seventh Karmapa’s blessing, he went to areas of Kham and then to Central Tibet. He practiced three years in Kampo Nenang, two years in Pangpuk, two years at Tsurphu, and one year in retreat at Tanglha. For eight years, he did not start a fire or eat any hot food. He only lived on chü-len or  “extracting the essence” – a practice of visualizing external objects as food and visualizing eating them and receiving their nourishment.

Additionally, he never took any allowance. He only ate leftover scraps from tormas and drank leftover tea leaves. Other than speaking with his gurus, he maintained a vow of silence. Then, the Seventh Karmapa sent Ser Jadralwa Gendun Gyaltsen to accompany Sangye Nyenpa and both lived on chü-len. They spent five years at Namtso. Then they went to Nomtang in Mön, Drowolung  Sangpo, and Shampo Gang, practicing a year in each respective place. At the age of 40, he wished to go to Uddiyana. He wanted to test his friend to see if he would join him. To do so, he asked him if he wanted to go to Shambhala in the north. His friend responded, “How can we go to places that Menlung Guru and Druptop Orgyenpa, teacher of the Third Karmapa, could not even reach?” Instead, if you have enough confidence, let’s try to go to Uddiyana in the west. While they were preparing to go to Uddiyana,  Ser Jadralwa suddenly passed away, so Sangye Nyenpa abandoned the plan.

His Holiness also described many of Sangye Nyenpa’s miraculous activities and how he received the name Nyenpa Druptop, or Nyenpa Mahasiddha. At one time, Sangye Nyenpa dreamed of his birth mother and felt a great wish to see her. When he asked the Seventh Karmapa about this, the Karmapa urged Sangye Nyenpa to return to his homeland. However, before departing, Sangye Nyenpa realized that his mother had already passed away but was reborn as a dakini. Sangye Nyenpa had a vision that she was living in a terrestrial state and wanted to dwell in the sky. He understood she had requested the Chakrasamvara empowerment from him. Through his samadhi, he was able to give her this empowerment.

His Holiness gave another example of the numerous ways Sangye Nyenpa benefited beings. When there was a war between Sangye Nyenpa’s homeland of Denma and Adro, someone from Amdo killed one of his brothers. This adversary also set out to Central Tibet to kill Sangye Nyenpa. At that time, Sangye Nyenpa was living as a yogi in a cave. When his enemies reached the cave they found that Sangye Nyenpa only had a bit of dry grass, he was emaciated, and his robes were in tatters. Upon seeing him, their hatred immediately subsided and they felt overcome with faith. Once they had felt faith, the people from both Denma and Adro requested his help in resolving their conflict. However, Sangye Nyenpa did not want to engage in such worldly activities.

The Seventh Karmapa sent Sangye Nyenpa a letter asking him to build a monastery to benefit beings. Sangye Nyenpa, however, thought that he lacked the qualities to achieve this. He thought that maybe the Seventh Karmapa was trying to test the level of his realization. So, Sangye Nyenpa replied that he was unable to build a monastery. Once again, a letter arrived, ordering him to build a monastery. Sangye Nyenpa knew to follow the guru’s demands. He returned to Denma and resolved the dispute with Adro.

He then built a monastery at Urgyen Mountain Retreat and taught many of the people who had killed his brother. When these former adversaries realized his unbiased impartiality, they developed great faith in him. Not only did he build a monastery, but many students gained accomplishment from that.

All the preexisting monasteries of Denma, however, became jealous and worried that everyone would become a Kagyupa. When these monasteries went to take up weapons against Sangye Nyenpa’s institution, the others in the region stopped them from fighting. While some disputes still continued, Sangye Nyenpa’s monks mainly spent time in retreat. Not long after that, there was a strong earthquake that destroyed the adversarial monasteries. During this time, the retreat quarters also collapsed but not entirely. Sangye Nyenpa’s quarters were on the fourth floor but he escaped unharmed when the building collapsed. Afterwards, he was seen sitting atop one of the remaining two walls. People concluded that he had been saved by his miraculous powers and that he had flown up to safety. That’s how he got the name Nyenpa Druptop.

After this, he built a new monastery named Jangchup Ling at the base of the mountain. Not only that, he collected donations, restored damaged and destroyed monasteries and promoted harmony among all the monasteries in the region. Then the Seventh Karmapa encouraged him to leave Denma and build a monastery in lower Dokham. He went to many different places. If monasteries were in disrepair, he would restore them. Everywhere he went, he encouraged practitioners to practice virtue.

He made many offerings to the Seventh Karmapa. In particular, he became the Eighth Karmapa’s guru and offered him all the empowerments and pith instructions. When he was 65, he had completed all his activities and he passed away at Karma Gön.  He had many different students. Nevertheless, he made the aspiration that all of his students would become Mikyö Dorje’s students.

After this brief but extremely detailed biography of Sangye Nyenpa Druptop, His Holiness shared the story of how Mikyö Dorje met his guru. When Mikyö Dorje was four years old, the Seventh Karmapa’s sister, Wangmo Gawa, came to him and asked, “Who is your guru?” Mikyö Dorje replied, “Sangye Druptop.” So among all of his gurus, Sangye Nyenpa Druptop was the foremost.

He met Sangye Nyenpa when he was nine years old. At that time, Mikyö Dorje made the aspiration to follow the guru, but he did not have the freedom to do so. The Fourth Shamar Chökyi Dragpa was the most appropriate to be his teacher, but Mikyö Dorje was in Kham and the Shamar was in Central Tibet. Since they were unable to meet, the Fourth Shamar concluded in a letter that Gyaltsap Rinpoche would be the most appropriate, but he had passed away. Thus, Sangye Nyenpa Denma Druptop became the worthiest teacher for Mikyö Dorje.

Mikyö Dorje followed Sangye Nyenpa from the age of ten. During a short period of two years, he received all the transmissions and empowerments. Gyalwang Karmapa asked, “How did he do this?” Then he explained that as soon as the sun rose until it set, Mikyö Dorje spent every moment with his guru. He did not waste any time at all. This is described in the Past Deeds of Mikyö Dorje:

Then I touched the feet of Sangye Nyenpa Mahasiddha, the nirmanakaya of Jowo Smṛtijñāna, and took the novice vows. He gave me empowerments and blessings of the kriya tantra including Trisamayavyuha, empowerments and blessings of the carya tantra including Vajrapani, empowerments and blessings of the yoga tantra including Vajra Dhatveshvari, empowerments and blessings of the unexcelled yoga tantra including Kalachakra, and in particular the empowerments and blessings the ninth yana such as Strength of Awareness. In brief, he gave me the empowerments, instructions, and transmissions of the Ancient and New transmissions.

In particular, I received many instructions of what are known as the Nine Profound Cycles of Instructions of the Sa Kagyu, Joshal, Dakpo, Shangpa, Dzogchen, and so forth. I held him to be our highest object for accumulation and purification, and day and night, whenever I remembered, I took the four empowerments through the vajra yoga, never missing a day. 

Then, from the bodhisattva on the eighth level and great lord known as Tashi Öser, I received his kindness from the Vinaya up through Glorious Samaja. I took his liberation and comportment as a yidam deity and prayed to accumulate and purify as much as possible through view and conduct that follows those manners. 

His Holiness went on to clarify this quote. He explained that Mikyö Dorje never missed a day of teachings and he never considered himself to be equal to his guru nor his guru being an ordinary individual. Even when he went to bed at night, he would think about his guru’s teachings. In the morning, he would offer the mandala and the Seven Branch Prayer, envision his guru as Vajrasattva, and take the empowerments. “He would not just go and sit down like we take dharma teachings these days,” His Holiness commented.

Mikyö Dorje ensured he was never apart from bodhicitta. He always thought about bringing benefit to countless sentient beings and took this into deepest consideration. During Dharma teachings he listened assiduously to retain the words; when contemplating he worked diligently to ascertain the meaning; and during meditation, he developed experience. He had a really strong interest and longing. No matter what, he could not bear to be apart from his guru. Mikyö Dorje nursed Sangye Nyenpa through an illness when we was unable to walk. Even though he was young, he served his guru and did whatever he could.

His Holiness explained how Sangye Nyenpa was pleased with Mikyö Dorje’s accomplishments. As Gyalwang Karmapa noted, Sangye Nyenpa said, “Karmapa, your actions are really in accord with the dharma. The dharma that I have been given is passed down from the great Kagyu forefathers and will bring great benefit to sentient beings. So, continue to behave and perform the actions and examples as you are doing now.”

Because his authentic guru had been pleased, all the blessings of body, speech, and mind in their entirety were transferred. This is common within the lineage from Tilopa teaching Naropa through Marpa to Milarepa. To actually see the guru as the Buddha is the profound point of devotion that was able to take root in Mikyö Dorje. Since Mikyö Dorje saw Sangye Nyenpa as his guru, he was able to consider others more important than himself. He developed faith in the guru and disgust for samsara. This is also from his autobiography:

The mindstream of someone like myself is not workable, and I spend all my time with wrong views about dharma and individuals. I don’t see any qualities, but with the diligence and prajna of seeing if I can analyze the scriptures and with the understanding that this life has no meaning, I had a bit of renunciation of wishing to be in an isolated place not working for this life. Gaining a bit of understanding that beings have been my parents is solely due to the power of the compassion of my guru, the great Jetsun. When I look at his ability to tame people with mistaken minds such as myself, I cannot describe how much he appears to be only in the sphere of those with great fortune. For that reason, these days most people do not recognize qualities as qualities,  and put their hopes in false qualities.

For clarity, His Holiness summarized this passage. Even though Mikyö Dorje saw himself as having a wild character and fixed views, through the authentic guru, he was able to gain understanding and inspired renunciation. These only occurred because of the kindness of the guru. When Mikyö Dorje looked at his ability to tame people with mistaken minds, he understood Sangye Nyenpa’s life as the foremost example of Dharmic activities. Further, due to the authentic guru’s kindness, Mikyö Dorje became a great being, an authentic guru himself, whose name and meaning are in accord with all of the Dakpo Kagyu.

Day Seven: The Blessings of Many Authentic Gurus

February 24, 2021

After a two-day break, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa continued teaching on the extraordinary life and Dharma activities of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje. Again taking up the topic of “following the gurus,” he started by addressing the third stanza of The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly . . ..”

When he realized that all wishes for here and the everlasting
Come from the holder of all, the spiritual friend,
Irreversible longing swelled to perfection.
His faith became transcendent—to him I pray.

Shamar Könchok Yenlak’s commentary states that this stanza concerns “how he followed the guru.” The main point of this teaching is that the spiritual friend provides the foundation for the entire path. Following an authentic guru is the life force for all of us who embrace the Dharma, and Mikyö Dorje exemplified this wisdom. As His Holiness mentioned the other day, the Eighth Karmapa had four main teachers, including Sangye Nyenpa, for whom he had great devotion. When Nyenpa Rinpoche passed away, Mikyö Dorje erected a memorial statue to him. Later it was brought to Tsurphu Monastery and became known as the “space statue.” Normally when the remains of someone are brought to the charnel grounds, the Eighth Karmapa Four Session Guru Yoga is recited. During this time, this statue is brought to the ceremonies and then returned to the monastery. So it is a very sacred statue.

Among the four teachers of Mikyö Dorje, Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal is not mentioned as one of them, but—as we have seen—he was also very kind to the Eighth Karmapa. He recognized and enthroned Mikyö Dorje and gave him the fasting vows of the Mahayana and the vows of going forth. He was the first of all the lamas that Mikyö Dorje followed in his lifetime.

At this point, the Karmapa showed portraits of Mikyö Dorje’s teachers and gave their dates. He began with a picture of Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal from an old thangka kept in the labrang of Gyaltsap Rinpoche, probably painted during the time of the Sixth Gyaltsap Rinpoche. Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal lived from 1487 to 1515, only 29 years. His long hair indicates “not the best conduct,” said His Holiness. Next he showed pictures of Mikyö Dorje’s subsequent lamas—the four “official” ones. Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche’s image was taken from the Golden Garland of the Kagyu. Nyenpa Rinpoche may have been born some time around 1457 and lived to 1525. Then came Dulmo Tashi Öser, whose dates are difficult to find. His Holiness showed a statue that captured what he looked like. Khenchen Chödrup Senge, 1451 to 1530, was his third teacher, who gave Mikyö Dorje full ordination. His Holiness concluded his visual presentation with Mikyö Dorje’s fourth teacher, Karma Trinleypa, who lived from 1456 to 1531, and whose picture he will include in the next teaching.

Dulmo Tashi Öser

Having covered the biographies of Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal and Sangye Nyenpa in the previous teaching, His Holiness spent the rest of this session on Mikyö Dorje’s three other teachers, beginning with Dulmo Tashi Öser. He was a direct disciple of the Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, and was considered very venerable throughout Ü Tsang and Kham. He kept his vows very purely, first studying at Ganden, a Gelukpa monastery, where he was well-educated in the sutras and tantras, before becoming a student of the Seventh Karmapa. Born in Dritö near Yushu, he was the son of the Dulmo Lord [originally Dumo]. We don’t know the year he was born, and he has no separate namthar. His life does appear in the Golden Garland of Kagyu Biographies and the Feast of Scholars. He met the Seventh Karmapa when he was young and was given the name Tashi Öser, as well as a transmission of the mani mantra. Chödrup Sangpo gave him full ordination in the Khenchen Shakya Shri tradition of vows, as well as the empowerment of Chakrasamvara. Returning to Kham, he took the southern route and met Chödrak Gyatso at Namtö Mountain in Kongpo. Receiving the Karmapa’s blessings, he felt uncontrollable faith and gave up the idea of going back to his homeland. Tashi Öser stayed with Chödrak Gyatso and received instructions on Mahamudra, the Six Yogas of Naropa, Pointing Out the Three Kayas, and many other texts. In particular, Chödrak Gyatso gave him his own incomplete commentary on the Prajnaparamita Sutra. Well-educated by the Seventh Karmapa, Tashi Öser went to Central Tibet and gained renown in public debates and discussions. From Situ Tashi Paljor, he received the five sets of five deities of Dusum Khyenpa and the cycles of Bernakchen. He also practiced diligently in mountain retreats.

Regarding the five sets of five deities, His Holiness emphasized that this is something we really have to know very well. He mentioned the other day that one of Dusum Khyenpa’s main activities was founding the three main seats of the Karma Kagyu. Another contribution was the five sets of five deities. What are they? The five deities of Vajravarahi, the five deities of Chakrasamvara, the five deities of Hevajra, the five deities of Hayagriva and the five deities of Tara. We should be able to name them if someone asks us, or we will be embarrassed!

Later, Tashi Öser went to Surmang, Ga, Denma, Drichu Lhogyü, and Kyapdü, and performed great activities in these places. He instructed on the Profound Inner Principles and several other teachings from the lineage. He imparted all that he had learned from Chödrak Gyatso, just as if he were pouring from one vase into another. Mikyö Dorje treated him with the same respect as he felt for Sangye Nyenpa.

How did Tashi Öser meet Mikyö Dorje? When the Eighth Karmapa was eight years old, he was in the area around Yushu. Sangye Nyenpa and Tashi Öser went together to the Great Encampment and there met Mikyö Dorje. The Eighth Karmapa felt great faith for both of them and thought it would be wonderful to study with Tashi Öser. Under his guidance, the Eighth Karmapa studied all the pith instructions—from vinaya to the highest yoga tantras, and also poetry and grammar.

About his teacher, Mikyö Dorje wrote:

By the power of this master’s example and blessings, I was enthralled by the three baskets; sutras, tantras, and their commentaries; the major and minor areas of knowledge for determining them; and even the subtlest of terminology. I gained interest in the liberation stories of the Bhagavan Buddha, the bodhisattvas, and their students. I felt the joy of amazement at the deeds of the dharma king, ministers, translators, and panditas, and unbearable devotion for the root and lineage gurus. The armor of diligence for upholding, preserving, and spreading the teachings; the conclusion of practice for caring for those who seek liberation; the methods that will tame beings of a degenerate age; the unconfused mental eye on what should be done and what should be given up; and in brief, my great hunger for the essence of the nectar of the teachings are the blessings of this guru caring for me. 

So basically, his understanding of Dharma came from the kindness of his guru.

In particular, Mikyö Dorje admired how Tashi Öser felt unbearable great compassion for those who suffered. He thought that Noble Avalokiteshvara must be just like his guru, and this enhanced his faith in him. Tashi Öser in turn was delighted with his student—his pure intentions, prajna, and diligence. He predicted that Mikyö Dorje would become an omniscient master and scholar in the Land of Snow, even though the Eighth Karmapa was quite young at the time.

Actually, Mikyö Dorje studied with Tashi Öser for only a short time—less than three years. But his influence lasted for the Karmapa’s entire life. Because of Tashi Öser’s influence, Mikyö Dorje one-pointedly studied for twelve years. He realized that if he ate too much, he would have a lot of phlegm, and this would make him sleepy. So he ate very little. He continued with uninterrupted diligence and enthusiasm, and this was due to Tashi Öser’s influence and blessings. Great faith welled up when Mikyö Dorje thought of Tashi Öser, and those nearby could feel the heat of his devotion.

Mikyö Dorje wrote a liberation story about Sangye Nyenpa, The Undeceiving Essence of the Dharmakaya. In it, he said of Tashi Öser:

I met the guru Dulmo Öser, who was named after his caste, and he nurtured the slight bit of virtue there already was in my being, granting me the kindness of an understanding of the complete stages of the path of the Buddha’s teachings. I could not repay the kindness of this being even if my body were pulverized into innumerable particles.

Tashi Öser enhanced Mikyö Dorje’s faith in Dharma, and because of him, the Karmapa completely understood the four philosophical schools. With this, His Holiness’s concluded his brief introduction to Tashi Öser.

Khenchen Chödrup Senge

The Karmapa then began an overview of the life of Khenchen Chödrup Senge, who gave Mikyö Dorje full ordination and bestowed many teachings. Chödrup Senge studied Kagyu texts but he himself was not in the Kagyu lineage. In the past, many great lamas studied with teachers of all the different lineages, and such people were praised for their wide-ranging knowledge. Only later did practitioners confine themselves to studying exclusively the texts of one lineage. Born in 1451 in Yeru Silma in the region of Tsang, he started Dharma study at the age of five. At age eight, he mastered the tantras of Hayagriva and Vairochana Sarvavid and provided protection cords for the community. At the age of 14, he took novice vows from Rabjor Senge and received the empowerment of Hevajra. After full ordination, he embraced the precepts so strongly that if he had a downfall, he always confessed that very day. It is said that he cherished the precepts just like his eyes. Chödrup Senge studied with the famous Tangtong Gyalpo, and at the age of 20, he went to Palden Sangpur Monastery, which had the first shedra in Tibet—it was like Nalanda. He embraced the three vows, adopted mind training, and participated in debating tours, which he disliked because he didn’t want to become famous.

At the time, there were four main monasteries where students could practice the vinaya, and Chödrup Senge visited all of them on pilgrimage, but by then, the practices had declined. However, the leader of Pakdru, Kunga Lekpa, invited a hundred thousand monks to one of the four vinaya monasteries, where they conducted a rainy days retreat. Chödrup Senge gave a discourse there that was very well received. After that, a war erupted, and in despair, he felt that he should engage in meditation practice. He received instructions on the six applications from Sönam Senge and the scripture and logical basis of the Shengtong view. This khenpo probably asked Mikyö Dorje to teach on the Ornament of Clear Realization from the perspective of the Shengtong school. Before his encounter with Shengtong, Chödrup Senge said that he read the scriptures as if “with closed eyes at night.” But after that, it was like with “open eyes in daylight.”

Chödrup Senge wanted to undertake retreat in a solitary place, but he had received the Red Spear Vaishravana empowerment from Khenchen Chökyi Wangchuk, who asked him to oversee Tsokde Gendun Gang Monastery. He started as discipline master and eventually became the abbot of that monastery, spending the rest of his life as a spiritual and political leader there.

How did Chödrup Senge conduct his activity? When he was 25 and the abbot of Gendun Gang, he wrote a supplementary text on the Prajnaparamita Sutra. In 1506 he received the complete Nyingma tantras and made many Dharma connections. He went to Kongpo and gave Mikyö Dorje complete ordination. Mikyö Dorje wanted him to stay, but he returned to central Tibet, stopping at Drikung Monastery on the way. Many students came to see him, but he predicted that he was not going to live much longer. In 1530, when he was 80, he announced that he would die. When his students protested, he told them, “Don’t be attached. You are never separate from me.” Without displaying any illness, he sat in the seven-point posture of Vairochana and passed away. His Holiness said that this was miraculous and joked that we can’t even sit in the seven-point when we are alive!

His Holiness concluded his presentation on Khenchen Chödrup Senge by explaining how he came to give Mikyö Dorje full ordination. As mentioned earlier, Sangye Nyenpa had a bad foot. One day he said to Mikyö Dorje, “Because of my bad foot I thought I should give offerings to Shamar Chökyi Drakpa [also known as Shamar Chennga Chödrak].” But he feared that the Seventh Karmapa might be offended, so he didn’t give the 4th Shamar Rinpoche these offerings, and his foot continued to hurt. In response to this, Sangye Nyenpa thought that Shamar Rinpoche should give ordination to Mikyö Dorje, but because of opposition at the Encampment, and the fact that Shamar Rinpoche passed away soon after, it didn’t work out.

So who should give Mikyö Dorje the vows? Mikyö Dorje was advised to take ordination from Khenchen Chödrup Senge because of an auspicious interdependent connection. When the Seventh Karmapa came to Gendun Gang, there was a golden procession to welcome him. Each person held a different offering; Chödrup Senge carried a beautiful golden mandala with piles of different colored jewels. He was able to make his offering and received the gift of a very nice outer robe from the Seventh Karmapa. Chödrup Senge made an aspiration to arouse bodhicitta, and Chödrak Gyatso looked at him and smiled. So Chödrup Senge felt the foundation had been established to give full ordination to Mikyö Dorje.

We need to know that from the time of the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, all of the Karmapas had taken vows at the Gendun Gang Monastery. They had a great connection because each of the sixteen arhats appeared to them there. In fact, Chödrup Senge himself was said to be an emanation of an arhat. Gendun Gang was considered to be one of the most important monasteries, and so the Karmapas would receive the lineage of vows at that place.

However for this ordination, Mikyö Dorje wrote to Chödrup Senge, commanding him to come to the Great Encampment to bestow the vows. The khenpo replied that he was 79 years old, and it would take seven months to travel from Central Tibet to Kongpo. Because of his age and the great difficulties involved, he said, “I can’t come.” But Mikyö Dorje sent people to convince him. Since the Karmapa was so insistent, and because of his profound connection to Chödrak Gyatso, Chödrup Senge finally agreed and eventually arrived at the Great Encampment. After a few days of rest, he offered Mikyö Dorje the full ordination vows. Rainbows filled the sky and a rain of flowers fell. He went to see Mikyö Dorje every day, and they discussed difficult points of sutra and tantra. At that time, he probably also introduced the Karmapa to the Shengtong view. He gave him the Amitayus and Red Spear Vaishravana empowerments as well.

In Sangye Nyenpa’s namthar, Mikyö Dorje wrote of Chödrup Senge:

At that time, I received the blessings of serving the great Khenpo of Tsok Gendun Gang, an individual who was emanated by the great siddhas from the tradition of the omniscient Jonang, who was certain to go from this life to the presence of the Dharma King in Shambhala, the guru precious buddha Chödrup Senge and the great being born as Je Karma Tre, who transcends humans, a master of yoga, a god victorious over all directions whose mind has been ripened well by discipline and samadhi.

Receiving ordination from an emanation of an arhat was of indescribable benefit to Mikyö Dorje. He kept cuttings of Chödrup Senge’s hair, which produced relics. The khenpo himself felt blessed to give ordination to the Eighth Karmapa, and in bestowing the Amitayusempowerment, he helped ensure Mikyö Dorje’s long life and vast activity. He enthusiastically praised the Karmapa’s intelligence and understanding and felt that after death, he would meet his predecessor, Chödrak Gyatso, in Shambhala.

Karma Trinleypa

His Holiness next moved on to examining the life of Mikyö Dorje’s final teacher, Chokle Nampar Gyalway Lha, also known as Karma Trinleypa. He was born into the family of one of the great lords of Dakpo in 1456 and was the nephew of a Sakya scholar. As a young boy, he entered Surkhar Medical College, and he also studied Nyingma teachings on chö. He took full ordination at the age of 37. Sangye Pel gave him the Bodhisattva Vows, as well as the Guhyasamaja mandala and mantra vows. From a teacher called the second Milarepa, he received the Six Dharmas of Sukhasiddhi, and Drupchen Chupur introduced him to the Five-fold Mahamudraand other subjects. He made Dharma connections with Loppön Sangye Gonpo, Geshe Gendun Lhundrup, and many other lamas, from whom he received Vajrakilaya, the Vajra Song, and other texts. He studied Sanskrit and Tibetan grammar and many other areas of knowledge, and he received numerous teachings, instructions and empowerments from many great scholars and meditators.

Once he met his root guru, Chödrak Gyatso, he realized that the Karmapa was none other than a natural buddha and recognized him as his master. They had a connection from many previous lifetimes. The Seventh Karmapa said to Karma Trinleypa that if he would uphold the Kagyu lineage, he would give it to him in its entirety. Karma Trinleypa said that he would. Only then would the Karmapa give him experiential instructions on the Six Yogas of Naropa, which took five months. At that time, he was staying in a small tent near the Encampment and would go to the Karmapa for instruction, then return to continue his retreat. Soon Karma Trinleypa showed the amazing signs of accomplishment that are explained in the text. Later he received teachings on the Coemergent Yogas of Mahamudra, the Four Dharmas, the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, how the Rangtong and Shengtong are not contradictory, and so forth. He obtained Rangjung Dorje’s complete works and received detailed explanations of the Profound Inner Principles five times. Many great masters too numerous to mention bestowed many other teachings on him.

In central Tibet, he went to Chökhor Lhunpo, and there he built a statue that was 25 palms tall. Later Chögyal Chapa offered the Chökhor Lhunpo Monastery with all of its statues and its five hundred monks to the Seventh Karmapa, who appointed Karma Trinleypa to be its abbot. Among his other activities, Karma Trinleypa established a factory in the region of Mön that produced the best paper for printing texts. At Teu Ra, he founded a shedra in the Sakya tradition.

The title “Karma Trinleypa” indicates a rank, so he was probably given that name when he became the abbot of Chökhor Lhunpo Monastery. There he made a reliquary statue for Goshri Paljor Döndrup that was one story tall. Then he divided the five hundred monks into four groups and oversaw their beginning instruction. The teachings flourished at this time. Karma Trinleypa also spent some time in mountain retreat, but then the Garchen monks went to Lhasa, and he accompanied them. In Lhasa, Karma Trinleypa was appointed lama at Karma Dratsang Monastery, which is still there. At Ramoche Monastery, he began teaching on the Seventh Karmapa’s Prajnaparamita commentary, The Lamp of the Three Worlds. In the area around the Jokhang Temple, he laid a foundation for a new monastery, and some complications developed. The Drepung and Sera monasteries are nearby, and a conflict arose because some thought that the Kagyupas were trying to seize power. Actually the project evolved from the Seventh Karmapa’s pure vision concerning the lay people living in proximity to the Jokhong; Karma Trinleypa built Tupten Chökhor Monastery in order to purify the area. A great gathering of sangha practicing vinaya there would be auspicious, but the Seventh Karmapa passed away shortly after the monastery was established, and it fell into disrepair. Karma Trinleypa also founded a shedra called Karma Lekshe Ling primarily for the study of sutras. In 1527 he met Mikyö Dorje and taught him many aspects of Dharma. Mikyö Dorje wrote over ten long life prayers for him and felt that Karma Trinleypa had achieved the level of joining on the path. The Khenpo’s collected works comprise more than ten volumes and are still available. In 1539, he passed away at the age of 84. Originally a Shakyapa, he later upheld the Kagyu lineage. So he had many students from both lineages.

His Holiness announced that in the next session, he would speak about how Mikyö Dorje followed Karma Trinleypa as a guru. He noted that he has now completed seven days of teachings but has only discussed three or four stanzas. The Karmapa asked himself, how he is going to get through the entire text? His intention is to try to teach the Good Deeds and Praises thoroughly. He might have to continue next year, but his plan is to teach them in full this year.

The Gyalwang Karmapa finished his presentation with some brief comments about the steward at Tsurphu who had treated him badly when he was a child. Many have asked: Who is this steward and where is he? If people want to try and find him and make difficulties for him, it’s better not to go. He’s passed away. The Karmapa had only included this story previously as a way to make clear the difficulties and problems that Mikyö Dorje faced. “I just decided to add a little bit from my own life. . .  I don’t have any thought that he did something to me, so I need to get back at him.”

With that clarification, His Holiness concluded another in-depth teaching on the life of Mikyö Dorje, his extraordinary gurus, and the exemplary kindness that all Karmapas—past and present—unceasingly bestow on their students.

Day Eight: Commitment to Study, the Fourth Good Deed, Travels and Miracles

February 25, 2021

At the very beginning of these teachings, the Karmapa emphasised how important it is to know the origins of the tradition to which you belong. As such, these current teachings are highly significant for the Kagyu tradition. Much of this extensive material is original research by His Holiness and being presented publicly for the very first time. He is correcting misinformation, establishing historical facts about the early Kagyu masters and their students, and detailing aspects that had been forgotten, such as the existence of renowned Kagyu scholars and flourishing shedras. Then came the catastrophe which struck the Kagyu after the destruction of the Garchen during the time of the 10th Karmapa. For the monks and nuns listening to His Holiness’ daily exposition, much of this material is new and exciting; it has never been taught before and it is helping them to appreciate their heritage.

On Day Eight, the Karmapa continued to share his extensive research into the history of the Kagyu lineage, bringing to life the story of the Eighth Karmapa and his teachers in extraordinary detail.

The Authentic Guru Karma Trinleypa

The opening slide showed Mikyö Dorje’s four principal teachers—Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, Dülmo Tashi Öser, Chödrup Senge, and Karma Trinleypa — and the details, where known, of their births and deaths.

Karma Trinleypa was born in the Fire Bird Year, 1456 CE, so, when the Eighth Karmapa first summoned him, he was already quite old. When they finally met, after several invitations, on the 4th Day of the 11th month in the Year of the Fire Pig, (1527 CE) Karma Trinleypa would have been sixty-one years old.

It was Karma Trinleypa who advised Mikyö Dorje to receive his full ordination vows from Joden Khenchen Chödrup Senge, said to be an emanation of Arhat Angita. When the Eighth Karmapa sent a further invitation with an escort, explaining why Karma Trinleypa should come to him, Karma Trinleypa duly made his way towards the Garchen in Kongpo. On the way, he met up with Khenchen Chödrup Senge, and they travelled together.

Their first meeting with Mikyö Dorje was at Sampel Wangpo Upper Monastery at Nomtö Mountain Retreat Centre. Then, while the elderly Khenchen Chödrup Senge rested to recover from the journey, the Karmapa gave Karma Trinleypa the lung for the Six Yogas of Naropa. The astrological signs suggested that the teachings start on 22nd of the month, but the Karmapa insisted that they start earlier on the 17th, so Karma Trinleypa began teaching Mikyö Dorje Prajnaparamita on that day instead.

A week later, on 22nd, Mikyö Dorje took full ordination vows: Khenchen Chödrup Senge was the khenpo, Karma Trinleypa was the ritual master, Gampo Khenchen Shakya Sangpo was the private questioner, Sangpu Chöje Shakya Sangpo was the timekeeper, and the Chöje of Gendun Gang Deshong with the necessary number of bhikshus from the four monasteries completed the quorum.

Mikyö Dorje’s studies with Karma Trinleypa resumed on the 23rd;  in the morning, he studied  Prajnaparamita, and  Abhidharma in the afternoon. As the study schedule progressed, Karma Trinleypa offered teachings on the Sublime ContinuumDifferentiating the Middle from Extremes and Differentiating Dharmas and Dharmata, the Compendium of Validity, the Commentary on Validity, the Treasury of Valid Logic, the Pratimoksha Sutra, the Vinaya Sutra, the Compendium of AbhidharmaEntering the Middle Way, and other texts. He gave a detailed teaching on the precepts of the vinaya as explained by Nyakpuwa, including the Rituals of Motions [by which the sangha makes decisions and conducts its business] and the practice of the Three Foundational Rituals [sojong, yarney (the rainy season retreat), and  gakye (the ritual which releases monastics from the bounds of the rainy season retreat)]

Karma Trinleypa gave Mikyö Dorje instruction in the three types of vow: the Bodhisattva Vow of aspirational and engaged bodhichitta according to Sakya Pandita’s Great Bodhichitta, the pratimoksha vows, and tantric vows.

Karma Trinleypa explained the precepts of the vinaya very clearly so that even today, the observation of the Three Foundation Rituals in monastic communities is based on his instructions, as are the lay vows and the eight fasting vows. The teachings he received on tantra mainly came from the Sublime Continuum.[Uttaratantra].  He gave him the complete four empowerments and tantric vows of the Nine Deities of Hevajra according to the Sixth Karmapa Tongwa Dönden’s ritual texts, and taught him the mandalas, mudras, and melodies. He taught Mikyö Dorje the Kalachakra tradition, the five types of sandhi (Sanskrit grammar), and all the profound dharma passed down from the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso that Mikyö Dorje had not yet received. He gave him instructions on the yidam deities of  Vajravarahi, initiations and sadhanas of Manjushri and White Tara, and the One Hundred Long Life Empowerments from the tradition of Machik Druppay Gyalmo, which is the version most frequently given in the Karma Kagyu tradition.

In this way, over the course of three years, Mikyö Dorje became a scholar. According to His Holiness’ calculations, the actual time spent studying was only 14 months. How was this vast curriculum covered in such a short time? Basically, through Mikyö Dorje’s exceptional diligence and single-mindedness towards his studies.  The teachings lasted from sunrise to sunset, punctuated by audiences and meetings, and Mikyö Dorje took less sleep so that he could use the night hours for memorising the texts.  Initially, there were three teaching sessions per day but Mikyö Dorje asked for it to be increased to six or seven sessions. Karma Trinleypa was reluctant to do this at first, but once it was obvious that Mikyö Dorje was able to retain both the words and the meaning without any difficulty, he increased the sessions to six a day.

They observed the usual protocols before each session; Mikyö Dorje, as the student, would rise when Karma Trinleypa entered the room, ask after his health, prostrate, and prepare his seat to show respect, but no time was wasted in small talk. Whenever Karma Trinleypa digressed, Mikyö Dorje would prompt him, “This is the point we got to. Please continue from there.”

During the six sessions, they studied the texts, the explanation of the text, and the explanation of the meaning. If Mikyö Dorje could not understand something, instead of pretending he did or thinking that he would learn it later, he would immediately try to resolve his doubt. He ate less food so as not to become lethargic, and drank less tea so that he didn’t need bathroom breaks. He also wore fewer clothes, in order to  stay alert.

For one whole year, they studied continuously, without missing a single day, His Holiness commented. Later, people said that Mikyö Dorje must have recognised certain qualities in Karma Trinleypa.

Finally, the time came when Karma Trinleypa had to leave, but there were still a few texts left to be studied, so Mikyö Dorje accompanied him on his journey, and Karma Trinleypa continued to teach him as they travelled. Mikyö Dorje accompanied him as far as Drakchi. On the 3rd day of the first month of the Ox Year [1529 CE], Karma Trinleypa made vast offerings for Mikyö Dorje’s long life and also offered a new long-life prayer and a list of offerings that were read aloud in the gathering. However, Mikyö Dorje and Karma Trinleypa were so reluctant to part company that they postponed. Eventually, Karma Trinleypa departed on the 11th.  Master and student prostrated in farewell, touched heads, and made aspirations. At that time, Mikyö Dorje said, “Please be my spiritual friend until I reach enlightenment.”

The histories relate how the attendants and entourage were amazed at the way the Karmapa praised, exalted, and respected Karma Trinleypa. The commentaries that Mikyö Dorje later wrote on the great texts of the Prajnaparamita, the Middle Way, and  Abhidharma contain prayers, supplications and praises of Karma Trinleypa– the guru who had taught him the explanations of the texts. We need to remember and learn from this example of the authentic guru and student, His Holiness concluded.

The Eighth Karmapa’s Education Continues

From Mikyö Dorje’s viewpoint, there was no end to listening and contemplation. When he travelled, from Kham to Central Tibet, if he found an authentic guru, no matter which tradition they belonged to, whether they were Sakya, Geluk, Drikung, Jonang, Shalpa, or Nyingma, he sought teachings. In particular, he was looking for clarification on Kalachakra. Ja Jamyang Tashi Namgyal and Panchen Dorgyal, a student of Panchen Shakya Chokden, were said to be the most knowledgeable at that time, so Mikyö Dorje invited them. Panchen Dorgyal agreed to come, but Mikyö Dorje had a vision that the interdependent circumstances were not right and put a halt to the invitation.

Later, when Mikyö Dorje went to Drikung, Panchen Dorgyal was there, leading the discussions which were part of the welcome ceremony.  Mikyö Dorje joined in the debate by proxy through Pawo Tsuglak.

His first question to Panchen Dorgyal asked about the differences between the eighteen schools cited in Sakya Pandita’s Treatise on the Three Vows. Panchen Dorgyal  answered rather grandly in a loud voice, ”There are many different schools among the Exposition schools that we know from the Abidharma, Middle Way and texts on Validity.”  When Mikyö Dorje contested his answer,  and asked again for the differences between the eighteen different schools, which included both Exposition and Sutra schools, Panchen Dorgyal  gave a very long answer but there was no main point to it. So Mikyö Dorje rechallenged him, and, in a quivering voice, Panchen Dorgyal admitted that he had nothing to say. Mikyö Dorje then succinctly answered his own question:

It is said that the Exposition does not accept self-awareness, the Sutra school does, the Mind Only assert that self-awareness exists ultimately, the Middle Way refutes self-awareness, and in tantra one is said to awaken because of self-awareness.

He then posed a second question, “What are the differences between these different schools’ positions on self-awareness?” Panchen Dorgyal attempted a reply, but floundered on, talking about  “apprehended images” and “apprehending images”. Mikyö Dorje challenged him, “Well, are you saying you do not know the differences between those self-awarenesses?” And in a very subdued voice, Panchen Dorgyal admitted this.

Later, Panchen Dorgyal confessed to Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa that he had spent day and night studying and reviewing in preparation for the Karmapa’s arrival, but the Karmapa hadn not questioned him on any of those texts. “He must be clairvoyant,” he concluded.

Panchen Dorje Dorgyal submitted seven scrolls of very subtle questions to the Karmapa. The Karmapa successfully contested his views, but he maintained respect for Panchen Dorgyal.

Because he wanted to study Kalachakra, Mikyö Dorje invited the authority at that time, Jamyang Tashi Namgyal. He was unable to come but sent two hundred rare and well-edited texts for the Karmapa to study. Mikyö Dorje wanted to study with other scholars; however, he failed to find any equal to Karma Trinleypa.

At this point His Holiness reflected briefly on his own experience of trying to get an education equivalent to a shedra education.

Mikyö Dorje had a great interest in texts, and he was able to acquire many rare texts.  He received innumerable volumes of commentaries on the sutras and tantras, and he would spend all night reading and memorising them. He would mark the outlines in red and the root text and citations in yellow. If there was a subtle point about the text that was not clear to him, he would write in small letters that he had not understood this point or that he needed to look at such-and-such a text. If a point was extremely difficult, he made annotations about different interpretations in different commentaries. He would ask other learned scholars about the meaning of the text. If there were a point he regarded as very important, he would make a special note of it and use this to resolve any doubts he might have.

When memorising important texts such as the Treasury of Valid Logic and its commentary or the commentaries on the higher and lower Abhidharma, he would recite them from 10.00 pm at night until 3.00 am. He continued this practice for many years.

In addition, he studied the grammars by Kalapa and Candragomi, metaphors, composition and the Sanskrit and Tibetan writing systems with Karma Lotsawa Rinchen Tashi. He studied Indian and Tibetan texts on validity with Kongtön Shakya Rinchen, Tsangtön Dorje Sangpo, Ngaripa Lekpay Gocha, and others. He received teachings from Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa on the Compendium of Astrology by Rangjung Dorje and Compositions that Please the Learned. He respected all scholars or people with qualities and spoke of them as more precious than gold,  ‘the eyes of prajna”.

According to Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa, the Eighth Karmapa was able to defeat even scholars whose knowledge and understanding were said to be unrivalled. Nevertheless, he would say humbly, without any pretension, “I have little intelligence and little education, so I know nothing.”

The Karmapa concluded:

In summary, with love for deluded beings and great reverence for the precious teachings, Mikyö Dorje accepted great hardships and difficulties to study with his gurus. Whatever experience arose from his listening, contemplating, and meditation, without hiding any or being miserly, he would teach dharma appropriate to the abilities of those who sought it, without delay. This is one of the most important of Mikyö Dorje’s deeds. 

Directly addressing the shedra students, the Karmapa emphasised that the practice of previous gurus should be an example so that we can benefit sentient beings and serve the teachings. We need to listen and contemplate in order to get experience. Our foremost thought should always be how to benefit suffering beings and never our own self-aggrandisement. This is the function of a shedra education.

The Fourth Good Deed :  “Abandoning meaningless distractions.”

The first section of the Autobriographical Verses, on How to Enter the Dharma, has six points. This is the fourth:

When I developed certainty from the bottom of my heart
That ordinary distractions are merely ways to waste this life, 
I cast away all commonplace diversions. 
My awareness became clear; I found conviction in the Jewels.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (4)

Mikyö Dorje’s Instructions on Training in Liberation Stories reads:

One must follow the guru without ever being separate from them. How long must one follow the guru? Until you achieve buddhahood. But to follow the guru in that way, you must have the fortune to be in a time and place similar to the gurus, the spiritual friends, and a body and mind of the same kind. Once you have achieved that superior basis, you must be free of obstacles and have the favourable conditions that permit following the guru and the dharma. 

That depends on gathering virtuous karma for that sake, such as having faith in the guru and the true dharma, and then diligence, mindfulness, samadhi, and prajna. Therefore, you must eliminate the impediments to virtue—conditions that create afflictions, places and friends that are especially pleasant or unpleasant, and cognitions that want, crave for, or hate those. If you can eliminate ordinary distractions for such purposes and distractions of thinking about methods for greatness and wealth in this life and then find solitude of body, speech, and mind, your mind will become workable and your awareness clear. Prajna will ripen and you will remember the qualities of the Three Jewels. When you remember that, you will feel that if you use your body, speech, and mind for pointless acts for even an instant, it is more precious than your life.  Practice one-pointedly with that feeling. 

His Holiness commented that when we follow a guru, we need to follow them, without being separated, until we achieve buddhahood. In order to follow that guru, we need the merit and we need to receive dharma teachings. In order to do that we need the basis of a body and mind, and for that, we must gather the accumulations.  The precious human life—human body with leisures and resources— is dependent on finding the teachings from an authentic spiritual friend and practising them. There are many impediments and obstructions, the worst of which are the afflictions in our own being–thoughts of greed and hatred.  If we want to overcome obstacles, it’s not necessary to perform obstacle-removing rituals to remove an external problem. We have to work on our own mind and eliminate all the afflictive thoughts. We are constantly being fooled by the eight worldly concerns. With our body, we should see if we can stay in a solitary space. With our speech, we should avoid meaningless speech and remain silent. And instead of our mind being distracted continuously, we should see if it can rest peacefully. If we practice these, our minds will go in a virtuous direction. Our awareness will become clear, and our intelligence will increase. If we use our body, speech and mind for the eight worldly dharmaswe will waste our lives; we need to use them purposefully to give our human life meaning and to practise the true dharma.

Mikyö Dorje was never fooled by these distractions. What is the evidence?  Although he could have extended his power and influence through his relationship with the King of Jiang or the Ming Emperor, Mikyö Dorje never sought to do this.

Mikyö Dorje was highly regarded and greatly respected. The Garchen [Great Encampment] was known as “The Ornament of the World” and was the most influential organisation in Tibet at that time. Karma Kagyu lamas, monasteries, and so forth filled all areas of Tibet, so the Karma Kagyu was very powerful in terms of both dharma and politics. Tibetans and other people considered the Karmapa to be the greatest lama. But he did not like being great and impressive, using his power, trying to increase the influence of his sect, and so forth. Not only that, he did whatever he could to prevent that from occurring.

The First Meeting Between the King of Jiang and the Karmapa

Jiang was a minor kingdom which arose in the border regions between Tibet and China. During the time of the Tibetan empire, the histories mention Jiang. It came under Tibetan rule several times, particularly during the time of King Düsong Mangpo. (Manuscripts from Dunhuang date the birth of Düsong Mangpo  to 676 CE) He invaded Jiang and annexed it. During the time of the Mongol Emperor,Kublai Khan, it was part of Yunnan. In 1381, during the Ming dynasty, the Ming armies invaded Yunnan. The Jiang were given the clan name ‘Mu’ by the Ming emperor.

The King of Jiang had invited the Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, but he was unable to go. The 13thKing of Jiang, Aya Aqiu, invited  the Eighth Karmapa shortly after his enthronement. At that time the king controlled many regions in Kham, and he sent Lama Tashi from Jiang with a letter of invitation to the seven-year old Karmapa. Travelling with the Garchen, Mikyö Dorje made his way across Kham, visiting Karma Gön and Kampo Nenang. He then went to Gyaltang [modern-day Shangri in Yunnan], and from there to Jiang, where the Garchen set up camp near the Satam Palace. An elephant, part of the military escort, broke free, went to the Karmapa’s tent, bowed his head, and raised his trunk in respect.

The palace of the King Of Jiang survives to this day and the Karmapa was able to show four slides of its central pagoda  surrounded by other lower buildings.

At dawn, the King of Jiang himself came in a great procession to greet the Karmapa. The king was carried in a palanquin,  accompanied by his uncle and younger brothers who rode elephants. The king got out of the palanquin at the Karmapa’s tent, prostrated. Another elephant  appeared and bowed its head, and then began trumpeting very loudly. They asked the mahout why, and he replied, “He is really happy that the Buddha has come to see him.” There were other miraculous signs: rainbows and a rain of flowers.

Mikyö Dorje presented gifts of statues, sutras and sacred relics, and Tibetan horses.

Each evening traditional musicians played outside the encampment.

An escort and a palanquin arrived to take him to a reception in the palace. Out of respect, the King met him at the middle gate [the main entrance] and offered a khata. Chinese monks played music and they beat a huge drum which required sixteen people to beat it. Mikyö Dorje sat on a golden throne. Tea was served, offerings of silk brocades and so on were made. The three queens took off their jewellery and offered it to the Karmapa. Then Mikyö Dorje bestowed the Boddhisattva Vows.  The next day he was invited to the palace again.

There were many good outcomes from this meeting. At that time, the King of Jiang was involved in various conflicts, but he agreed not to wage war with Tibet for fifteen years. The indigenous religion in Jiang was similar to the old form of Tibetan Bön and involved animal sacrifice. After Mikyö Dorje’s visit, the king gained an unshakeable faith in Buddhism. He promised to send 500 people to become monks and to build 100 monasteries.  Finally, it was probably because the Eighth  Karmapa had made the connection that the 10thKarmapa, Chöying  Dorje, and other Kagyu lamas were able to seek refuge there.

The Jiang king hoped that Mikyö Dorje would remain in Jiang, but, after a week, he started on his way back to Tibet. The Karmapa promised that he would return after seven years, but for some reason was unable to. However, years later Jiang would become a place of refuge for the Karma Kagyu.

Day Nine: The Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa and the Ming Emperor Yongle

February 26, 2021

His Holiness sent his auspicious greetings to today’s audience and extended a particularly warm and joyous welcome to the Kagyu Samye Dzong Lubumbashi community, which has joined the teachings every day from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Delighting in their practice of the Dharma, His Holiness has taken an interest in their community, noting their very good pronunciation of Tibetan while reciting the Twenty-One Praises of Tara. Additionally, many Tibetans, who, like him, have seen their videos online, have praised their effort and practice.

Kagyu Samye Dzong Lumbumbashi is affiliated with Akong Rinpoche, whose sudden passing in 2013 saddened His Holiness and was a great blow to Akong Rinpoche’s students. His Holiness told listeners that, before his enthronement as Karmapa, he met Akong Rinpoche and so had known Akong Rinpoche well from the time he was young. Akong Rinpoche helped many poor and disadvantaged people as well as supporting over 300 schools in Tibet. His Holiness said it was his responsibility to locate Rinpoche’s tulku and that he would try his hardest to find him soon. He then offered his greetings again to Kagyu Samye Dzong Lubumbashi, assured them he is rejoicing in the work that they have done, and, as French rather than English is one of their languages, he concluded, “Merci beaucoup”.

Part 1: The Root of our Problems Cannot be Found Outside Ourselves

Having reached the fourth stanza of The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly”, His Holiness read the root text:

He realized from his heart—not just in words—
How this life’s wealth and fame are devoid of meaning.
He exemplified revulsion and a lack of craving
And recalled the futility—to him I pray

According to the Fifth Shamar Könchok Yenlak’s annotated commentary, the meaning of this stanza is that Mikyö Dorje was not attached to this life. The Eighth Karmapa understood that all of the good things, such as happiness and friends, of the three realms of samsara are unnecessary and pointless. By remembering this, one does not crave or desire such things. Instead, His Holiness said, it is vital to be content with ordinary resources such as food and clothing. He then referred to the previous day’s teaching on the Fourth Great Deed, which has the same meaning as this stanza.

A story was then told of a person listening to a teaching about “good things”. During the teaching, it was said that the reason we are suffering in samsara is because we’re deceived by all of the good things within it. Because the good things in samsara are actually bad, we should be unattached to them. Now this person had a friend whose name happened to be “Good Things” (Sipay Phuntsok), so when he heard that all “good things” in samsara are bad, he began thinking, “My friend Good Things is giving me problems”. He confused the “good things” of samsara with his friend named “Good Things”. After the teaching, he went up to his friend Good Things and beat and punched him really hard! The friend had no idea what was going on!

While we may laugh at this story, there is a serious point His Holiness asked listeners to consider. Similar to this person who believed the good things of samsara were outside of himself, we too tend to think that all of our problems and difficulties come from outside of ourselves. Looking outside is the same as looking for a guy named “Good Things” and beating him up, said His Holiness. However, the root of our problems cannot be found outside. Instead, we need to look inside ourselves. To do this, we need the eye of prajna. Just as we need a mirror to see our own face, we need the eye of prajna to see our faults, situations, and problems.

Part 2: The Ming Emperor Yongle invites the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa to China

Yesterday, His Holiness spoke about how MIkyö Dorje was invited to Jiang by the 13th King of LIjiang Mu Ding. Mikyö Dorje was also invited to China by the Ming Emperor, who sent an envoy when the Karmapa was but 14 years old. This history will be discussed later. For today’s teaching, His Holiness noted that Mikyö Dorje was not the first Karmapa to be invited to China. Instead, he highlighted the historical precedent of Ming Emperors issuing decrees and invitations to Karmapas prior to the Eighth.

By examining Karma Kamtsang histories, His Holiness examined the dharma relationship formed between the third Ming Emperor, Yong le, and the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa. From a Ming Dynasty writing entitled the Tales of Four Brothers, When he was young, Yongle heard of a guru Karmapa in Ü-Tsang who was unlike any other. Therefore, in the first year of his reign and with his queen’s encouragement, Yongle sent his Inner Minister, the Tibetan eunuch Gönpo Sherap, with a decree inviting the Karmapa to China.

Deshin Shekpa was born in the region of Niandang (present-day Gongbu Jiangda County, Linzhi) in the Male Wood Rat Year (1384). Khenchen Lodrö Gyaltsen recognized the young Deshin Shekpa as the reincarnation of the previous Karmapa Rolpay Dorje. Deshin Shekpa took his full ordination vows, probably when he was around 19 years old, with Khenchen Sönam Sangpo of Gendun Gang, who was said to be an emanation of one of the 16 Arhats. It is said that when he took vows, there were over 80 monks in the assembly. Tibetan history has named this ordination as the one with the largest and purest sangha.

Deshin Shekpa’s many teachers included: Khenchen Sönam Sangpo; Kashipa Rinchen Pal; Gui Gungpa Rinchen Pal; Khenchen Gyaltsen Pal; Khenchen Yönten Lodrö; and Gya Sangye Wangchuk. Gui Gungpa Rinchen Pal had studied at the first Tibetan shedra, Sangpu, and because he had passed the debate exam in four different texts, he was known as kashipa (=a master of four texts or treatises). The Karmapa invited this kashipa to the encampment and studied the scriptures in-depth with him. The other teacher, Khenchen Sönam Sangpo, wrote praises about Deshin Shekpa and was said to have great faith in him. Deshin Shekpa passed away at the age of 32 in the Female Sheep Year (1415) at the Potala Palace in Lhasa; his collected works are no more than one slim volume but His Holiness said these works are very elegant, having been written in a charming style.

In Pawo Tsuklag Trengwa’s Feast of Scholars, Yongle’s decree is recorded to have included words of invitation akin to this effect:

I heard of your name before when I was in the North and thought I should invite you then. Now that I have ascended to the throne as Emperor, I would like to bring peace to the kingdom and I have been thinking for a long time that we should together bring good fortune to all people…You are inseparable from the Buddha’s intentions, so you should come to China and spread the teachings in order to benefit the kingdom. Also, my mother and father have passed away. I thought I should do something to repay their kindness but have not found a way. As you are skilled in means and activity, please perform rituals to benefit the deceased. Please come quickly. 

The Karmapa arrived in the Chinese capital Nanjing five years later in the twelfth lunar month, when he was 22 years old. The Ming Emperor named the Fifth Karmapa Rúlái Dà Bǎo Fǎwáng, which translated into Tibetan is Deshin Shekpa Rinpoche Chökyi Gyalpo, the name by which the Fifth Karmapa is known today (in English, his name means “Precious King of Dharma”). His Holiness’ slide included an old painting of the Ming Emperor wearing a resplendent yellow-golden robe and black cap, and a modern 3D computer-generated image of the Emperor’s face. There are probably over 20,000 words recording the Ming Emperor Yongle and the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa’s meeting, which possibly makes it the most written about any Tibetan lama in Chinese historical records.

Part 3: Yongle Greets the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa

Against his ministers’ advice, the Ming Emperor Yongle received the Karmapa in-person upon his arrival in Nanjing, with his palms joined and with great respect. Thousands of people and monks gathered to witness the event, elaborate feasts were prepared, and gifts including 10,000 sang of gold, 2000 sang of silver, and ritual items were given in the Huakai Audience Hall. Amazing signs were said to have occurred. This meeting of the experienced, older political leader and the younger dharma leader was certainly impactful; 200 years later, a Chinese pilgrim referred to the event in one of his writings, indicating that even centuries later people were still learning about and recalling Yongle and Deshin Shekpa’s meeting.

The Wondrous Decree “Tathagata Precious King of Dharma, Great Maitreya of the West, Peaceful Lord Buddha, and Master of All Buddhist Teachings on Earth” chronicled the events of Deshin Shekpa’s visit to Nanjing. Miracles such as rains of flowers were reported. On the eighteenth day of the second month, Deshin Shekpa performed a purification ritual for the Emperor’s deceased parents and for the soldiers who died in the war that established the Ming Dynasty. This and other grand rituals were held at Linggu temple, where Deshin Shekpa resided while in the capital. Because the Ming Emperor offered Linggu temple to Deshin Shekpa, the temple became a Karma Kagyu monastery for some time. The Wondrous Decree is now housed in the Library in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and His Holiness, with the contribution of his painting master from Taiwan, has reproduced some of the text and a painting which were shown to today’s audience. His Holiness copied the Tibetan calligraphy while his painting master wrote the Chinese text.

Part 4: The Strength of Yongle and Deshin Shekpa’s Dharma Relationship

In addition to giving the Fifth Karmapa the title “Master of All the Buddha’s Teachings on Earth With Excellent Prajna Who Has Reached Enlightenment and Is Victorious In the Ten Directions with Perfect Deeds”, Yongle also gifted him with a decree and a precious jade seal, now in a museum in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. His Holiness explained that jade was a precious material, valued more highly than gold and silver, which Tibetans usually prize greatly.

Some ministers thought these events were auspicious, while others remained skeptical. One visitor said Deshin Shekpa looked like an ordinary person who liked to eat lamb, and was deceiving everyone with his illusions. The Emperor, however, gained even more faith in Deshin Shekpa. Twenty different letters written by Yongle to Deshin Shekpa are still extant and reveal the depth of their guru/student connection.

Wanting to leave behind the busy-ness of the capital, on the 13th day of the third month, Deshin Shekpa travelled to Xiantong Temple on Wutai Mountain. Although the Emperor wished him to stay at Linggu monastery, he granted Deshin Shekpa the use of a carriage to bring him to Wutai Mountain and instructed a eunuch to renovate the temple as this was to be Deshin Shekpa’s living quarters while at Wutai. In the “Supplement of Great Buddhist Masters”, it was noted that the Fifth Karmapa was inclined to solitude and did not like distractions. His Holiness showed a photograph of Xiantong monastery as it currently stands.

The 17th day of the fourth month was the Emperor’s birthday; Deshin Shekpa sent relics of the Buddha and arhats to him. For the Karmapa’s birthday on the 18th day of the fifth month, the Emperor wrote a verse, which includes the line “When Deshin Shekpa arrived in the world / All was filled with light like the sun’s.” The Emperor also wrote other letters recalling ceremonies conducted at Linggu monastery. This shows that the Emperor continued to think of the Karmapa with respect and loving thoughts.

As was mentioned, the Ming Emperor Yongle and his queen had great faith in the Dharma. His Holiness told the audience that when the queen died, the Emperor wrote to Deshin Shekpa and asked him to perform the funerary rites. The queen had once had a dream in which Chenrezig was writing a sutra. Upon awakening, the queen wrote this sutra down and showed it to Deshin Shekpa to confirm its authenticity. After the queen died, the Emperor printed many copies of this sutra that the queen had seen in her dream. Likewise, the Emperor had a copy of the Kangyur printed using wood blocks and brought back to China. This became known as the Yongle Kangyur/Collected Words of the Buddha. Scholars say this was the first printing of the Kangyur in Tibet, and it occurred because of the Ming Emperor and Deshin Shekpa’s efforts.

The Karmapa eventually asked to return to Tibet. The Emperor suggested he and Deshin Shekpa form an alliance similar to that of the Sakya and the Mongols, who had previously taken Tibet by force. Deshin Shekpa was not comfortable with the suggestion that they should wage war, and advised the Emperor that one needs to practice the dharma according to the Dharma. Yongle also suggested unifying all Tibetan Buddhist lineages into one, because having multiple lineages could lead to conflict. The Emperor offered to send his soldiers into Tibet to support Deshin Shekpa, so that Tibetans would then be forced to follow him and Deshin Shekpa would be able to meld all the lineages into one. Yongle thought they could then be governed from two seats in Tibet (an Eastern and a Western one). There could be a great Dharma festival and gathering every year. Deshin Shekpa rejected this idea as well, explaining that a single dharma lineage would not be able to tame all sentient beings. The different lineages arose from the Buddha’s great compassion, and are needed because of our very different capacities and interests. Deshin Shekpa continued to say that there is no reason to unite all lineages into one because if one practices his or her own lineage properly, that is very good. He then recommended to Yongle to give ranks, titles and gifts to all important people and great lamas in Tibet as this would ultimately be beneficial to everyone in the region.

The Ming Emperor proceeded to send Deshin Shekpa gifts after he had returned to Tibet, and Deshin Shekpa continued to advise Yongle. Deshin Shekpa had great kindness in his heart and was not attached to fame or power. He was well-known throughout Tibet in his time, had great faith in the Dharma, and did not seek profit or fame. His intention was to bring happiness and peace to everyone.

His Holiness promised to continue speaking about Deshin Shekpa the following session.

Day Ten: Karmapa Deshin Shekpa, Karmapa Mikyö Dorje and China

February 27, 2021

The Karmapa began with advice for those in India and Nepal not to become too relaxed about the Covid 19 pandemic but to continue to be very careful and take precautions

Part 1: Deshin Shekpa Travels to China

According to the histories, the Ming emperor Yongle invited the Fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa, from Ütsang [which is how the Chinese documents refer to Tibet] to perform rituals for the emperor’s deceased parents, a custom which is very important in Chinese culture. During the Karmapa’s visit, the emperor also had lengthy discussions with him on political strategies he should adopt in Tibet. The emperor hoped that, with his military backing, Deshin Shekpa would assume political power and responsibility in Tibet, in the same way that Drogön Chögyal Pakpa had done during the Mongol Yuan dynasty. Kublai Khan had given Drogön Chögyal Pakpa the title “Precious King of Dharma” and the Ming Emperor now gave that same rank and title, with just some minor differences, to Deshin Shekpa

Deshin Shekpa had no wish to accept any political power or responsibility and gave two reasons: sending a Chinese army into Tibet would only create turmoil and strife for the Tibetan people; and having many Dharma lineages in Tibet was beneficial. He requested instead that the Ming emperor give positions and titles to both secular and religious leaders of all traditions in Tibet. This the emperor did, and the Ming dynasty continued this tradition. After Deshin Shekpa returned to Tibet, the Ming emperor invited Je Tsongkhapa. Tsongkhapa, however, was unable to go, but the emperor likewise invited Jamchen Chöje of the Geluk order, Tekchen Chöje of the Sakya and so forth, giving them titles, just as he had given Deshin Shekpa.

While Deshin Shekpa was in Nanjing, he made many suggestions to the emperor, and consequently, the emperor granted amnesties to people in prison. This is evidence of Deshin Shekpa’s great loving-kindness towards sentient beings, which he showed in his acts many times. He also fulfilled a prediction made by the Fourth Karmapa, Rolpai Dorje. This said that if a pure bhikshu were to pass away on a certain mountain and his body were to be cremated, there, there would not be war between China and India. Eventually, Deshin Shekpa passed away on that very same mountain and his body was cremated there; because of which his successor was able to go to India and prevent the war between China and India. The Khenpo of Gendun Khang composed a praise which said that the incarnation of Rolpai Dorje would be able to protect many sentient beings from danger and bring them happiness. Knowing this, he would take rebirth intentionally – that was Deshin Shekpa.

On his return to Tibet, many people came to welcome him. Even Je Tsongkhapa sent him a letter, which is preserved in the Collected Short Works of Je Tsongkhapa. In this letter it says: “Regarding the person who takes responsibility for the teachings of the Buddha to flourish, there is no one greater than Deshin Shekpa, the Karmapa”. Along with the letter, he sent a statue of Buddha Shakyamuni sitting in the seated position of Maitreya from Reting monastery. The Sixteenth Karmapa brought the statue with him from Tibet and it is in the treasury at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. Masters from other traditions also wrote letters.

Tsurphu Jamyang Chenpo, a direct disciple of Deshin Shekpa, wrote a namthar which was unavailable before but which we do have now. In it, he states that during the time that Deshin Shekpa was in China, it was not only the high officials who came for an audience, but many people came who spoke various different languages. Thus, Deshin Shekpa would teach the Dharma surrounded by four or five translators. Many of the people who came for audience with Deshin Shekpa had travelled for days, prostrating with each step they took, as was the old Chinese tradition. Mainly, Deshin Shekpa taught reciting the name mantras of the buddhas and bodhisattvas and making commitments, such as giving up killing. Thus, he encouraged the people to practice virtue.

In the Chinese National Library’s collection, there is a text called The Names, Images and Name Mantras of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It concerns the exchange between China and Tibet of Buddhist texts and printing techniques during the Ming period. [ His Holiness showed a slide of the book which has been published using these texts]. The text is primarily written in Chinese; there are some sections that include four alphabets including Lentsa, Tibetan, and Mongolian with Chinese introductions and conclusions. There are three sections that are primarily sections that give the images, names, and name mantras of buddhas and bodhisattvas in a mixture of Chinese and Tibetan. There is an image of Deshin Shekpa among them. It was printed in Beijing in 1431, the sixth year of the reign of Emperor Xuande, by Deshin Shekpa’s Chinese student Xiūjī shànzhu.

The foreword to this text, in Chinese and Tibetan, reads, “The Karmapa or Precious King of Dharma has shared many of the Dharmas and scriptures that he had given. So, these are now printed in this book.” Many researchers say this is an important text and is a good source regarding how Tibetan Buddhism spread to the East into the Chinese areas.

There is a similar text from the Ming dynasty called Sì Yǒu Zhāi Cóngshū which has the same meaning and the same influence as this text. The focus of this second text is Deshin Shekpa’s ceremonies for the emperor’s parents at the Linggu temple; there were different auspicious signs, divine music from the sky, and everyone saw and heard them. The witnesses reported what they had seen to the emperor, and the event was captured in a song entitled Auspicious Omens in the Sky. From that time on, the emperor’s faith in Deshin Shekpa became stronger and he studied the Buddhist scriptures even more assiduously than he had before. He also wrote Dharma melodies which were performed in song and dance in the palace. The emperor finished composing in the seventeenth year of his reign and printed everything in a book with some pictures of the Buddha. The book was distributed widely.

Then, on the 12th day of the 9th month, the emperor went to Dabaung monastery [which translates as” The Great Monastery of Repaying Kindness”]. He had the book reprinted and distributed. In the next year, on the 16th day of the 5th month, he asked for the two ministers to print and spread these texts with the names of the buddhas and bodhisattvas and melodies in the Shanxi and Henan regions. And so, the emperor’s mind moved into the direction of the Dharma.  He had such a great interest in the Dharma; his queens also developed great respect for the buddhas and bodhisattvas. For the sake of all the people who had great faith in the Dharma, he built many monasteries inside and outside Nanjing and it was filled with temples.

His Holiness briefly explained what is meant by Dharma melodies. Karma Pakshi, wherever he went, would wear the black crown, and recite the mani mantra to a melody, and spread that practice. The later Karmapas continued this form of activity, wearing the black crown and reciting the melodies. During the time of the 16thKarmapa, however, when he wore the black crown, they would play the gyalings but not recite the melodies. Thus, at the time of the earlier Karmapas, people were primarily benefitted by the mani mantra and the mani melody which was sung at that time. When Deshin Shekpa performed the ceremonies and rituals, so many auspicious signs occurred, the people naturally developed faith and belief, and would recite the mani prayer day and night.

However, at some point there was some confusion in connection with the Ru-Shen clan who practiced Confucianism and were not in favor of Buddhism. They claimed that the mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG could not be translated into Chinese, and one should therefore recite AM BANI HUNG instead, which translates as “I am flattering you”.

What is the relationship between having faith in the Karmapa and reciting the six-syllable mani mantra?  The Chinese text reads: The mantra of Guru Karmapa, the Precious King of Dharma, OM MANI PADME HUNG”. The Tibetan text reads: “I prostrate to the Lord of Dharma, Karmapa, OM MANI PADME HUNG.” At that time, he explained, there was no tradition of chanting “Karmapa Khyenno.” Because the Karmapa was considered an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, there was the tradition of reciting OM MANI PADME HUNG, the mantra of Avalokiteshvara. What is more, Karma Pakshi had emphasized the mani practice so much, and when Deshin Shekpa went to China, he also recited it as well, so the six-syllable mantra spread widely in China under the patronage of the Yongle emperor.

There seems to be a profound connection, the Karmapa commented.

The Ming emperors continued to support and spread Tibetan Buddhism after the death of Yongle. For example, at the time of the Ming emperor Xiaozong, there were over a thousand Tibetan monks In Beijing. Likewise, at the time of the Ming emperor Yingzong, they prepared a special place to serve meals to the Tibetan monks and nuns and built a monastery where they could stay. During the Ming emperor Xiaozong, Tibetan monks and nuns were brought into the palace to perform rituals. Míng Wǔzōng, the emperor who invited Mikyö Dorje, showed even more interest in Tibetan Buddhism than his predecessors. He learned Tibetan and used to wear the robes of a Tibetan monk.

When Deshin Shekpa had finished performing the ceremonies at the Linggu temple, he went to Wutai Mountain and spent a long time there. As His Holiness had mentioned the previous day, at Wutai Mountain there is a Xian Tong temple and a stupa of the Buddha Akshobhya, offered by the emperor. This is probably the first Tibetan Buddhist temple built at Wutai Mountain, which is one of four sacred sites in China. In Chinese Buddhism it is the sacred site of Manjushri, and, as such, is the most important site for both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhists.

Though Deshin Shekpa spent only two full years in Chin, he exerted a powerful influence. His students continued to stay in China and took on the responsibility to spread the Dharma. One of the people who invited Deshin Shekpa from Tibet to China, a monk called Zhiguang, became an exceptionally good practitioner and an important translator from Chinese to Tibetan and vice versa. Another great student of Deshin Shekpa was Palden Tashi. He was with Deshin Shekpa in Nanjing, and Deshin Shekpa took him back with him to Tibet and gave him many instructions. Palden Tashi became one of the most famous translators from Chinese into Tibetan in the Ming dynasty. He spent a long time in China, teaching many Chinese people and ministers the Dharma.

Deshin Shekpa’s most famous Chinese lay student was a eunuch called Zhenghe. The emperor Yongle relied on him greatly, and he went to the West seven times. He was among the first ones to cross the ocean to the West and is a really famous Chinese historic figure, who discovered and explored many new places. How do we know that he was a Buddhist? Although many histories say that he was a Muslim, there is a text which was printed in the beginning of the Ming dynasty called “The Sutra of the Lay Vows” that is ascribed to “the eunuch Zhenghe who had great faith in the Buddhist teachings”.  He went with armies and great ships to the West, crossing oceans, to work for the emperor. As he sailed across the great oceans, he was protected by the buddhas and arrived safely; thus, he had no obstacles on the path. And because he always had such gratitude and a great heart, he was able to bring back great wealth. He always thought that this was the kindness of the buddhas and because of this he would go to great expense to print many Buddhist texts. For example, he printed ten copies of the words of the Buddha and offered them to well-known monasteries at the various places in China. He met Deshin Shekpa at the Linggu temple. Later, Zhenghe went to Sri Lanka and brought back a tooth of the Buddha and offered it to the Chinese emperor. The Chinese emperor encased it in gold and give it to Deshin Shekpa.

When Deshin Shekpa returned to Tibet, he brought many Chinese artefacts with him, one of which is the great jade seal which is now one of the prized exhibits in the Tibet Museum in Lhasa.

Part 2: Mikyö Dorje’s Invitation to China

The Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, said that in his next life, if there were to be only one Karmapa, he would not bring great benefit to the teachings, and, in one text, he predicted two Karmapas. Accordingly, some people said that the Ming Emperor Zhengde, also known as Míng Wǔzōng (1491–1521), was an emanation of the Karmapa.

Mikyö Dorje spoke about this topic in the autobiography he wrote at Namtö Mountain:

Then the victorious Chödrak Gyatso said,
“To protect the teachings of the Buddha
In this world, emanated bodies
As both the emperor and as the one he revered.

“If the teachings are not protected by power,
The unvirtuous actions of degenerate people will not be tamed.
In the future I will simultaneously emanate bodies 
As the sponsor and the object of his worship.

“And thus, sustain the activity,” he said.
Accordingly the Chinese emperor Zhengde said
“I am also an emanation
Of the Karmapa.” 

In any case, it is said that Mikyö Dorje’s birth in 1505 and the emperor’s accession to the golden throne occurred on the same day. The emperor had an interest in many different religions, including Islam, and a great interest in Tibetan Buddhism, too. He gave himself the dharma name Dàqìng Fǎwáng, which translates to “Glorious Jewel” and had a stamp of it made. Additionally, there are stories that he wore the robes of a Tibetan Lama, put on a black crown, and said, “I am the Karmapa.”

From the time of Karmapa Deshin Shekpa, there was a tradition of the Karmapas and the Ming emperors sending messengers to each other and making offerings. In particular, during the time of the Eighth Karmapa, Emperor Zhengde said, “In the west, there is a nirmanakaya of Amitabha. He has come for my sake, so he must be invited to China.” On the emperor’s order, a great caravan of ministers, eunuchs, soldiers, monks, and porters, bearing offerings: ritual objects made of gold, silver, and various kinds of jewels; robes; and seats; tea, silks, sandalwood and untold other offerings, in total over 70,000 people were sent to deliver the invitation. [The west here refers to west of China, i.e., Tibet.]

This is mentioned in Mikyö Dorje’s autobiography:

Bring from the west 
Amitabha’s emanation to benefit me,
Who is known as the rebirth of the Karmapa,
Back to the great palace.”

His Holiness explained it was important to compare both the Chinese and the Tibetan histories in order to establish what happened, as they sometimes differ.

One history of the early Ming dynasty records that people in the emperor’s quarters told him that a monk in the west knew the three times– past, present and future–and this was probably Dusum Khyenpa. They reported that people from the backward regions said he was a nirmanakya or living buddha. In the Tibetan histories, someone called Domtsa Goshri was the first one to inform the emperor about the Karmapas. He was given the title Goshri by the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso and sent to China. At first, he wasn’t believed, and they put him in prison.  Later, however, they believed him and released him and questioned him about the Karmapa and they developed some interest. The Chinese histories record that during the time of Yongle, he sent envoys to entreat the Karmapa to come to China, and made extensive gifts and offerings, so many that he actually emptied the treasury. The emperor set the envoys ten years in which to accomplish their mission.

However, the Tibetan histories say that Mikyö Dorje had no choice in the matter. The command from the emperor was so forceful. He thought that if he refused to go, the emperor’s soldiers would abduct him anyway and take him to China, which does suggest, the Karmapa commented, that the figure of 70,000 might be true.

The huge retinue halted and made camp at Rabgang, so as not to offend Tibet. The great encampment sent a welcome party as was customary, but the Chinese minister in charge did not let them enter. Rather than go in person, he sent his officials with an invitation letter to Mikyö Dorje, who did not accept it. He probably sent three or four parties to the encampment, but Mikyö Dorje did not accept the invitation. Finally, in 1520, the minister himself went to deliver the invitation. On the first day, the minister himself saw Mikyö Dorje and offered him a khata and so forth. The next day, the emperor’s invitation itself arrived, and Lord Mikyö Dorje, as was the custom that had been previously written down, went to receive the letter itself and accepted it. The next day, the offerings from the queens, princes, ministers, and most of the other offerings arrived, which were to be later arranged as offerings to the encampment’s shrine. However, when he first met the minister, Mikyö Dorje saw signs that the omens were not good. Then Avalokiteshvara appeared to him in a vision and said that the emperor had passed away so he should not go. So, he declined the invitation to go to China.

Mikyö Dorje was only in his teens at that time, so the Chinese minister had tried to bribe the Karmapa’s steward with gifts. He promised the steward that if Mikyö Dorje were to go to China, the steward would be rewarded with a high rank – guó gōng or duke. The two agreed that if Mikyö Dorje did not go, the offerings not be given to Mikyö Dorje until he agreed to go. Mikyö Dorje was adamant that he would not go because the omens were not good, but in order for the envoys not to get punished by the emperor upon their return, Mikyö Dorje promised that he would go at a later time. The minister did not accept this, took back the offerings, and threatened to destroy Kham.  Meanwhile, he plotted with the steward how they could abduct the Karmapa and force him to go to China. Fortunately, the plot was discovered and Mikyö Dorje was whisked away to Central Tibet and safety.

Mikyö Dorje recounts this in his autobiography:

Seventy thousand messengers of the great lord of humans
Came when I was fourteen years old.
They ordered that I go immediately
To be the Chinese emperor’s guru. 

At that time, I was not yet an adult,
And even if I were, I did not have in my being
Even a fraction of the qualities
To be the spiritual master of a nirmanakaya emperor. 

I was discouraged and despaired of my karma—
What is the fault whereby I had such a title
As being known as the Karmapa?

They supplicated me repeatedly,
Saying I do not have the power
To go above the emperor’s envoy.
They planned to take me, and at that time, 
I refused very earnestly.

The retinue of the emperor’s envoy
Became haughty and departed. 

So, eventually ,the envoy had no choice but to leave. Yet, it did not turn out well for them. On the way they were attacked by bandits,many soldiers died, and the offerings were lost. As it turned out, not long afterwards, the emperor passed away and there was a new emperor who had no faith in Buddhism, so Mikyo Dorje’s journey would have been pointless. The eunuch envoy was almost executed, but then he was demoted and made a gardener. Many natural disasters occurred in China, and it was said this was because the minister had not given the offerings as the emperor had decreed and because the Karmapa was displeased. The biography reads:

At that time, the emperor, lord of humans,
The propulsion of his life exhausted, passed to a different realm.
At that time, even had I gone,
There would have been no point, other than weariness. 

It is not that I had the ability and power
To accomplish the great emperor’s wishes
But did not. Since I lacked the ability
To accomplish them, O emperor,
Whether you are an emanation or not,
If there is any wrong, I confess. Please forgive me.

His Holiness drew some general conclusions from these events.

They show the true character of Mikyö Dorje. Although he faced a lot of criticism for not going to China, not accepting the many offerings and so forth, in fact this is an example of his having no attachment to the eight worldly dharmas. He did what was in his heart and mind. He would not do something because someone made offerings to him or because, as in the case of the Ming emperor, they were important or famous. From the time he was young, he was different and self-determined. He really stood on his own two feet no matter what others said. He used his intelligence to examine a situation, and then act according to his own insight.

When we look at the life stories of great beings, we might sometimes wonder why they did something they did and think that it would have been better for them to have done something else. But, when we look at people, we can only see the external appearance. When we consider the deeds of the gurus, we sometimes fail to understand, questioning what they are doing. However, later we realize that these great masters did the right thing and were examples to us. Sometimes, it may even take a couple of centuries to understand the many situations and know that what they did was good.

Day 11: How the Three Jewels are the Source of all Happiness

February 28, 2021

This Lifetime is No Longer than a Cat’s Yawn

After offering his greetings to everyone, His Holiness began the eleventh day of teachings by immediately drawing our attention to the main texts, Autobiographical Verses of Karmapa Mikyö Dorje Called “Good Deeds”and The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…”. His Holiness pointed out the similarities between the fifth stanzas of both of these texts.

The fifth verse of the Good Deeds:

I saw that everyone high and low must die,
Like a river rushing, naked and empty-handed.
When I reflected, how could thoughts of the eight concerns 
Have any chance to arise, even in dreams?
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (5)

This fifth good deed is also the fifth aspect of the preliminaries in the main outline with a primary focus on “giving up on this life because impermanence has taken root in his being.” Gyalwang Karmapa illustrated the similarity between this verse and the fifth stanza from The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…”

His mind never free from love and pangs of compassion,
His wish for emancipation was utterly pure.
He always despaired of suffering and its causes
And pondered impermanence—to him I pray.

In the Fifth Shamar Könchok Yenlak’s annotated commentary on The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…”, this verse is about, “transcendent generosity – loving-kindness and so forth – and transcendent diligence of nonattachment and so forth.”

His Holiness elaborated on the meaning of these verses by distilling the main points of Mikyö Dorje’s Instruction on Training in Liberation Stories. He summarized, “If we use our body, speech, and mind for the pointless activities of this lifetime, then that is a really great loss.” He added:

The reason for that is that our body, life, and all of our possessions do not remain for even an instant. They are impermanent and are always changing. Their speed is even faster than the speed of the sun as it rises and sets. We have our friends whom we have known for a long time; there is all the wealth we have risked our whole life to gather; there are our own places and lands. This fully ripened body is used up moment after moment. Because our bodies are always coming to depletion, Mikyö Dorje understood this and had a great feeling of impermanence. He really had an uncomfortable feeling that they were being destroyed by birth and death. Likewise, our body, possessions, entourage, and fame depend upon the results of our past karma. Whatever little time, power, and capacity we have in this lifetime, we need to use it in order to not suffer and to be happy in future lifetimes.

What does it mean to say that the actions of this life are meaningless or pointless? When the great masters of the past say any action done for this life is pointless, meaningless, and ridiculous, it is because they believe in their future lives. His Holiness emphasized that this life is extremely short in comparison with future lives. In fact, this life is no longer than a cat’s yawn. If we lose this opportunity to bring benefit to other lives, then it is a great loss.

Unfortunately, our thoughts are mistaken. Whenever we say all the actions of this life are meaningless, we incorrectly think that this is the saying of someone who does not know how to do anything. It is imperative we train our minds to really know what this means. Why do they say this is pointless? The lamas of the past would look at everything we do as pointless and ridiculous. If we tell a small child who is playing not to play, they will question it, “Why can’t I play? It’s fun, isn’t it?” What the gurus of the past see as pointless, we do not see as being pointless. We are like a small child.

His Holiness shared a great story about two famous Kadampa scholars, Geshe Potowa and Geshe Chökyi Öser. One day the students said to and Geshe Chökyi Öser, “When Potowa teaches Dharma, we have this really different feeling in our mind – a different type of belief or confidence. But when you teach, we do not develop as much certainty as when Potowa teaches. Why is that?” Geshe Chökyi Öser did not immediately answer. He thought to himself, “That cannot be. I know the Dharma better than Potowa does. It is possible that Potowa has some pith instruction.” Yet when Chökyi Öser listened to Potowa teach he also had a different type of feeling. Chökyi Öser asked Potowa about this, “When I listen to you teach the Dharma, you do not say anything I have not heard before. But I understand something I haven’t previously understood.” Potowa said, “What you are saying is true. You know it better than I do, but when I teach the Dharma, I point the arrow inside.” His Holiness clarified that Potowa’s aim was to help the mind. Instead of shooting the arrow outside, he was speaking and teaching with the aim of bringing benefit to the students’ minds. The gurus of the past think everything we do is pointless because we work solely for this lifetime. When we do this, then everything is pointless or meaningless.

His Holiness also drew from Mikyö Dorje’s life story to emphasize this point. Mikyö Dorje homed in upon having good intentions and practice; he abandoned things centered on greatness in this lifetime. Mikyö Dorje became a great lama for everyone because of having bodhichitta.

There were several features that defined Mikyö Dorje’s character and nature. He was quite distinct from ordinary people who only work hard for the sake of this lifetime. Ordinary people work hard to bring profit for themselves and loss for others. Mikyö Dorje had no interest in this and he would say to others that this is pointless and meaningless. He meant this from the depths of his heart. When he saw that people experienced loss or suffering, he had this great feeling as if it had happened to himself. He worried about it greatly. When he heard that people were happy, he would feel truly delighted about this. When he heard talk about gurus or masters in conflict, he would feel a significant loss. When he heard there was no conflict and the teachings were going well, he was delighted and rejoiced that their Dharma practice was going well. He would tell many people about it.

While Mikyo Dorje was alive, many people made offerings, but he did not relish or keep such things. Mikyö Dorje maintained that he would not use his body, speech, and mind for the sake of this lifetime at all. He viewed it as pointless. From a worldly perspective, people might say that Mikyö Dorje just did not know how to do things. At the time of the Seventh Karmapa, the great encampment had been both impressive and extremely influential in dharma and in politics. But much of its influence was lost during Mikyö Dorje’s time. It is possible to say that it was his fault because he did not pay attention to such things. However, if you think about it, His Holiness pointed out, Mikyö Dorje just followed the teachings of the dharma. This is how he was.

Before turning to the subsequent verse in Good Deeds, His Holiness joined the tsunmas in offering blessings and prayers for the longevity of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche on the auspicious occasion of his 87th birthday. His Holiness described Rinpoche’s kindness which extended from the time of 16thKarmapa. Rinpoche not only taught many khenpos at Rumtek but he also taught His Holiness some Buddhist philosophy as well as the songs of Milarepa and Götsangpa.

The Undeceiving Three Jewels

This is the sixth and last of the verses which cover the preliminary topic of  “Entering the Dharma”—“Going to refuge to the undeceiving three jewels.” The verse reads:

Besides the true protector, the Three Jewels,
No other refuge gave me confidence.
The Jewels know all joys and woes; I had not a whit
Of any dependence or hope in anyone else. 
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (6)

In Mikyö Dorje’s Instructions on Training in Liberation Stories, he clarifies that the Three Jewels communicate the meaning of karma, cause, and effect. For instance, some people mistakenly believe that we need to work for the sake of this lifetime or else we will be without the necessities such as food and clothing. However, according to Mikyö Dorje’s view, if we work for the sake of future lifetimes, not only will we have less suffering in this lifetime, but we will also have good things and abundance in this life. The reason is that all the benefit we have comes from protecting others from suffering. If, on the other hand, we do only non-virtuous deeds for the sake of this lifetime, then the more pleasure we get for ourselves, the more harm comes to others. When the karmic results come back, we will experience great suffering. We are so contaminated by ignorance that we fail to comprehend this cycle. The Three Jewels explain this to us and lead us to an understanding of karma, cause and effect.

The basis or source of all happiness in this lifetime is the kindness of the Three Jewels. Once we understand this, we do not go to any other source of refuge. When we have that strong conviction that the Three Jewels do not deceive, even in the face of natural disaster, harm from enemies or severe illness, we will only use the methods taught by the Buddha. We know that there is no other course of action that we need to take. We feel great conviction and know that there is no other way to both protect ourselves and benefit others.

When we really believe in the Three Jewels, we understand that and go forth as monastics.  At the very least,  we will not inflict harm on sentient beings and in turn, others will not harm us. We experience the mutuality of helping one another.  Then the Three Jewels will become the source of all benefit and happiness naturally. However, if instead, we say we are monastics, and we wear thousands of dharma robes but do not give up malicious thoughts of harming other sentient beings, no one will believe that we are monastics or dharma practitioners. Whether we are a good monastic or dharma practitioner depends on our belief in the Three Jewels, karma, cause, and effect.

Mikyö Dorje said that he was not able to fully practice it himself but that he had some understanding of it. His Holiness concluded the eleventh day of teachings, “It is really important to gain understanding in this. It is a really important point.”

Day 12: Je Tsongkhapa and the Kagyu; The Sixth and Seventh Good Deeds

March 04, 2021

The Gyalwang Karmapa began by updating everyone on the Covid 19 outbreak at the Geluk Gyuto Tantric Monastery near Dharamsala, his base in India for nearly eighteen years. He described the great kindness the monks and monastery staff had shown him and his labrang during that time. They could not be faulted for the support and co-operation they had given him and his staff. Contrary to what many thought, staying at Gyuto Ramoche Monastery had not been a difficult situation for him personally, and he had felt at home there. Many of the older monks had fled Tibet through Bhutan and felt a connection. While still in Tibet, he had seen Gyuto in a dream and had visited Ramoche Monastery in Lhasa for the first time shortly before he left for India. This led him to believe that there had been some purpose in spending so many years at Gyuto.

He requested everyone to pray for the monastery outbreak to subside and cautioned that this situation had arisen because people were paying less attention to precautions after a lengthy lockdown.

Je Tsongkhapa and the Kagyu Tradition

His Holiness explained that Gyuto and Gyume are the two great tantric monasteries and very important for Buddhist teachings in general and in particular for the tantric teachings of Je Tsongkhapa, which are based on the three tantras brought from India to Tibet by Lhodrak Marpa Lotsawa. The three main yidams in the Geluk tradition are Guhyasamāja, Chakrasamvara, and Vajrabhairava. As Je Tsongkhapa regarded Guhyasamāja to be the most important, this tantra is regarded as the quintessential Geluk tantra. Jamyang Chöje’s namthar of Tsongkhapa reads:

On a throne studded with many jewels
Is the omniscient Buton Rinchen Drum
Who gave him the root tantra of Guhyasamāja
And said, “Be the master of this.”
I supplicate the glorious guru.

He gave him the volume, and with a mantra and mudra,
Blessed him on the top of his head.
He realised that the points of mixing and phowa from Lhodrak Marpa
Are the tantra and the pith instructions of the Noble One.
I supplicate the glorious guru.

This shows how Je Tsongkhapa developed certainty that Marpa’s instructions on mixing and phowa are the true meaning of tantra and pith instructions from Nagarjuna and his disciples.

As Drukpa Kunley said, “The Gelukpas have the tantras that Marpa brought from India…and they practise and meditate on the path of unified creation and completion. They have the point of prana and mind entering the central channel; the unmistaken practice in the Geluk school.“

Je Tsongkhapa’s own disciple, Chennga Sönam Gyaltsen of the Pakdru Kagyu lineage, said in Questions and Answers: A String of Vaidurya that Je Tsongkhapa never refuted the Kagyu tenets. He also said that they could be proven to be in his own tradition.  In terms of view, generally, Je Tsongkhapa liked the Prāsaṅgika [Consequentialist] view, and especially the teachings of Chandrakirti. He said that Lord Marpa was also a Prāsaṅgika, as evidenced by Marpa’s song:

On the banks of the river Ganges in the east,
Due to the kindness of the great guru Maitripa,
I realised the ground, the non-arising dharmatā
The mind blazed in emptiness.

His argument was that Maitripa taught the non-arising dharmatā to Lord Marpa and that is the meaning of the Chakrasamvara tantra. Another of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples, Lhenchik Kyepay Dorje, said that there was no greater vajra master than Marpa.

The Prāsaṅgika fall into two traditions: one presents all phenomena as mere existents saying they become true; the second maintains that they do not become true. The first is a presentation of relative truth. Je Tsongkhapa and Milarepa both took the former position.  One of the songs of Milarepa makes this clear:

In accordance with all you beginners’ thoughts,
The omniscient buddha said that
Everything exists. 

This presents the conventional or relative truth of the existence of phenomena.

In terms of the ultimate truth, 
There is not even a buddha…

This presents the ultimate truth of the non-existence of phenomena.

The existent appearing as things
And non-existent emptiness
Are inseparable in essence and one flavour.

This establishes the interdependence of phenomena appearing as things and being empty by nature. Je Tsongkpaha said that linking appearance and emptiness in this way without contradiction was a particular view of the Kagyu school.  He pointed to a saying of Lord Gampopa, “When you realise emptiness, you must be more detailed about interdependence,” and said it was a crucial point. Je Tsongkhapa also commended Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo [a direct disciple of Gampopa and founder of the Phagdru Kagyu] as an authoritative being. He praised Mahāmudrā, though later scholars accused it of being a nihilistic view. He maintained that the best tradition on the Guhyasamāja Tantra came from Marpa, whose pith instructions helped students develop certainty. Likewise, he said that the most important tradition of Chakrasamvara came from Naropa, augmented with teachings from other Indian masters. In terms of the completion stage of the father and mother tantras, he recommended the Six Yogas of Naropa as giving the clearest explanation of the crucial points.

Although there are different terminologies, the actual teaching on view, meditation and conduct in the presentations by Tsongkhapa and the Kagyu are basically the same. There are differences in explanation but no significant difference in meaning. There is no evidence to suggest that Je Tsongkhapa was antagonistic towards the Kagyu in any way. If he sometimes refuted their view, we have to remember that he also refuted the views of Indian masters. We should be delighted that Je Tsongkhapa maintained the precious Kagyu lineage was in accord with him and be reassured that he never did anything to harm the Kagyu teachings. On the contrary, he supported and propagated them.

It appears that Je Tsongkhapa had his own particular presentation of the Middle Way view. In the Golden Garland of Eloquence he wrote, “I have not described the nature free of the elaborations of the eight extremes, as Nagarjuna and his disciples did, because the words alone would scare people.” Not only that, his direct disciple Gö Lotsawa Zhönnu-pel [Tibetan historian, author of the Blue Annals] described how “Je Rinpoche appeared in Tibet, like a buddha appearing in this world.” When Tsongkhapa went to sojong and other rituals, he was so magnificent, it felt as though the very mountains began to shake. In another text, The Great Medicine of Amrita, it says that even Vajrapani would be unable to understand the qualities of Je Tsongkhapa. And yet his students did not always pay close attention to all his teachings, only to some aspects of them. By emphasising specific philosophical points, the Karmapa observed, it may be that Je Tsongkhapa‘s own followers have become an impediment to the spread of his teachings. Je Tsongkhapa himself was able to teach a wide range of students, from low to high capacity.

His Holiness concluded by saying how very important it is for us to look at things from a broad perspective. The more we can view things from all perspectives and consider Je Tsongkhapa beyond a narrow sectarian view, we can see how he benefitted the teachings in general and had a lasting influence on all Tibetan lineages.

The Sixth Good Deed: The Undeceiving Three Jewels

This was a continuation of the teaching on Day 11. The verse reads:

Besides the true protector, the Three Jewels,
No other refuge gave me confidence.
The Jewels know all joys and woes; I had not a whit
Of any dependence or hope in anyone else.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (6)

From the time Mikyö Dorje was young, he remembered death, impermanence and the suffering of samsara so keenly that it gave him insomnia. He was always complaining about them. He said that when we contemplate the meaning of impermanence, the most helpful idea is that the meaning of impermanence is momentariness. Phenomena do not endure from one instant to the next. Nor do phenomena need any additional conditions in order to perish; the moment they arise, they perish naturally. The texts talk about impermanence being nothingness. Because of this, Mikyö Dorje developed certainty in the explanation from the texts on logic that the meaning of impermanence is nothingness.

He said:

The reason why I saw that actions for this life, and in particular plans for this life have no meaning at all and the understanding I had from that, is from reading the namthar of Lord Milarepa and Lord Götsangpa. 

His Holiness explained that Milarepa and Götsangpa are the two people within the Kagyu lineage who represent feeling utter revulsion for samsara.

Now, no matter what friend I part from, I don’t feel any poignancy in relation to this life for even an instant. 

Basically, when he has no attachment to this life, His Holiness commented, when he parts from relatives and friends, for example when they die, he has no attachment to them at all.

I only ever think that no matter who I associate with in order to have a good situation in this life, it is meaningless. When I arrive at any place that would be pleasant and nice in relation to this life, I continually have the feeling that things come and go, like renting a room in an inn for a few days. 

Mikyö Dorje always had this feeling of impermanence. To sum it up, Mikyö Dorje only spoke of world-weariness and the wish for liberation. He was criticised for this behind his back and seen as unstable —always changing his mind. Mikyö Dorje thought that his critics should go to their own beds, turn their thoughts inwards and examine themselves very carefully along these lines:

Do you have any idea when you will die? When you die, you pin your hopes on your present tiny virtuous thoughts, but that virtue is not enough to determine where you will be reborn. It is not a foundation or basis. No matter what your rebirth, whatever new place you are born in, whatever new companions, new possessions, they will be unattractive. You will not even hear the words “The Three Jewels.” You will have to spend your entire life in misdeeds and suffering. If you are born in such a body, what will you do then? You need to think about this for yourselves. You don’t even dare to think about it! Shouldn’t you be thinking, “What am I going to do?” For this reason you must give up on this lifetime. In order to do this, no matter what requests parents, relatives, powerful friends, or your retinue and students make, or no matter what good or bad things people say, you must think, “There’s nothing to rely on here.” There is no point doing worldly things to placate your parents or relatives or powerful friends. You should think, “Do what you want. Let whatever happens happen. Let whatever comes come.”

In short, you shouldn’t let another hold the rope to your nose [the rope which is used to control an animal]. You should control your own thoughts and actions.

The Seventh Good Deed: How He Practised the Path of the Lesser Individual

This is the first verse in the second main section  which covers how Mikyö Dorje practised the paths of the three types of individual. This verse concerns the path of the lesser individual:

Once I knew that all suffering that occurs is the result
Of my own wrongs, I could not complete in full
Unvirtuous acts with preparation, deed, and aftermath.
I have not completed an unvirtuous act in this life. 
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (7)

His Holiness pointed out that the seventh verse has a profound connection with the previous verse on going for refuge to the Three Jewels. Generally, from the past until now, most people who say they are Buddhist repeat, “The Three Jewels know all joys and sorrows”. “There is nowhere else in which to place my hopes”; and ”I go for refuge.”  without understanding the actual meaning of “The Three Jewels.”  Actually, he commented, when we say “the Jewel of the Buddha,” it means someone who thinks solely about other sentient beings’ welfare and who, in order to benefit sentient beings, has given up all the faults they had and has accomplished all the qualities there are. That is the type of individual we call a buddha. Therefore, it is only a buddha who can tell the unfabricated truth to others, and is incapable of lying.  What then did the Buddha teach?  All the naturally arising afflictions will deceive us and cause us harm. If we accumulate the antidotes to the afflictions, it will benefit us. He taught karma, cause and result. However, we do not wholeheartedly believe in this. We pretend to take refuge, but our actions belie this. We think that happiness depends on subduing enemies and nurturing friends. No need to speak of other sentient beings,  Buddhists cannot even get along with each other. We help some and refuse to associate with others.

We monastics have sectarian views—my school their school—we criticise other philosophical schools and insist that we are right. When we hear of an unseemly act by a lama of another school, we spread the gossip, while heaping a mountain of praise on those within our own group. This is how we spend our human lives. In order to achieve our purpose,  we take the cruellest naga or worldly god as our main refuge and invoke their activity.  Rather than the gurus and the Three Jewels, we place our hopes in influential people and wealthy sponsors. We do not entrust ourselves to the Three Jewels.

In contrast, Mikyö Dorje devoted himself wholly to the gurus and the Three Jewels. He never mixed divinations, shamanism, astrology or gathering wealth with dharmic practice. He maintained that all the harm and suffering that happens to us cannot be blamed on external circumstances; it occurs solely as the result of past actions. Having gained confidence in karmic cause and result, we know what to do and what not to do, and the positive results that then occur are the kindness of the sources of refuge, the guru and the Three Jewels. Mikyö Dorje’s  instruction was to supplicate the Three Jewels fervently and not place our hopes in any other refuge. He held that our actions of body, speech and mind, should not contradict the teachings of the gurus and the Three Jewels; this is the meaning of supplicating the Three Jewels and  has nothing to do with looking serious or physical actions.

Mikyö Dorje would always point out that events were the infallible result of karma cause and effect. Whenever he was ill, he sought for the reason in his previous behaviour.  Once, when Mikyö Dorje was ill, he said, “What bad action did I do that such an illness as this has to occur?” A monk named A-yi Lama said, “Your Holiness is a buddha, you are the nirmanakaya of a buddha, so please don’t say that! If you talk like that, something bad will happen to us.” Mikyö Dorje replied, “Lama, in this world, there is no truth other than karmic cause and effect. If I had not accumulated bad actions in the past, how could this happen?”

Another time, when he felt unwell at Tsari Tashi Jong, he said, “Having to feel unwell physically like this is because of eating food given as offerings.”

No matter what illness or difficulty arose, Mikyö Dorje would take the blame. He never placed the blame on others. As the Kagyu masters have said, “Drive all blames into one.” We have to be able to recognise our own faults, advised His Holiness.

When good things happened, he credited the kindness of others. If he received a great deal of wealth or acclaim, he would say, “This has not happened because I have great compassion and power. It is not that I know what I’m doing. It has only happened because of the kindness of the glorious Dusum Khyenpa and his disciples. That is why I have a full stomach and have become famous.“

When undesirable events affected his followers, students, monasteries, and so forth, such as being attacked by other people, losing money and possessions, or being falsely accused, he would say, “It is the nature of things that this has occurred. It is the nature of karma cause and effect. It was preceded by a cause. Since we do not act according to the dharma, the dharma protectors will punish us.“    He never said or thought, “How could that happen to us?“

Those around him never witnessed him worry if things went wrong. When inauspicious things happened to his attendants or to his students, he would say, “That is good. Let  everything that happens be.“  Immediately, when they recalled that, they would be comforted  and feel relieved.

He himself had such great confidence in the gurus and the Three Jewels, because of interdependence,  that those who had placed their hopes in him also gained happiness and bounty. They also developed trust and longing for the Three Jewels.

When people recited his name, he would appear in their dreams and they would be liberated from illness and other forms of suffering, spirits, döns, and obstructors.  People  were brought to see him for blessings when they were mortally ill. They would be carried into his presence, but they would perk up immediately and walk away on their own two feet. Some students recounted how, when they became ill, they felt his foot on the top of their head in their dreams. They felt its warmth. Then their bodies and minds would be comforted and, when they woke up, their illness would be cured.

Mikyö Dorje’s presence also had an effect on the environment. When he stayed in Kongpo, the crops would be good. There was no danger of epidemics or famine wherever he stayed. All the necessities such as tea, food and clothing would arrive from afar naturally. Tibet is an earthquake region, and in Kongpo there were seven earthquakes but no one was injured, and the people credited this to the presence of Mikyö Dorje.  Another time, at Pombor in Kham, a forest fire approached the encampment, but when it reached the perimeter, it died out of its own accord.

Mikyö Dorje did not see these events as the effect of his own great powers, he said:

If you do not give up the ten non-virtues and practice the ten virtues, you cannot prevent suffering and you will not achieve the pleasures of the gods and human realms.

This is speaking in terms of the lesser individual. Likewise, he said:

If you are not liberated from attachment to the Desire realm and higher realms and so forth and do not gain the bliss of dhyana and absorption, you will not achieve pleasure and bounty of the higher realms.

Until you realise the faults of samsaric cause and result, the truths of suffering and origin, recognise that there are problems and faults, and realise that there is no self that experiences these, there is no way to eliminate the afflictions of the nine levels  and achieve liberation from the suffering of samsara. You cannot achieve nirvana. Without recognising all sentient beings to be your parents and gathering the virtue of the six transcendences, there is no way to prevent the suffering of becoming and  achieve the happiness of omniscience. 

In brief, His Holiness commented, these days there are people who do not put the teachings into practice correctly. They seek only to defeat their enemies and help their friends. They are under the power of the maras and, just as a shoot cannot grow from the ashes of a burnt seed, the Three Jewels cannot protect them. If we do not believe the teachings of the Buddha and follow a mistaken teaching instead, it is impossible for the Three Jewels to help us.

On one occasion, some of Mikyö Dorje’s students were travelling through Kongpo. On the way, they arrived at some Gelukpa monasteries, but the monasteries did not let them in. The Gelukpa monks must also have harmed them in some way because the Kagyu communities and monasteries in Kongpo got together and assembled an army. The conflict did not go well so they summoned even more people, with the intent of destroying all the Gelukpa monasteries in Kongpo. Mikyö Dorje intervened, saying, “If you harm even the smallest of the Gelukpa monasteries, it’s the same as cutting my throat.“ As a consequence, they listened to what he said and left the Gelukpa monasteries untouched,

People then came to the Karmapa and accused him of ignoring the benefit of the teachings or even of destroying the Karma Kagyu teachings. Mikyö Dorje responded, “No matter what negative things people say because of this situation, I will take them on myself. Whether I have destroyed the teachings or not, comes down to this point: Do we have the antidotes in our being? Do we have virtue in our being or not?“ Many of the Kamtsang complained that because the Gelukpa had been creating problems, something had needed to be done about it.

A few understood the Karmapa’s stand. Yangri Tönpa Kunsangwa, a good retreatant and practitioner, praised Mikyö Dorje, “Now, the Karmapa has really shown us the signs of practice. He used to leave handprints and footprints. Those are probably signs of accomplishment, but the real sign of accomplishment is that, in response to harm, he is actually bringing benefit.“

The majority of Kagyu followers criticised Mikyö Dorje’s actions, but the Gelukpas from Tse Gungtang monastery sent monks to see Mikyö Dorje at the Garchen. They told him that as he had protected them during the conflict, they now had faith that he was Avalokiteshvara. Because they recognised that the Karmapa’s activities were those of Avalokiteshvara, they had come to confess to him. One of the Gelukpas then requested the lung of a wrathful Guru Rinpoche practice. Mikyö Dorje retorted, “You Gelukpa are coming to ask me the Karmapa for a Nyingma dharma. Isn’t that just laughable?“

His Holiness elaborated that there had been some tensions between the Gelukpa and the Kagyu during the time of the Seventh Karmapa, but that there was no real reason for the conflict, just misunderstandings amplified by rumour. Generally, the Kagyu and Geluk monasteries in Kongpo had good relations with each other. The greatest source of tension was the Kagyu monastery in Lhasa, so Mikyö Dorje abandoned it.

These are good examples of how Mikyö Dorje defused conflict wherever he went.

Day 13: Severing the Stream of Misdeeds

March 05, 2021

Part 1: Never harming another being

His Holiness continued teaching on Mikyö Dorje’s seventh good deed, as well as introduced the eighth good deed today.

As you may remember from yesterday, it is said that Mikyö Dorje practiced the paths of three types of individuals: the lesser, the middling, and the greater. His seventh good deed discusses his practice of the first path, that of the lesser individual. The text reads:

Once I knew that all suffering that occurs is the result
Of my own wrongs, I could not complete in full
Unvirtuous acts with preparation, deed, and aftermath.
I have not completed an unvirtuous act in this life. 
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

For Mikyö Dorje, it was essential to never harm another being as he recognized only suffering would be experienced as a result. According to the Instructions on Training in the Liberation Story of Mikyö Dorje, which explains the meaning of the “Autobiographical Verses of Good Deeds”, beings have been wandering in samsara since beginningless time because they do not know what causes lead to pleasure and what causes lead to suffering. On the other hand, the perfect Buddha told us what we should and should not do. For this reason, in the fifth good deed, Mikyö Dorje spoke about going for refuge to the Three Jewels, the only sources of refuge that can teach the path of giving up misdeeds and practicing virtue.

Although we’ve been taking birth in samsara from beginningless time, our actual nature ultimately is free of birth or arising, staying, and perishing. Unfortunately, we do not know this. As a result, we have many constructions, perceptions, and denials about that nature and our thoughts lead us to wander in samsara.

As we’ve wandered in samsara, we’ve been connected to other beings – as one another’s children, parents, and so forth – innumerable times. We have benefited each other and formed great connections many times before. Therefore, if we harm others rather than benefit them, the fully ripened result will be an experience of terrible suffering. Moreover, the compatible result from harming them will also arise. In other words, not recognizing how other beings have not only harmed but have also helped us throughout beginningless samsara, we inflict harm upon them, and then we experience harm as a result. This is how karma occurs.

Although we have done many things that will cause suffering in the future, if we had thought deeply about their actual nature first, we would never have dared to do such actions. Thus, we must try to guard this thought “I must never dare to do anything to harm another sentient being” throughout our lifetime, never letting it wane. We must also try to prevent thoughts about harming others from arising.

For those of us who say we have entered the Buddhist teachings—studied karma, cause and effect to understand what we should do and what we should abandon—and say we’re applying the antidotes of mindfulness and awareness, we must be cautious when problems arise. Sometimes, when a problem comes up, we blame the place, the time, or another individual, and claim, “I had no choice but to do that”, “I had no control”, and “it was not my fault”. We forget the needs of next and future lifetimes for the sake of having some minor sensory pleasure in this one and we commit unvirtuous actions. Mikyö Dorje did not act in this way. It was said that he would never do anything contradictory to the teachings even if it meant gaining the pleasures and happiness of the gods in this lifetime. His Holiness compared it with there being poison hidden in delicious food and knowing you would die if you ate it. A sane person would not eat this poisoned food, no matter how hungry or thirsty he or she was. Likewise, no matter what difficulties we encounter, it is not right to give up on the true Dharma. Therefore, Mikyö Dorje was very assiduous in giving up misdeeds and accomplishing virtue.

Part 2: Repairing relationships and restoring harmony

Mikyö Dorje was not confident that he was a nirmanakaya buddha as some of his followers believed. He thought that he had been given the title “Karmapa” in this lifetime not because he had the necessary qualities of abandonment and realization but because it was a blessing of all the activities of the previous Karmapas and the buddhas. In this way, he viewed his title more like a name, not as an indication of his attainment. Thus, he said, as long as he remained in this present state of aggregates, of full ripening, stricken by birth, old age, sickness, and death, he would protect himself against karma, cause, and effect.

How did Mikyö Dorje practice what he taught? One way was by reducing conflict and sectarianism between different Tibetan Buddhist lineages. Mikyö Dorje concluded that sectarianism could lead to individuals giving up their liberation, bodhisattva, and tantric vows. For example, monks would go off to battle which in turn would lead to destroying representations of the Three Jewels and the taking of each others’ lives. These kinds of heinous acts would completely destroy the Buddhist teachings and the Sangha community. Therefore, Mikyö Dorje warned followers to stay away from such evil actions and avoid desiring the success of one lineage over another. Although one may think s/he is practicing the Dharma, when one divides individuals into factions and subsequently helps one’s own faction and harms another, s/he is actually acting according to her/his own wishes, desires, hatred, and delusion. Mikyö Dorje pointed out that these were actions of attachment and aversion, not actions of the Dharma.

The Eighth Karmapa understood that attachment to external objects and one’s internal mind, including the attachment to hatred, arrogance and so forth, leads to disharmony, faults, and problems. He therefore decided to leave the eastern region of Tibet, where the Karmapas were popular and powerful,l for Central Tibet, which was ruled by kings who governed by strict laws. Mikyö Dorje’s monks had to follow him as he journeyed to Central Tibet, and they stayed in isolated places as well as in areas where locals had little regard for the Dharma. Mikyö Dorje knew that in such places, he and his monks would receive fewer offerings and less respect. By leaving areas where they had power, sensory pleasures (and therefore attachments, aversion, and disputes) would be fewer. In addition, he created rules to help them live purer livelihoods, where they wouldn’t be able to pretend to adhere to the Vinaya so that they could take offerings. Further, he prohibited meat and alcohol consumption in the Great Encampment.

You may remember from the teaching a few days ago, the Seventh Karmapa established Tupchen monastery in Lhasa and Yangpachen monastery in the north. Some Geluk monks had suspected the Karma Kagyu were trying to deprive them of offerings, and consequently, disharmony between the two lineages arose. Mikyö Dorje attempted to return the monastery to the Lord of Ü, Nedongpa, but Nedongpa rejected the offer. Mikyö Dorje decided to vacate Tupchen monastery – he didn’t even leave one guard there – and allow it to fall into disrepair. Although some Karma Kagyu followers were unhappy that Mikyö Dorje would neglect a monastery founded by the Seventh Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje was trying to restore happiness between the Geluk and the Karma Kagyu lineages.

His Holiness proceeded to recount several examples of conflicts over rank, titles, and heights of seats, which he said was one main reason for disputes and the breaking of vows. Over the years many protocols surrounding the demonstration of rank and respect have been created, including the giving of khatags (silk ceremonial scarves), formalizing who should prostrate to whom, and calculating the height of cushions or thrones (the higher the status, the higher the seat). Disagreements have occurred over rank, protocol, position, and status, over the external ways in which respect is shown. Mikyö Dorje understood that these conflicts harm the Buddhist teachings so he tried to prevent them from happening. For example, when people would come to compete with him, he would treat them well without putting himself in an especially low position nor elevating the other unnecessarily. Mikyö Dorje would also meet with people even if they didn’t prostrate to or prepare a seat for him. Some criticized him for so doing, saying that all of the Karmapa’s greatness, influence, and mystique had been lost, that “he used to have a position as high in the sky as the sun but now, horribly, he has been brought downwards to earth”. In this way, he wanted to prevent disputes and not harm the Buddhist teachings.

Ranks, status, seat heights, and privileges occurred after Tibetan lamas connected with Chinese and Mongol Emperors. These Emperors invited Tibetan lamas to their regions, offered them different coloured seals and stamps, and conferred high titles and positions on them. There had previously been no tradition of rank, position, and privilege such as this in Tibet. In the Vinaya, seniority depends on when a person took precepts – those who took precepts at an earlier point in time had more seniority. In the Vajrayana, seniority is in terms of realization. The monks of Central Tibet’s great monasteries would have to stand outside closed gates waiting to claim their seats. Once the gates opened, they would all rush in and whoever got to the front first got to sit there. Only after the connections with Mongol and Chinese emperors were positions, privileges and ranks given. Before then, there was no question of privilege or rank.

There were many ways that Mikyö Dorje tried to prevent the great stream of misdeeds within himself, but he also tried to sever it within others as well. He instructed both monastics and lay people how to give up non-virtue. As written in the Prajnaparamita sutra:

A great irreversible bodhisattva abandons the ten nonvirtues themselves, gets others to abandon them, declares the excellence of abandoning them, and acts accordingly.

Upon seeing him or hearing Mikyö Dorje teach, many people promised to give up killing, stealing, reneging on their oaths, and being deceitful in their business. Others promised to save the lives of sentient beings and animals, free prisoners, or recite 100,000,000 mani mantras. He would get people to promise not to harm temples or representations of the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha. He had people abide by the fasting vows and asked them to become vegetarian. It was primarily during the Black Crown ceremony that people made these promises. By advising monastics and laypeople alike to give up misdeeds and practice virtue, in the short term he blocked the ways for them to be reborn in the lower realms and opened the gate to higher realms, ultimately bringing them to Buddhahood. This is an example of a great being. If we believe this as true, feeling deeply towards those who brought many to abandon misdeeds and practice virtue, it will bring us much benefit. Trying to be fashionable, trying to get high rank and position, and criticizing great beings are not good; we should avoid these behaviours as much as possible.

Part 3: The Eighth Good Deed – Practicing the path of the middling individual and removing the harmful view of the self

Unless we fully cross the ocean of birth and death, 
Nowhere in the three realms are pleasures and riches permanent.
I wondered, when will I liberate forever
All beings throughout space from the three realms of samsara?
I think of this as one of my good deeds. 

Mikyö Dorje’s eighth good deed was how he practiced the path of the middling individual. This relates to how having a view of the self and having afflictions in our own being are harmful. In the path of the lesser individual, avoiding harming other sentient beings is the most important. That is the path of karma, cause, and effect. However, not inflicting harm on beings in the short term does not mean they are liberated from harm altogether. This is because in the being’s own continuum, there are karma and the afflictions which are the basis of causing harm. There are also an infinite number of other sentient beings with whom they have a karmic connection, who may harm them.

If we refrain from creating any bad karma, then even if all sentient beings gathered together to harm us, they wouldn’t be able to. If we do not perform the actions that lead to rebirth in samsara, no other being can throw us into it or cast us into lower realms. What harms us ultimately is the view of the self and the afflictions within us. The afflictions generate our motivations and the actual actions we do, the karma, are our misdeeds. There is no greater or more fundamental harm than that.

Up until now, we haven’t seen the view of the self and the afflictions as being our enemy or the cause of harm. We actually think of ego-clinging in particular as being our advisor. These thoughts of cherishing ourselves have resulted in the accumulation of many misdeeds and nonvirtues. Even with the destruction of the Earth at the end of an aeon either by fire or by water, all sentient beings and all possessions will be destroyed, but the continuum of beings cannot be stopped. To stop the sequence of being reborn in samsara, we need to train in the methods and prajna that can free us from karma and the afflictions.

Method is practicing doing what we should do and avoiding doing what we shouldn’t, according to the Four Truths. This includes identifying karma, viewing suffering as being an illness, seeing the Truth of Origin as the cause, knowing the Four Noble Truths and so forth. This is taught in the Three Vehicles and in the sutras and tantras. Practicing them is indispensable. Moreover, we need to have an actual feeling or experience rather than relying on a mere understanding. For example, we should see the afflictions within our being as poisonous snakes. Then we must generate this intention, the diligence, and a strong feeling that we need to get away from them. Mikyö Dorje would tell people that unless we completely eliminate the pernicious illness of the view of the self, the liberation of being freed from the lower realms or achieving samsaric pleasures are not enough.

Mikyö Dorje worried deeply about those without enough food or clothing or those in desperate situations just as though it were happening to himself. Even if they experienced some temporary improvement, he would still worry. He would think “they are freed of their hardship for the time being but does this count as real liberation?” He knew that until they were liberated completely, they would have to experience endless suffering in samsara. However, although he feared the sufferings of samsara for himself and couldn’t bear the thought of the suffering of others, he knew he could help sentient beings. He said the way to free ourselves from suffering is to study and practice what the Buddha taught. The method was practicing the Four Truths and the prajna was realizing the two types of selflessness. He worked hard to habituate himself to this, and he told others to practice the Four Noble Truths in this way.

His Holiness cautioned against practicing the Dharma to gain happiness in this lifetime alone. He noted that if some people don’t have a good house or have many family problems, they say they “lack merit”. They think that practicing the Dharma is to bring happiness and to be free of suffering in this lifetime and they practice with this intention. They go to lamas who tell them there’s no real problem, that everything that arises is the display of dharmakaya. The lamas advise them to rest within confused appearances as they are without being distracted and say everything will work out. “Just sit there”, the lamas tell their students. But many people aren’t satisfied with this response. So they try to listen to, meditate on, and contemplate the Dharma, but they do so to gain happiness in this lifetime. This is pointless. Mikyö Dorje would never do such actions himself, His Holiness stated. We listen to, meditate on, and contemplate the Dharma to attain liberation and the state of buddhahood, not to gain temporary pleasures in this lifetime.

This is a brief description of how Mikyö Dorje practiced the path of the middling individual. The rest of the text is about how he practiced the third path, that of the great individual.

Part 4: Mikyö Dorje on vegetarianism

For the rest of today’s teaching, His Holiness wanted to further explain Mikyö Dorje’s reasons for not eating meat. In large monasteries at that time, many animals would be killed. Similarly, sometimes people wanted to give good food to lamas and their entourage and so a lot of meat would be offered. Mikyö Dorje saw that this caused many difficulties so wherever he went, he would very skillfully get others to give up eating meat.

First, by prohibiting meat consumption, Mikyö Dorje was returning to earlier traditions of previous Karmapas who did not allow meat or alcohol to be brought into the Great Encampment. Second, when Mikyö Dorje was first put on the throne of the Karmapa when he was young, he did not have much freedom or control. All the power was in the hands of the Encampment’s leaders and one of their wives. At that time, all of the animals that were offered to the Encampment were killed and their flesh was eaten.

When Mikyö Dorje was young, people would approach him saying they needed to have Ganachakras with meat and alcohol. Mikyö Dorje felt this didn’t work at all. Those in the Encampment were no longer respecting the Encampment’s earlier traditions, eating meat without any restraint and drinking alcohol. Once Mikyö Dorje gained some control and influence, he made a strict rule prohibiting eating meat and drinking alcohol.

He not only restricted eating meat in the Great Encampment, but he promoted vegetarianism to all Tibetans. In Mikyö Dorje’s commentary on the Vinaya, The Orbit of the Sun, he said even when we do the Gutor, the Mahakala ritual at the end of the year, we should not include meat in those offerings. In the index of his collected works, his advice to Tibetans was that it is inappropriate to eat the meat of defenseless animals.

In the next session, His Holiness would like to teach about the Great Encampment, which is intimately related to Mikyö Dorje’s activities and life story. Once we understand how and why it was first formed, it may provide insight into the Eighth Karmapa’s intentions and actions. Yet, as there is no Great Encampment now, it is difficult for us to form a mental image of what it was, what it was like, and how it flourished. However, teaching on the Great Encampment will be challenging for His Holiness because small bits of information about it are scattered across many different texts. His Holiness then ended today’s teachings with dedication prayers.

Day 14: The Great Encampment during the Life of the 4th Karmapa Rölpai Dorje

March 08, 2021

Following his greeting and offering prayers, His Holiness explained the main topic, giving a brief introduction to the Great Encampment, or Garchen, as it relates to Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s liberation story. In particular, His Holiness, noted he would focus on the historical and contextual background of the encampment this week and speak about the regulations of the encampment later on.

What do we mean when we say Great Encampment?

His Holiness elaborated on the meaning of the Tibetan word, gar (sgar), referring to sites or camps with many tents. His Holiness clarified that when people would travel from region to region, they would set up and stay in tents made from woven yak hair or fabric. These encampments may be specific to special occasions such as an army encampment, mak gar, a ‘merchant encampment’, tsong gar, and a ‘Dharma encampment’, chös gar. Early on, gar specifically referred to a camp with many tents, and later also meant a group of houses.

When we talk about a gar chen, great encampment, we add the extra word, chen or ’great’, and it refers to either the large size of the encampment or that it will well-known. Later this was called the Karme Garchen. The reason for this is the direct relationship between the Great Encampment and the Karmapa. Another term of reference was Garpa Yabse, or the “Master and Disciples of the Encampment,” but this was probably a term from other lineages referring to the Karma Kamtsang.

The Karme Garchen in contemporary terms is akin to a company that performed Mikyö Dorje’s work. Mikyö Dorje in this metaphor is like the CEO or company chairman. The Garchen functioned as the headquarters for the Karmapa. A labrang refers to a higher lama’s residence or the organization of people who support him. In contrast, the Garchen was directly connected with the Karmapa and functioned as an administration for organizing the Karma Kagyu overall.

Establishing When the Garchen Began

His Holiness explained that there are not any clear sources on the origin of the encampment other than Karma Trinelypa’s Questions and Answers: The Brief Meaning of Liberation Stories. If we extrapolate from Karma Trinleypa’s text, it is primarily during the time of the Fourth Karmapa Rölpai Dorje that the encampment became larger in size, its organization became more regulated, and it formally became a true Garchen. For instance, it does not seem likely that the Great Encampment began during the time of the First to Third Karmapas. The First Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa, was an ordinary monk who did not become well-known until the end of his life; and, early on, he primarily practiced in mountain retreats and traveled with only three or four students. The Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, and the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, both travelled to teach the Mongolian or Yuan emperors. Karma Pakshi lived a very yogic lifestyle; and Rangjung Dorje spent his time writing treatises and doing isolated meditation retreats.

Since Karma Trinleypa wrote about the Fourth Karmapa, Rölpai Dorje, in his Questions and Answers: The Brief Meaning of Liberation Stories, we know that the Fourth Karmapa was very assiduous in his practice of the Vinaya. From this time, the encampment became more organized and more impressive. Moreover, Karma Trinleypa was a student of the Seventh Karmapa when the Garchen was at its peak. His Holiness concluded that we can rely on Karma Trinleypa’s words as a solid basis for understanding the early origins of the Great Encampment.

The modern scholar, Dunkar Lobsang Trinley, says that the actual organized encampment developed during the time of the Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, but His Holiness came to the conclusion that this was because it was during the time of the Seventh Karmapa that the Great Encampment became most significant. His Holiness encouraged us to read more of this history in the The Water Crystal of the Moon.

His Holiness guided us through his close research into the origins of the Garchen. According to the great scholar, Thubten Phuntsok, when the Fourth Karmapa returned to Tibet from China, many of the faithful monastics and lay people could not bear to be apart from their guru. For this reason, they followed him to Tsurphu and set up a camp near his residence. They spent their time practicing and striving in accord with their abilities. And, this is, in fact, the origin of the Dharma encampment.

While His Holiness noted the history may be inconclusive, based on Karma Trinleypa’s text, there was clearly an earlier Great Encampment in formation. Kunpang Kunga Lodrö and Karma Könchok Shönnu’s works also provide clear evidence as both mention encampments during the time of Rölpai Dorje.

Summarizing the Important Points of the 4th Karmapa Rölpai Dorje’s Life

His Birth: Since the histories show how the Great Encampment began with the Fourth Karmapa, His Holiness summarized the key points of Rölpai Dorje’s life. He began with the passing of the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. Rangjung Dorje passed away in the Mongol emperor’s palace in the Yuan Dynasty capitol, Xanadu. Prior to his death, Rangjung Dorje predicted he would be reborn in the eastern region of Kongpo. This is near Rölpai Dorje’s birthplace in Namdzong in Gochen Pangkar in Ngö, these days known as Alanka, Jiagong, Bianba, and Chengdu.

Rölpai Dorje’s father was Sönam Döndrup and his mother was Dzomsa Tsöndru. Of the Dong Minyak clan, he was born in the Male Iron Dragon year (1340) on the eighth day of the 3rd month and he passed away at the age of 44. Tokden Gönpo Gyaltsen recognized Rölpai Dorje as Rangjung Dorje’s reincarnation. His main three gurus were Gyalwa Yungtönpa, Tokden Gönpo Gyaltsen, and Tokden Dargyalwa. He took full ordination from Döndrup Pal, the Khenchen from Gendun Gang, and his ordination name was, Dzamling Chökyi Drakpa. When we see the name, Dzamling Chökyi Drakpa, we know this is Rölpai Dorje.

Rölpai Dorje, known for his strict adherence to Vinaya, encouraged his attendants to keep pure discipline. His Holiness gave examples of how they all upheld virtuous discipline by eating only the three white foods – milk, sugar, butter, and so forth. Also, if they saw anyone with meat or bones, they would criticize them.

His Lucid Dreams: His Holiness then described Rölpai Dorje’s ability to emanate in his dreams; he had such great power over lucid dreaming. At night, for instance, Rölpai Dorje would leave many texts open around him before he went to sleep and while he slept, he would emanate many bodies. When he woke up, he would know what was said in each of the texts. As Rölpai Dorje stated, “The way I have lucid dreaming, is no different from the way illusionists create different illusions.”  According to Karma Trinleypa, Rölpai Dorje had a strong innate knowledge so even though he did not have to study much, he still studied. Among all the Karmapas prior to the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, Rölpai Dorje understood Validity and the Middle Way. He was also a skilled poet. While Karmapa Rangjung Dorje wrote the famous One Hundred Jataka Tales, one of the most beautiful texts, it was Karmapa Rölpai Dorje who wrote the best poetry. He also had many amazing students like Shamar Khachö Wangpo.

The Jowo Gandhola

Through a series of slides and detailed stories, His Holiness explained one of the main images, the Jowo Gandhola, central to the Karma Kamtsang. The story begins in the Fire Monkey Year (1356) when the 14th emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongol Toghon Temür (1320-1370, reigned 1333-1370) and his son, the Crown Prince Ayushiridara (1339-1378, reigned 1370-1378), sent great offerings and an invitation to Rölpai Dorje. In the 5th month of 1358, Rölpai Dorje, left Tsurphu at the age of 19 and travelled along the northern route, stopping in Karme and Lhateng monasteries along the way.

In the Dharma history A Feast for Scholars, it explains that around this time, five yogis came from India and told Rölpai Dorje that they were going to Wutai Mountain in China. They gave him an image carved from the Bodhi tree by Nagarjuna called the Jowo Gandhola. From that time, the Jowo Gandhola image became the primary representation for Rölpai Dorje who made prostrations, offerings, and circumambulated the image four sessions a day. This made a strong impression on his entourage and inspired them to practice virtue.

His Holiness displayed a slide of a thangka of Rölpai Dorje from the Kagyu lineage thangkas kept at Palpung Monastery. His Holiness directed our attention to the corner of the thangka where he pointed out the five Indian yogis offering the Gandhola. The reason the image is called Gandhola, His Holiness explained, is that in India, temples where the Buddha stayed are called Gandhakuṭi or Gandhālaya. Gandhola is a corruption of those terms. In Tibetan, it would be called “the fragrant temple”. The Gandhola became the primary shrine for the successive Karmapas. When they would take their novice vows or full ordination, they would take their vows in its presence.  For example, if we look at the liberation story of the Seventh Karmapa, written by Goshri Paljor, he writes:

The supreme support for the meditation of the successive incarnations of the Bearer of the Black Crown, the emanations of the Sixth Buddha Lion’s Roar, is called the Jowo Gandhola. 

In the presence of the unrivaled image, a clear carving of a thousand buddhas in the amazing material of bodhi wood, a wondrous supreme Gandha temple, the hair of the great being who was our guide was cut. 

Thus, the Seventh Karmapa had his hair cut and took his novice vows in front of this shrine. The tradition of making offerings, large and small, began at the time of the Seventh Karmapa.

His Holiness animatedly explained an exciting aspect of his research. He said, “One good thing that happened was that a few days ago I received, A Catalogue of the Gandhola, the Supreme Image of the Great Encampment by Shamar Könchok Yenlak. Here it says, the main sacred object of the encampment has seven excellent qualities: material, image, maker, origin, power, activity, and blessings.” Unfortunately, the pages describing the maker and the origin are missing.

The Karmapa detailed these qualities according to the text:

  1. The excellent material is that is made from wood of the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya.
  2. The excellent image is the depiction of the Mahabodhi statue and Gandhola temple built around it by Emperor Ashoka, and how the statue can be seen through the door.
  3. The third excellence is the maker.
  4. The fourth excellence is the origin.
  5. The excellent power is that wherever this image was brought, the ground would tremble, lightning would flash, and all fires, floods, poisons, weapons, illness, hunger, conflict and so forth would be pacified and not occur.
  6. The excellent activity is that since the Karmapa, embodiment of the activity of all buddhas prostrated and made offerings to it, it was brought to many locations in India, Tibet, and Mongolia benefiting beings.
  7. The excellent blessings are that, just as it is said in the Prajnaparamita sutras, beings who enter the area around the Vajra Seat will not be harmed except as a full ripening of karma. Since this image was made of wood from the Bodhi Tree, it had the same blessings as the sacred place of Bodhgaya. Also doing front and self-visualizations in the presence of this image had stronger and faster blessings than meditating on other yidam deities.

However, the Gandhola  seems to disappear from the records after the time of the 10th Karmapa, when Mongol Güshi Khan destroyed the Great Encampment. However, Rinchen Palsang, private secretary to the 16th Karmapa, recorded that the regional Tibetan government took it while the 16th Karmapa was in Tibet.

His Holiness noted, however, that the 1976 publication by Nik Douglas and Meryl White, entitled, Karmapa:The Black Hat Lama of Tibet, includes pictures of some of the sacred objects that the 16th Karmapa brought with him when he fled Tibet. This book includes interviews with the 16th Karmapa and his heart sons in Sikkim as well as an image of the Buddha made by Nagarjuna. Below the image, the text states:

The statue of Lord Buddha, showing miraculous events of his life. This is one of two which were presented to Karmapa Rolpai Dorje by five Indian Holy Men, whom he met on the way to China. This statue was made by Siddha Nagarjuna, out of a metal-like material which was recovered from the magical lake of the serpent kind (Nagas). It is preserved at the new Rumtek monastery, Sikkim.

His Holiness noted that he thinks this image must be the Gandhola, but even in the catalogues and oral histories from Tsurphu Monastery, there is no mention of this being the Gandhola at all. Maybe there is a story behind this, His Holiness explained, because as the main sacred object of the Great Encampment, they were worried someone might seize it. For this reason, they downplayed it and did not use the name Gandhola. His Holiness hopes that if anyone knows more history, they can offer some explanation.

Rölpai Dorje Spreads the Dharma during his Travels

After this, Rölpai Dorje continued travelling east. He came to a place called Machuy Ling, in present day Amdo region. There, Rölpai Dorje taught the Dharma. The following summer, at the base of the throne where he had taught, a flower grew. This flower had never been seen previously. It had one stalk and eight branches. Each branch had eight flowers with a red corona and yellow center. It was a really strange flower. Anyone who saw or heard of it thought it was really strange. At this time, one monk, Geshe Kyuru Tönpa, said this flower was really amazing. Thinking that this flower would help people develop faith, he either drew an image or took a pressing. He distributed these widely throughout the region and anyone who saw the picture was said to have developed faith.

When Rölpai Dorje went to the border area between China and Tibet, even though there were unresolved conflicts, he resolved all the disputes and everyone promised not to fight for twenty-five years.

The Emperor had sent a message expressing distress if Rölpai Dorje were not to come to see him. So, the Karmapa went to Lintao monastery founded by Drogön Chögyal Pakpa where he met Khenpo Palden of Lintao. The Mongol Emperor had also invited Sakya Pandita who built Trulpay De. Rölpai Dorje also went to Minyak where he taught the Dharma to many people of different nationalities through Mongol, Uighur, and Chinese translators.

While he was traveling, he caught a cold. He told his attendant, Guogong Rinchen Pal, that he would cure his illness through a lucid dream and instructed him not to wake him. Later, when he awoke, he explained how he was completely cured:

In my dream, I went to the Potala palace where I saw red Chenrezig who was holding a vase of amrita nectar. He gave that to me and after I drank it, I had this experience of bliss, clarity and non-thought, and my cold was cured. 

In the Year of the Rat, in 1360 in the 12th month, Karmapa Rölpai Dorje arrived in the Yuan capital of Daidu (Khanbaliq, near Beijing). He stayed at a place called the Blue Temple, and bestowed many empowerments on the Emperor and the Crown Prince including: Vajrayogini, the Six Yogas of Naropa, and Mahamudra. He also gave the Crown Prince the additional empowerments of Gyalwa Gyatso, the 100 Jataka Tales, and the Root Commentary on the Sublime Continuum, the Root Commentary on the Sutras, the Root Commentary on the Kalachakra, and related Indian texts. Over two calendar years he instructed other members of the royal family, great ministers, monastics, and an communities of Mongolians, Uighurs, the Koreans.

Then one day, Karmapa Rölpai Dorje told Guogong Rinchen Pal, that the political situation of the Yuan Dynasty was unstable, the Emperor would not live much longer, and, even if they continued to stay, there was nothing they could do to prevent  bad situations from occurring. For this reason, he made a request to return to Tibet but permission was not given. One time, when the Karmapa made the request, the Crown Prince shed tears and said, “Precious Guru, please stay and hold us with compassion.” This was the first time that someone from the Yuan dynasty shed tears for the Karmapa. Then two ministers, Ma O Jang Ching Sang and She Ra Muan Ching Sang, came to the Karmapa, prostrated, and said, “Since the time you have arrived, all the epidemics have stopped and the Crown Prince has had a son.” This was during the last days of the Yuan dynasty, so there were many conflicts in many regions, but all the conflicts had subsided temporarily and the region had become more prosperous while Karmapa Rölpai Dorje was there. The Emperor and Crown Prince both requested him to stay, with tears in their eyes. He became known as the ‘Auspicious Guru who Brings Good Crops’. They also requested that he engage in political activities, but Rölpai Dorje replied:

I have provided many services and supplicated the Three Jewels on behalf of the Emperor and Crown Prince. I do not have any need for decrees or ranks related to political affairs nor do I have any skills related to that. Monks should go wherever it is best for the sake of teachings and for sentient beings. If a monk stays in any one country and gets attached, that is not good. A good practitioner is one who is not attached to any country. 

The ministers recorded these words. Since he requested so earnestly, the Karmapa was allowed to return to Tibet, and they gave him horses and supplies for traveling back to Ütsang.

Karmapa Rölpai Dorje’s Non-sectarianism and Miraculous Deeds

Karmapa Rölpai Dorje’s life story also illustrated his generosity and involvement across Tibetan schools. He requested the title of Guoshi for Khenpo Palden Chok of Lintao,  Drogön Chögyal Pakpa’s monastery. He resolved the situation of the First Lord of Pakdru, Jangchup Gyaltsen. According to Karma Trinleypa,  Jangchup Gyaltsen had been slandered by someone from Tibet  and this had created difficulties between him and the Yuan emperor. Rölpai Dorje cleared up the matter and requested that the Emperor give Jangchup Gyaltsen the title Tai Situ. When the Pakdru had taken power in Tibet, the position of the Sakya had declined, but Karmapa Rölpai Dorje made a Dharma connection with Sakya Lama Dampa Sönam Gyaltsen and received teachings from him, which raised the status of the Sakyas.

Similarly, fifty years before Karmapa Rölpai Dorje’s birth,  there had been a rebellion in Ü-Tsang led by the Drikung, and many people were killed. This caused a great feud between the Sakyas and Drikung. Karmapa Rölpai Dorje, however, mended the relationship between the two schools, and helped rebuild the Drikung monasteries. Likewise, he made requests for the Emperor to benefit all of the great monasteries and lamas of Tibet, irrespective of their tradition.

When Karmapa Rölpai Dorje was staying in Gansu province, many people came to see him.  Some of them came by horse or camel. Karmapa Rölpai Dorje did his prayers every morning and in between eating his meals, he gave blessings and empowerments continuously for nineteen days without a break or any difficulty.  At that time he received offerings and an invitation from the Mongol king, Tologh Temur, but he did not go.

His Holiness then related a miraculous story of how Rölpai Dorje ended an epidemic, recorded by his attendant, Guogong Rinchen Pal. Rinchen Pal was privy to many secret things but, when he began to write them down, the Karmapa explained this was not a good idea; people might not believe them. And if they did not believe them, they might lose faith.  However,  Guogong Rinchen Pal thought these stories might be beneficial to sentient beings if he shared them, and that is the reason that we have them still, His Holiness explained.

At that time, while staying in the area of Gansu province, there was a large epidemic and many people died. Guogong Rinchen Pal was concerned for their safety so he said to the Karmapa, “There is great danger; what do we do?” The Karmapa said, “I will have a lucid dream tonight and see if I can do something about it. Do not wake me up.” After Rölpai Dorje finished his meditation and prayers, he went to sleep. At that time, Guogong Rinchen Pal stayed awake and watched him. Just before sunrise, a clapping and booming resounded on the roof. Immediately, Rölpai Dorje woke up. He asked Guogong Rinchen Pal, “Did anything happen above the house?” Guogong Rinchen Pal said, “I thought the house was about to collapse.” Then the Karmapa said, “Now the epidemic will not come and spread to this region.” And, Guogong Rinchen Pal, asked, “How is that? What did you do to end the epidemic?” Rölpai Dorje explained to Guogong Rinchen Pal that there were many monsters and an especially frenzied goddess in his dream. Due to this, Rölpai Dorje emanated as a large garuda bird and covered the entirety of Gansu Province. In this dream, he swallowed all of the monsters and goddesses with the fire in his stomach, he burnt them to ashes, and then defecated them all. Since he was in the form of a garuda, he landed on top of the building. This was a mental emanation, Rölpai Dorje explained, so it was strange there were sounds outside because there was no form. Following this, the epidemic died down in Gansu and everyone regained their health.

While we was staying in Gansu, he received horses, oxen, silver, and other countless offerings, which he sent to Ütsang, where they were distributed to all the monasteries, irrespective of the tradition to which they belonged.  This tradition of making offerings to the monks of all the monasteries lasted until the time of the 10th Karmapa. It demonstrates how the Fourth Karmapa was free from bias or sectarianism; he paid respects and made offerings to all monasteries.

As Rölpai Dorje continued on his journey to Tibet, he came to the Tsongkha region in Amdo and met a very young Tsonghkapa. Rölpai Dorje gave him the novice ordination vows and the name Kunga Nyingpo. The Fourth Karmapa also predicted that Tsongkhapa would need to go to Ütsang. Later, when Tsongkhapa did go to Ütsang, he became like a second Buddha for the teachings in Tibet.

The Silk Thangka the Size of a Mountain

Rölpai Dorje went visiting many areas such as the monastery known as ‘The Bowl of Cream,’ near the mountain retreat called, Pal Tsotra. While Rölpai Dorje was there, a wealthy patron, the Lady Puṇyadharī, had a dream. In her dream, she was told to build an image of the Buddha equal to the size of a mountain to fulfill the intention of the great Minyak Prince Ratna, who had died. So, she requested Rölpai Dorje to make this thangka. Rölpai Dorje responded, “If you want to make something the size of a mountain, you have to go to the mountain.” Many doubted and shook their heads confounded by the idea that anyone could make an image as big a mountain. Karmapa Rölpai Dorje smiled and instructed, “You need to make a large applique image of the Buddha and sew it all together.”

Then, all the gurus, lords, and craftspeople came together to make a mountain-sized applique of the Buddha. He diminished their confusion and instructed everyone to find fist-sized, soft, and round stones from the river. In the oral history, Dharma History A Feast for Scholars, it records Rölpai Dorje riding a horse as he instructed the craftspeople to place the white rocks in the horses’ hoofprints. He rode round and round. People put a rock in every hoofprint until they had a design of the Buddha. Then Rölpai Dorje instructed them to mark the specific size and proportions. In this way, he created the entire design for the thangka. The Karmapa gave her 1900 sang of silver towards the cost of the silk, and the thangka was made by 500 tailors.

His Holiness gestured from ear to ear to explain exactly the extent of this image’s size which he described as “From the right ear to the left ear, it was 11 arm spans so it was basically the size of 11 people.” It had an image of the Buddha sitting cross-legged with Manjushri on his right and Maitreya on his left. When Rölpai Dorje consecrated the thangka, many auspicious signs such as rainbows and so forth emerged.

To help us understand the actual extent and beautiful detail of this image, His Holiness showed a slide of his own illustration of this mountain-sized thangka regally hanging from the mountain peak. His Holiness explained that the thangka must have been comparable in size with the Statue of Liberty in New York City. It was incredibly huge.

Afterward, they offered the thangka to Rölpai Dorje who brought it back to Tibet. In Dharma History A Feast for Scholars, the Buddha image was separated into 32 packages and 8 additional packages for the side panels. In the liberation story by Karma Könshön, it says, transporting it required just under 70 dzos, a yak-cattle hybrid, to carry the thangka. Once it arrived in Tibet, of the two side panels, one was given to the Pakdru and one was given to the Drikung Monastery. The main Buddha image was kept at Shokha Monastery in Kongpo, but later it was damaged in a fire. All the different sections were divided up. There were five panels missing, but they were remade at Tse Lhagang. The upper part of the body was in Tse Lhakhang. This was then later kept in one location. This great silk thangka is one of the first appliques of the Buddha. Where is this great silk thangka now? Unfortunately, it no longer exists — Gushi Khan’s army tore it apart and burned it. Since it was a really important artefact and sacred Buddhist image, His Holiness drew it to give us an idea of what it was like.

The End of Rölpai Dorje’s Auspicious Life

Later, Rölpai Dorje went to the area of the Dunhuang caves where there were 3700 temples at that time. Among them, some had been built by Mongol Emperors, some by Chinese Emperors and some by the Tibetan King Tri Ralpachen. When Rölpai Dorje stayed in this region, many people came to give him offerings. There were eternal lamps to be burned day and night and to restore the temples. This shows his connection there. He also went through the areas of Amdo and  Kham and returned to  Kongpo, to the sacred spot of Tsari. He opened it up and, from then on it became a place of pilgrimage and retreat. He also went on pilgrimage to other sacred spots in Kongpo.

He then travelled to Nachopa. As there would be a shortage of firewood, the Karmapa instructed them to bring cypress wood. His Holiness explained that the Third Karmapa’s Rangjung Dorje’s remains had been cremated with sandalwood in Mongolia, but there was no sandalwood in Tibet, so they used cypress instead. They went to a beautiful grass covered mountain on Nachopa and set up the encampment. It was said, if a pure bhikshu were to be cremated in that place, the Chinese armies would not come to Tibet.

At the age of 44, in the Water Pig year, on the 3rd day of 7th month, Rolpai Dorje began to feel unwell. There were many signs such as earthquakes, rainbows, and rains of flowers and so forth. On the 15th day, he made fifty-two circumambulations and prayers, then passed away.  A rock and stone stupa was built in celebration of his auspicious life, and, according to Tsuglak Trenwa, animals would circumambulate that stupa.

In Conclusion

His Holiness wrapped up the teachings with a brief story about Rölpai Dorje’s attendant and foremost student, Guogong Rinchen Pal. It is said that when the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje was staying near Tsurphu monastery, there were many children playing and gathering livestock dung. A dog escaped and the children were very afraid so they ran in all directions. There was one child who did not flee. Instead, with a basket for carrying the dung and a rope, he tricked the dog into running around the basket. Everyone thought, “This is a clever child.” Rangjung Dorje witnessed this and said, “Please give that child to me.” The parents offered the child to Rangjung Dorje, and he predicted that the boy would have great influence. He was Guogong Rinchen Pal; from the Chinese to Mongolian princes to Tibetan leaders, all called him the “Great Master” and would not call him Rinchen Pal. He left the greatest imprint on the teachings. While his dates are uncertain, his life stretched from the end of Rangjung Dorje’s life through his time receiving many teachings from Rölpai Dorje. His Holiness shared that infromation for his teaching had come primarily from another student of Rölpai Dorje’s, Karma Könshön, who studied at the first Tibetan shedra, Sangphu.

His Holiness then summarized that the life of Rölpai Dorje is central for understanding the background information on the Great Encampment, the Garchen. During his lifetime, the Gandhola was the primary sacred object. Also, the primary rule of the encampment prohibited drinking and meat. Having concluded this rich and detailed background information, His Holiness mentioned that he will elaborate more on the regulations of the Great Encampment in the subsequent teachings.

Day 15: Rousing Bodhichitta and the Sacred Gandhola

March 10, 2021

Practices of the Greater Individual

To begin, the Gyalwang Karmapa spoke about the section of the autobiographical Good Deeds that describes how Mikyö Dorje practiced the path of the greater individual. This section has three different sub-topics:

a) The intention: rousing bodhichitta
b) Taking adversity as the path in post meditation
c) How he trained in the precepts of the two types of bodhichitta 

The first sub-topic concerns the ninth stanza of Good Deeds:

All beings, without distinction, are the same as my parents.
It is illogical to group them into factions of friend and foe.
With uncontrived love for beings in intolerable states,
I thought, when can I bring them the benefit of true enlightenment?
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

The fifth stanza of He Searched Thoroughly has a similar meaning. The topic is “transcendent generosity, lovingkindness and so forth—and transcendent diligence of nonattachment and so forth,” according to the 5th Shamar Rinpoche. The verse reads:

His mind never free from love and pangs of compassion,
His wish for emancipation was utterly pure.
He always despaired of suffering and its causes
And pondered impermanence—to him I pray.

His Holiness noted that he had already discussed this in regard to the preliminaries of entering the Dharma, but it is also relevant to the practices of the greater individual, so he explained it again in the present context.

In the Instruction for Training in the Liberation Story, Mikyö Dorje advised his students to discard the afflictions and realize selflessness. We should try as hard as we can to do this. Limitless sentient beings are obscured by the afflictions, and many are quite far from perfect buddhahood, the highest happiness. For that reason, it is important that all sentient beings achieve buddhahood. It doesn’t help much if only a few do so. To achieve this state, we should have compassion for sentient beings who have no guide—even for the arhats who have passed into nirvana [a state of peace which transcends suffering] but who have not yet achieved complete enlightenment [buddhahood]. We need to give up the arhat’s desire for peace, and it goes without saying that we also need to abandon the desire for the richness and bounty of this life. If we have the true wish to achieve buddhahood, we would have no desire to be famous, wealthy, etc. We would not have even the slightest hope for this.

For this reason, when we see some lamas becoming wealthy and famous, we aren’t envious of them. If we have no wish for these things, there is no possibility of envy. These days, many say that they have no wish for existence nor peace, but in their hearts, they are worried about how successful other lineages are. They have real pangs over this. They think only about what to do to make “our” teachings spread and how to harm the other teachings. This is their primary practice and is completely contradictory to the ways of the bodhisattva. We shouldn’t be satisfied with just a few sentient beings achieving buddhahood. We have to devote ourselves to helping everyone achieve realization and feel unbearable compassion for all beings. Then, arousing bodhichitta is not just words but genuine practice.

The Gandhola: Its Shape, Design and History

Next His Holiness returned to the topic of the sacred Gandhola. Last time, he talked about its origins, and today he described how it appeared, its shape and design, and what happened to it after the destruction of the Great Encampment. Surprisingly—since it was given to the 4th Karmapa—the namthar  written by the direct disciples of Rölpe Dorje, such as Karma Könshön, Tsurphu Kunpangpa, and Shamar Könchok Tenlak, do not mention it. Nor does it appear in the Red Annals by Tsalpa, which were probably written in the year the 4th Karmapa went to China. The 7th Karmapa’s namthar, written by Goshri Paljor Döndrup, is the first to refer to it. Goshri wrote: “the supreme support for the meditation of the successive incarnations of the Bearer of the Black Crown, the emanations of the Sixth Buddha Lion’s Roar, is called the Jowo Gandhola.” The question arises: why was it not written about earlier? His Holiness surmised that this relates to how the Gandhola came into Rölpe Dorje’s possession.

The Karmapa recently received two copies of an old manuscript by Shamar Könchok Yenlak, and the two handwritten versions of this text do mention the Gandhola. But they are disappointing because in both versions, the scribes omitted a page describing who made it and how it came into the Karmapa’s possession.  However, the History of Karma Monasteries,written by Karmay Khenchen Rinchen Dargye, clearly indicates how the Gandhola came to the Karmapa.

At the time, Karma Pakshi’s nephew, and then his lineal descendants, oversaw the running of Karma Gön. Many in this line carried the title Situ. At the time the Gandhola appeared, Situ Ārlapa was the overseer of Karma Gön. When Rölpe Dorje arrived at Karma Gön on his way to China, he taught the monks the Six Yogas of Naropa, so the place was filled with retreatants doing these practices. Situ Ārlapa went to practice in closed retreat at a place near the monastery. While he was away, seven Indian archaryas came to Karma Gön wanting to see the Karma Guru [the Karmapa]. But Rölpe Dorje had already gone to China. So they asked to meet Situ Ārlapa, but he was in retreat. The attendant said he would go ask the guru, but they replied that they would depart to find the Karmapa in China. They left a box with the attendant and asked him to entrust it to his guru until they returned. The attendant gave it to Situ Ārlapa, and he instructed the attendant to go and find the archayas. But they had disappeared without a trace. In fact, the Indians weren’t really acharyas; they were emanations of the Karmapa, and they never returned. These emanations had gone to the Tau Shel Cave and opened up a sacred treasury there. They removed the Gandhola and brought it to Karma Gön, where it sat in a box on a shrine until Rölpe Dorje came back. He asked about the box, and it was opened. The Gandhola was inside with a letter describing its history. Rölpe Dorje made offerings, and it then became the Gandhola sacred object.

All this information is in the text by Karma Khenchen Rinchen Dargye. In a previous teaching, the Karmapa showed a lineage thangka from Palpung Monastery in which five acharyas offer the Gandhola to Rölpe Dorje. But the histories reveal that the Gandhola wasn’t directly offered to Rölpe Dorje; it was entrusted to Situ Ārlapa, and the box wasn’t opened until the 4thKarmapa returned from China. Perhaps this is why the liberation stories written by Rölpe Dorje’s direct disciples don’t describe the incident. Karma Khenchen Rinchen Dargye’s source material was probably the 5th Shamar Könchok Yenlak’s Catalogue of the Gandhola or some other old manuscript. Another account is in the Golden Garland of Kagyu Biographies, which says, “Seven emanated acharyas offered the Gandhola to Situ Āryapa or Tsultrim Gyaltsen, the son of Adü, who had taken responsibility for Karma Gön.” These two accounts fit together well.

Another topic is the shape or design of the Gandhola. The Palpung thangka shows the offering in the shape of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya. Based on this picture, His Holiness initially thought that the Gandhola must be the same shape as the temple. But the liberation story of the 9th Karmapa refers to it as the Jowo GandholaJowo is an honorific or affectionate term for the Buddha, the one who offers refuge, and this appellation recalls the famous Jowo Shakyamuni statues in Lhasa. This name indicates that the sacred object is a representation of the Buddha sitting inside a temple. Gandhālaya, or “Temples with a Pure Fragrance,” are places where the Buddha stayed. Furthermore, Goshri Paljor Döndrup’s namthar of the 7th Karmapa states that the image is made of wood from the Bodhi tree and depicts the Buddha inside a temple. Images of the deeds of the Buddha surround the main figure. The descriptions in this source conform to the photograph of the sculpture in the Rumtek treasury shown previously. The deeds of the Buddha appear on both sides of this work, but we only see a few indications of the Mahabodhi temple surrounding the figure. His Holiness concluded that the Gandhola’s shape is as described in the texts, not necessarily resembling what is shown in the thangka.

When the Mongol Güshi Khan destroyed the Great Encampment during the time of the 10th Karmapa, where did this object end up? After the battle, Güshi Khan and the 5th Dalai Lama’s steward Sönam Rabten went together to the Black Treasury at Tse Lhangang in Kongpo. This treasury housed all of the Karmapas’ sacred objects, which were originally gathered at Tsurphu Monastery; later the 6thKarmapa transferred the treasury to Tse Lhangang. (This was probably very much like the treasury that still exists at Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan. Made in the 8th century, the famous Shōsōin Treasury retains its many precious artifacts, including those from the Tang Dynasty.) Güshi Khan and Sönam Rabten raided the Black Treasury and seized many objects, such as the statues of the sixteen arhats made of aloe wood, which were brought to Drepung Monastery where they can still be seen today. Some statues fell into the Brahmaputra River and were lost.

Many people were concerned about the Gandhola, which was the main object of veneration at the Encampment, but by a stroke of good fortune, it survived. Situ Chökyi Jungne wrote in his autobiography that when he gave lay and precept vows to the 8th Shamar Palchen Chökyi Döndrup in Kargyema’s back room at Tsurphu, the object was present—but he did not mention the name Gandhola. It appears that at this point, people were secretive about it. In the 15th Karmapa’s time, Kartok Situ Chökyi Gyatso went to Tsurphu and wrote about three precious sculptures. The first mentioned was “made of wood of the Bodhi Tree by Nagarjuna with the buddhas of the three times above and the Seven Buddhas below and two wrathful deities. This was offered to Rölpe Dorje by acharyas, who were emanations of the Four-Armed Mahakala.” This description of the Gandhola corresponds to the references mentioned earlier.Furthermore, although Kartok Situ wrote that Nagarjuna made the two other objects, he only mentioned Rölpe Dorje in regard to the first item; he did not say that about the other two sculptures. Since the Gandhola was offered to the 4th Karmapa, we can probably say that the first object is the one he received. But at this point, we only have one photograph that may correspond to the GandholaIf someday we can open the treasury at Rumtek, we will be able to identify definitively all the items described by Kartok Situ.

Unlike the other great lamas who fled Tibet during the Chinese invasion, the 16th Karmapa—through his omniscience—was able to bring many sacred objects with him to Sikkim. Based on the photograph that His Holiness showed earlier, it seems that the Gandholais among these objects housed in the Black Treasury at Rumtek. The collection was catalogued at that time, and His Holiness said that he plans to keep researching this topic and would appreciate help, guidance and inspiration from anyone who has knowledge of it.

The Gandhola Offering Ceremony and the Kagyu Monlams

Next, His Holiness established that he would not be able to explain everything about the Great Encampment in this year’s teaching; instead, he will cover four important topics. He has already spoken about the Gandholaand will next talk about the Gandhola offering ceremonies associated with the Garchen Monlam. In coming teachings, he will discuss the rules about not eating meat and drinking alcohol in the Encampment, and the Karma Gadri style of painting. Other topics associated with the Encampment—its regulations, how it increased in size, how it traveled from one place to another, the learning associated with it—will be addressed next year.

The Karmapa then spoke of the Gandhola Offering Ceremony or the Gandhola Viewing Ceremony. This was a public presentation of the Gandhola and other representations of body, speech and mind, along with elaborate offerings. At that time, the Gyalwang Karmapa or one of the heart sons like Shamar Rinpoche would explain the objects to the members of the audience, and this viewing and listening constituted the Gandhola Offering Ceremony. It’s difficult to say exactly when this ceremony began, but it is described in the namthars of the 7th Karmapa. Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa, in his Feast for Scholars, wrote that Chödrak Gyatso composed the Twenty Branch Monlam, and using this liturgy, turned the wheel of Dharma during the four festivals of the Buddha, especially during the Festival of Miracles held on the 1st to the 15th day of the first Tibetan month.  All of the Encampment’s many sacred objects were arranged surrounded by offerings made from precious substances, jewels, crystals of various colors, turquoise, silver, jade and gogushi (blue turquoise)—and displayed for public viewing.

In Tibet at that time, even kings and wealthy people had never seen or heard of such a display. The offerings increased each day. Chödrak Gyatso would sit on a thin mat and prostrate to them. Later, in Lhasa and Kharu Teng in Ü-Tsang, they would make a big temple out of a sky blue tent—the size of a house of a hundred pillars—with a fabric fence around it, and canopies, vestibules, and a spire adorned with golden birds and dragons. Inside the huge tent, they placed the Gandhola in the center, surrounded by many other sacred objects—such as a statue of the Buddha consecrated by Shakyamuni himself and the meditation support of Atisha. But the main object was the Gandhola. Above it, parasols made entirely of pearls given by the Ming Emperor to Karmapa Deshin Shekpa were arranged in a thirteen-part column, each on top of the next. The size of the seventh parasol was two-and-a-half arm spans, so the lower ones had to be even larger. There were cushions and victory banners made of pearls as well. Even the lord of Ü-Tsang, Dönyö Dorje, was amazed at this. He felt that he had arrived in the world of the gods. Mentang Jangyangpa, who had written about the Menri style of painting and was very skilled at art, thought he was dreaming. He asked, “Have we arrived in the palace of Vaishravana?” All were astounded by what they saw.

There were two different forms of the Gandhola Offering Ceremony—extensive and shorter. The elaborate version included the statues of the sixteen arhats offered to the Karmapa by the Ming Emperor. The pearl canopies were installed even when the Encampment was traveling. At the main monasteries, the ceremony was equally elaborate, extensive and beautiful. Even the stewards did not know the full extent of the sacred objects and offerings. Only the Karmapa with his clairvoyance could keep all of the objects in mind. In order to conduct the ceremonies, organizers had to carry the objects from place to place, packed in boxes. At the time of the 7th Karmapa, the offerings associated with the Gandhola alone required 32 boxes. There was a smaller number at the time of Mikyö Dorje, only sixteen boxes; later there were only six or seven.

To give an idea of what the arrangement looked like, His Holiness showed a drawing he had made that reconstructed the GandholaOffering altar. It showed the Gandhola in the center, with the thirteen parasols above. Representations of body, speech and mind sat on the surrounding shelves, while gold and silver offering vessels adorned with jade, pearls and so forth were on the the lower level.

Although it’s not known precisely when it began, the Gandhola Offering Ceremony was one of the activities of the Garchen Monlamduring the time of the 7th Karmapa. Goshri Paljor Döndrup wrote that when the Karmapa went to Kongpo, in a place called Lingchi in the town of Sapur, Chödrak Gyatso established the offerings for anniversaries of the Kagyu masters and for other festivals at that time. Monlams were held during the four festivals of the Buddha—Festival of Miracles; Birth, Enlightenment, and Parinirvana; Turning the Wheel of Dharma; and Festival of the Descent from Heaven. They would begin these annual celebrations on the 15th day of the 9th month, during the Festival of the Descent from Heaven. The most elaborate of these events happened during the Festival of Miracles. From the 1st to the 15th day of the first month, they would hold the Encampment Losar. In the morning there would be the Monlam, and in the afternoon, they held dramatic performances and various amusements. Goshri wrote that the Monlams were instituted first; later they added elaborate performances. For example, from the time that Chödrak Gyatso first went to Dawa Tang in Otang, the Festivals of the Buddha always included a Monlam in the morning. In the afternoon, they staged enactments of the mahasiddhas of India and Tibet, the emperors of China, Tibet and Mongolia, Indra and the four great kings, and so forth. During that time, people had visions of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. There were amazing signs and omens, such as rains of flowers and vultures circling the sky in a region where no vultures had previously been.

The Twenty-Branch Monlam written by the 7th Karmapa is the basis of the liturgy for the contemporary Kagyu Monlam. His Holiness consulted an old manuscript of the Monlam text, but a page was missing. To fill in, he used a Kamtsang prayerbook that included this missing part. So these two texts are the sources for the prayers that we recite at the Kagyu Monlam today.

In Chödrak Gyatso’s time, they performed the same Great Monlam that is in our Kamtsang prayer books, and also the Prayers of the Deceased and Living, written by the 1st Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa. The 7th Karmapa would read the Prayers for the Deceased, and everyone would listen to the dedications. In the afternoon, they staged performances of the Jataka Tales and the mahasiddhas of Tibet and India. People would watch the performances and also gaze on the Karmapa, who normally just sat in meditative equipoise without speaking. He held no worldly conversations and gave few Dharma discourses, but even then, he wouldn’t say much. Every three, five or seven days, he held very short audiences. Mostly, he stayed in meditation retreat. People didn’t even see him when he traveled. Those who lived in the Encampment also didn’t often have access to him. But during these festivals, he sat there for the whole time. It was a rare opportunity to see the Karmapa.

The 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje stopped the performances during the Losar celebrations. In the previous era, the performances benefited beings, but later in the region of Kongpo, people came merely to see a spectacle. Attendees would get together, men and women met and became lovers, and they killed many animals. A previous non-Buddhist king in Kongpo had performed animal sacrifices, and even though Rangjung Dorje later stopped these practices, meat eating continued in this region. So Mikyö Dorje gave up the performance tradition because it increased non-virtue; only the Monlams were held. People from outlying lands would engage in some contests and games, but the Monlams no longer included other performances. Also the 8th Karmapa reduced the number of Monlams, only holding them during the Festival of Miracles. (The first to hold a Festival of Miracles was probably Lord Tsongkhapa in Lhasa. His Holiness will speak of this later if he has time.)

During the time of the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje, the Festival of Miracles would conclude on the full moon day with Sangha members conducting a Golden or Monlam Procession. A biography of Wangchuk Dorje recounts that beginning in the Female Wood Pig year (1575), during the Losar Monlam, participants carried images of the Buddha on an alms round, accompanied by monks in the costumes of the sixteen arhats, and along with them, there was a procession of the Sangha. So this was an auspicious ceremony to conclude the Monlam. The Garchen Monlam probably ceased with the 10th Karmapa Chöying Dorje, but the tradition of the Sangha procession on the full moon day continued into the time of the 16th Karmapa. Situ Rinpoche described in the catalogue of the sacred objects of Tibet that people wearing costumes of the Buddha, Shariputra, and Maudgalyayana would make a procession around Tsurphu monastery. The participants made various offerings to each shrine, prostrated, and received khatags. They would recite the Praise to the Buddha’s Twelve Deeds and Prostrations and Offerings to the Sixteen Arhats. Older lamas from Tsurphu told His Holiness that the sixteen Karmapas were also represented in the procession. This brings us to the Kagyu Monlam in our time.

The Monlam Today

The previous Kalu Rinpoche planted the seed for the present Kagyu Monlam, and Kyabje Vajradhara Bokar Rinpoche continued the tradition of a yearly prayer festival in Bodhgaya. After His Holiness arrived in India, he thought that this Monlam tradition was great, but when he saw the old texts, he wanted to improve and increase it—especially in accord with the way it was done during the time of the previous Karmapas. Initially the present day Monlam included a lot of Vajrayana rituals, and many people who came to visit the Mahabodhi Temple might be confused by those words. When they heard references to eating meat and drinking blood, they might wonder, “What are they saying?” So when His Holiness took over the responsibility, he changed it a little bit. But his main aim was that after Bokar Rinpoche’s passing, he would fulfill his predecessors’s aspirations for the Monlam.

Bokar Rinpoche passed away so suddenly that His Holiness couldn’t believe it; Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche was staying with him at the time, and he too said, “It can’t be.” His Holiness described his reaction:

One time I had a dream. It’s like I must have felt so uncomfortable in my mind, and it said that Rinpoche had passed away, but it was like his body was alive. When you felt his flesh, it was still very soft and supple. . . . What can we do? If I take all my blood and pour it into Rinpoche’s body, then Rinpoche’s body would become living again. . . . The reason I thought of that is that from one perspective that when Rinpoche passed away, he had really passed away, and there was no choice but to believe. But from another perspective,  . . . this idea that he was still kind of alive, that he had to finish . . . I had that feeling that I had to do something. . . . I had this hope that he would return to us. . . . So I think that’s why I had that dream.

The Karmapa said he would remember this dream while he was working on behalf of the Kagyu Monlam. He didn’t have great aims for it, but the Rinpoches had already planted the seeds; they had created a good foundation for the Kagyu Monlam. There was a reason to continue and make it even better. That was His Holiness’s aim, stated in a simple and easy way. Later when he did research into the life stories of the previous Karmapas—the procession of the sixteen arhats and so forth—he decided to incorporate some things he had learned into the Monlam. It’s not the case of someone who thinks too much, has too many ideas, and just does whatever he thinks, he explained. He didn’t make up things for the Kagyu Monlam that hadn’t been done before. His Holiness concluded, “It might look like that, but when you look at the life stories of the previous Karmapas, there’s nothing that you need to make up. You can just restore the old—there’s nothing new that needs to be done.”

His Holiness indicated that he would continue speaking about the practices of the great individual in the next teaching and also about refraining from eating meat. Most monasteries have rules about not drinking alcohol, but the rule of not eating meat is a special feature of the Encampment, so he will speak a little on the subject of meat. These days, there’s a lot of conflict about the subject, but it’s not something to fight about. In the past, he’s spoken about being a vegetarian but hasn’t given the historical background. His Holiness promised he would share his opinions about this, how it was in the time of the Bhagavan Buddha, and later in Tibet.

Day 16: Vegetarianism in the Great Encampment and the Three-Fold Purity of Meat in the Vinaya

March 12, 2021

After giving his auspicious greetings, His Holiness continued his presentation on the Great Encampment’s traditions and rules for not eating meat. In addition, His Holiness discussed how the Vinaya addresses meat consumption.

Part 1: The Fourth Karmapa Rölpai Dorje prohibits meat and alcohol in the Great Encampment

Referencing the Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje’s Great Rule Book for the Great Encampment, the Ornament of the World, His Holiness explained that the Fourth Karmapa Rölpai Dorje and successive Karmapa incarnations prohibited the consumption of meat and alcohol in the Great Encampment:

those who were included in the encampment could not have any meat —  not even the hair of a deer — or drink any alcohol, not even as much as the tip of a blade of grass. 

Similarly, Karma Könshön, who was one of the Fourth Karmapa’s direct disciples, wrote a namthar of Rölpai Dorje called Delighting the Scholars. In this text, he reported that Rölpai Dorje and his entourage lived off of the three “white foods”, and that if the bones of a slaughtered animal were found where masters and disciples had stayed, they would be reprimanded. Moreover, “not even the scent of alcohol was allowed to waft into the confines of the encampment. [Rölpai Dorje] brought everyone into pure conduct.” Another of Rölpai Dorje’s students, Tsurphu Kangpangpa, concurred. He said of his teacher:

There was no way that even the tiniest amount of meat or the mere scent of alcohol could be in the encampment. His conduct was the perfection of purity and the power of his compassion extremely great.

Successive Karmapas upheld, preserved, and spread Rölpai Dorje’s tradition of vegetarianism. His Holiness believes that this prohibition on eating meat was a distinctive feature of the Great Encampment. In Karma Chakme’s The Words of Guru Pandita Jamyang from the North: The Faults of Meat and Distinguishing What is Allowed and Prohibited, it is written:

There were always 500 bhikshus with outer robes around Rölpai Dorje, and he perfected the example of not allowing meat, not even the hair of a deer, to come into his sight. From that time on, most of the dharma organizations founded by Lord Mikyö Dorje had strict rules against meat. At Nyinling Monastery, there was no rule against meat, but a separate soup with a vegetarian stock was made for the vegetarians. The Karmapa and Heart Sons only ate vegetarian food and never allowed meat in their sight. In ganachakras, the meat offering was eaten by everyone, and even the Karmapa and Heart Sons ate a small amount so as not to violate samaya. 

Rules against meat and alcohol consumption in the Great Encampment were clearly quite strict. Prohibitions included the slaughtering and butchering animals in or near the Encampment, and meat was not to be offered during regular pujas or during times of celebration such as Losar (Tibetan New Year). People who butchered animals or did not heed these rules could be expelled from the Encampment – which meant being expelled from the Karma Kagyu entirely – or demoted, depending on the severity of the wrongdoing committed.

There were many reasons why meat was prohibited so strictly in the Encampment. However, the primary reason, His Holiness explained, was to prevent numerous sentient beings from being killed in order to feed the Encampment’s many people. If eating meat had been allowed, eating meat from animals that had died naturally was impractical due to the number of people living in the Encampment; you wouldn’t be able to wait until you had enough animal corpses to feed everyone. As a result, animals would have had to be killed. According to the Vinaya, this meat would be considered impure and there would be great harm from eating it.

Part 2: Mikyö Dorje encourages all Tibetans to give up meat

As His Holiness explained in a previous session, by Mikyö Dorje’s time, the Great Encampment had become much larger and more organized. After the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso passed away, many of the Great Encampment’s regulations were disregarded and many animals were offered, killed and eaten. The Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, recognizing the difficulty and suffering this caused, reinstated the rule strictly prohibiting meat in the Great Encampment once he was old and influential enough to do so. In addition, many of the monasteries he founded adopted strict rules against eating meat and he started a movement promoting vegetarianism throughout Tibet. The Fifth Shamarpa’s Catalogue of Collected Works includes Mikyö Dorje’s Letter to my Defenseless Mothers Primarily in the Land of Snows, an announcement disseminated in Tibet about the inappropriateness of eating meat. Although His Holiness doesn’t have this text, he was able to ascertain Mikyö Dorje’s position on meat-eating from the title. His Holiness hopes one day we will be able to obtain a copy of the Letter to my Defenseless Mothers.

The Eighth Karmapa avoided going to regions for alms where large quantities of meat were eaten. From Sangye Paldrup’s commentary on the Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds”:

No matter what region he traveled to, he skillfully prevented people from eating meat. In Kongpo, because of the region, he was unable to prevent it, and it was due to this that he did not go for alms in Kongpo, Mongol regions, or other regions where they only ate meat, it is said. 

We can see from his text Great Commentary on the Vinaya that Mikyö Dorje was quite insistent about not consuming meat or alcohol. In it he wrote:

Further, if you put meat, alcohol, and so forth into the Gutor and other certain kinds of torma, you are not taking me as a teacher. You are not appropriate to be my disciple. You are not taking me as a guru. 

In addition to meat and alcohol, there were eight impure things that must be given up upon ordination which Mikyö Dorje listed in his 100 Short Instructions. They are: armor, weapons, riding animals and pack animals, business including interest, crops and houses, and milking and animal husbandry. These were not new orders created by the Eighth Karmapa. Rather, Mikyö Dorje was citing Lord Gampopa.

On a personal note, His Holiness has heard from many people, “the Karmapa said that if you don’t give up meat you’re not a Kagyupa”. His Holiness clarified that he doesn’t have the ability to tell or decide whether someone is a Kagyupa or not. The confusion may have arisen out of a talk he gave in 2004 where he quoted some of Mikyö Dorje’s texts concerning giving up meat. His Holiness pointed out that he was not the one making this statement but rather it was what previous Karmapas had instructed.

His Holiness reminded listeners that being vegetarian in Mikyö Dorje’s time was quite challenging as there were not many foods one could eat. In an old book he had read that enumerated Tibetan foods, he said there were only about 100 foods named and over 90% of them were meat. His Holiness, born to a nomadic family, said that aside from meat, there was only butter, cheese, and tsampa to eat and milk to drink, and there were no vegetables. Consequently, great Tibetan masters of the past did not tell people to stop eating meat in particular. However, past Kagyu masters considered it to be very important and taught about the problems of and reasons for giving up the consumption of meat and alcohol. He would discuss this further tomorrow.

Part 3: Meat that is pure in the three ways

The Bhagavan Buddha paid great attention to food and the conduct of the monastic community, and gave them substantial advice. Some of his advice can be located in the Vinaya scriptures of different schools. With regards to today’s instructions on meat that is pure in the three ways, His Holiness referred primarily to quotations given from five of the 18 original schools of Buddhism, most of which he had translated from Chinese. The texts have slightly different explanations on determining which meat was pure or impure for whom ( bhikshus, bhikshunis, novices, or lay people).

His Holiness started this portion of the teaching by reflecting on the earlier ascetic practices of Prince Siddhartha. At that time in India, many philosophical and religious traditions promoted practicing austerities, sometimes quite severe ones. These were very difficult for ordinary people to practice, but Prince Siddhartha did so for six years. He then had an experience where he realized that practicing austerities alone would not lead to enlightenment. The Bhagavan Buddha later taught to his monastics that they should neither have a lifestyle that is so severe it is unbearable, nor one that is so luxurious that one becomes careless.

As food is a daily necessity, we have no choice but to eat. However, the Bhagavan Buddha established codes to encourage eating in moderation. Food should be thought of as medicine, and thus eating in an uncontrolled way was not considered acceptable. Monastics went on daily alms rounds and therefore had to rely on the food they were given. Although India, from ancient times until the present, has had a large number of vegetarians, there were some people who offered meat to the monks. The Bhagavan Buddha thought accepting alms from both the rich and the poor, who may or may not be vegetarian, would help monastics make connections with all levels of society. They would therefore have to accept offerings of meat at times.

However, monastics were not to eat all of the meat given to them. Meat that was considered pure after examination could be eaten while impure meat could not. The Uttara Grantha Vinaya text of the Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition found in Tibet lists several types of animals that one should not eat. They include consuming the meat, fat, and juices from different bird species such as owls, reptiles and amphibians such as toads, and carnivores such as lions, tigers, and bears. In addition, meat should not be raw or killed specifically for the particular recipient in question.

The Bhagavan Buddha offered ways to determine whether the meat was pure in the three ways, and these teachings applied primarily to monastics and occasionally to lay people. Slight variations occurred between different Vinaya manuscripts and Buddhist schools, but they agreed that three types of meat should be avoided: by seeing, by hearing, or through suspicion. According to a Sri Lankan source brought to China in the fourth century, the Bhagavan Buddha explained the definition of impure meat to his bhikshus and bhikshunis:

Seeing means actually seeing the killing yourself. Hearing means hearing from a credible individual that it was killed for your sake. Suspicion means suspecting it was killed for your sake.

He gave them this teaching following a meal served by a man called Captain or General Lion, during which the monastics expressed doubts about eating the meat being offered. The Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition’s Vinaya Vastu, which is found in Tibet, recounts this story similarly and the meaning is the same, explained His Holiness. The Mahīśāsaka texts existing in China differ but slightly. The important thing, His Holiness noted, is that when monastics were offered meat on their alms round, they were to ask questions to the donor about what kind of meat it was and whether the animal was slaughtered for his or her sake. They were responsible for investigating and ascertaining whether that meat was appropriate for them to eat or not. According to His Holiness, if they were not careful, there would be the danger of animals being harmed for their sake.

In the Mahāsāṇghika Vinaya, the definition of what constituted impure meat was wider and it applied to both monastics and laypeople. This text, brought to China by a Chinese monk named Faxian (法顯) and translated with the Indian master Buddhabhadra, says that, regardless whether an animal is killed for a specific bhikshu or a layperson alike, no bhikshu, bhikshuni, novice, or layperson may consume that meat. In other words, if an animal was slaughtered for a bhikshu, bhiksunis and laypeople were also not allowed to eat it. Similarly, if an animal was killed for a layperson, it was impure and neither laypeople nor monastics could eat it.

The Tāmraśāṭīya scriptures, which were originally in Pali but have been translated by His Holiness from the Chinese, offer a detailed description of the three pure meats. The Tāmraśāṭīya is one of the 18 original schools of Buddhism, developed mostly in Sinhala (Sri Lanka), and is considered part of the Theravada tradition. Excerpts from its text called The Great Treasury of All Seen to Be Excellent (Samantapāsādikāwere read. In addition, His Holiness presented his translations of texts from the Daśa-bhāṇavāra-vinaya of the Sarvastivada tradition and the Dharmaguptika Vinaya, which had narrower definitions of the three-fold purity of meat. In their texts, impure meat also included meat from an animal that did not die naturally, from a butcher or from a household that killed for your sake, from a household that sold meat, or from an individual who acted on the ten nonvirtuous actions. To note, Tibetan and Chinese Vinaya practice came from the Sarvastivadan tradition, which in turn developed out of Theravada.

In brief, in all of the traditions of Vinaya, it is important for monastics and lay practitioners with householder vows to only eat meat that is pure in the three ways. This means not seeing, not hearing, and not having any suspicion or doubts that it was slaughtered for you. Moreover, for monastics, this means only eating meat that was offered (that is not ordered from the donor) and determined to be pure. Remembering that the Sarvastivada and Dharmaguptika Vinaya were quite strict, this could be difficult at times. Even if one’s stomach was burning with hunger, he or she was not to eat impure meat.

Tomorrow, His Holiness will continue by speaking about how meat was prohibited in the Mahayana. In addition, he will address the impact of eating meat on the environment and our health. He then mentioned his plan to begin summer teachings that will focus on tsokdra, the rituals and practices of the yidam deities. Because these will be related to Secret Mantra Practice, they will be open to monasteries and nunneries but closed to the general public.

Day 17: His Holiness on Vegetarianism

March 13, 2021

Following the opening prayers, His Holiness extended his warm greetings to all the teachers at the various monasteries, lamas, tulkus, students from the shedras, and,in particular, the nuns in the nunneries, as well as all of his male and female dharma friends who were watching the live webcast.

Continuing yesterday’s teaching, His Holiness went on to speak about the topic of whether it is appropriate to eat meat and the three ways in which meat is considered pure.

Buddha established rules and taught his monastic students that their food should not be too luxurious and that they should live off alms. Going for alms entailed the danger that faithful sponsors would kill animals for the sake of the Sangha. Henceforth, Buddha set up certain rules regarding eating meat that is pure in three ways, such as not allowing his students to eat meat from an animal that had been specifically killed for them.

In Indian society at that time, the Buddha faced criticism for allowing his monastic students to eat meat. The criticism came from those who were vegetarian, such as the Jains, other non-Buddhists, and even from some of his own followers. And the main person making this dispute was Devadatta.

Devadatta was the Buddha’s cousin, the son of his uncle Amritodana. Having joined the Buddhist monastic community, he later became competitive with the Buddha and eventually separated from the Sangha. He established his own monastic community and philosophical school, and even after he had passed away, his followers continued to uphold his tradition. During the 4th and 5th century, when the Chinese monks Faxian and Xuanzang went to India, Devadatta’s dharma tradition still existed. In their travel notes they wrote that in Devadatta’s tradition people went for refuge to the three Buddhas of the past Kanakamuni, Kashyapa and Krakucchamda, but not to Buddha Shakyamuni. That tradition was still present until the 8th century.

While the Buddha was still in this world, Devadatta caused a schism in the Wheel of the Sangha, which means that the Buddhist monastics split into two fractions. Moreover, Devadatta drew blood from the Buddha’s body with malicious intent, which means he actually intended to murder the Buddha, which he tried to accomplish in different ways. He thus had committed one of the heinous acts – which lead to immediate karmic retribution. Hence, according to the Foundation Vehicle scriptures, as soon as Devadatta passed away, he was reborn in hell. However, according to the Mahayana Avatamsaka Sutra, there is a prophecy that Devadatta would awaken to buddhahood in the future. Some of the Mahayana sutras state that Devadatta appeared as the Buddha’s competitor in order to show the Buddha’s greatness, and that he was actually an emanation to show beings what would happen to them if they committed any of the heinous acts.  However, Devadatta suggested that the Buddha should instate five additional precepts, including a total prohibition on eating meat; the Buddha did not accept them and consequently the Buddhist monastic students split into two fractions. The majority followed Devadatta.

Regarding the five austerities, there are different assertions according to the Vinaya tradition of the different schools. One can find clear descriptions of them in the Fifty Verses of the Vinaya in the Tibetan tradition as well as the great commentaries on the Vinaya.

Although there are different ways in which the five austerities are listed, they all  include vegetarianism. While the Buddha was still on this Earth, he did not say to his monastic students that they should not eat any meat at all but that they should only eat meat which is pure in three ways. Devadatta, on the other hand, said that they should entirely refrain from eating meat and practice pure vegetarianism.

Bhavaviveka in his Blaze of Reasoning and later masters, too, said that if one followed the Foundation Vehicle, one should eat meat, because by not doing so one might practice austerities in the same way as Devadatta had suggested.

His Holiness then recalled a text on the Vinaya by Amalamitra and the Great Exposition, one of the root texts of the four philosophical schools [Great Exposition School, Sutra School, Mind Only School and Middle Way School]. What it basically says is that among the Buddha’s disciples, Mahakashyapa was the one with the greatest contentment and the greatest attainment. And the one who was the most careful about food and had the strongest conduct, was Bakula. The difference between the two was that Mahakashyapa would eat any alms, no matter whether they were good or bad, whereas when Bakula received better food, he would give it up and eat only the worse food. Later, the great masters of the Great Exposition School explained this in different ways. They gave the reason why Bakula would not eat the better food as this type of food would include meat or elaborate preparations. And if food included meat, then this entailed the killing of sentient beings, which is to say that they were made from the flesh and blood of animals. Out of his compassion, he would decline to eat those offerings.

The question in this regard is: When Bakula went on alms round, did he accept those better food offerings and throw them away later or did he just not accept them in the first place? If he did not accept them, then he would have gone against the Buddha’s rules, according to which his monastic disciples were not supposed to make any choices when receiving alms. If, on the other hand, one would accept an offering but later throw it away, then there would be the fault of wasting it.

So, what did Bakula do? Bakula is said to have had the divine eye and during alms round, he could – with his clairvoyance – see those donors with the worst alms and go straight to them. Therefore, he did not accumulate any fault for wasting food and so forth.

Likewise, it says in the Angulimalasutra that Mahakashyapa dwelled in the twelve qualities of training and also had a pure vegetarian practice. When we look at different quotes, we can understand that during the time of the Buddha, many monastics had a vegetarian diet. For instance, the Sangha members from Brahmin families had for generations not eaten meat and thus were unable to eat it. His Holiness does not think that the Buddha ruled that those uncomfortable eating meat would have to eat meat.

Devadatta established the rule of entirely abstaining from meat primarily because of his motivation. Devadatta, being the Buddha’s cousin, was proud and thought that he was his equal. Feeling very competitive towards him, he disputed the rule of the Buddha’s rule of  allowing meat that is pure in three ways. He thought to make an even better rule and out of pride and competitiveness established his own. Did he make them out of compassion for the animals? This is difficult to say. Devadatta thought that he would not allow his followers to eat meat in order to be regarded more highly by the people, as the eating of meat was considered to entail the harming of sentient beings. Thus, some of Devadatta’s motivation for giving up meat was mistaken and making this new rule was hardly done out of a great sense of compassion for animals.

During the time of early Buddhism and the spreading of the eighteen philosophical schools, most Buddhists said that one should only eat meat that is pure in three ways. Later on, from the time when the Mahayana tradition flourished in India, especially during the period of the Great Parinirvana Sutra, the Travels to Lanka Sutra, the Sutra of Benefitting Angulimala, the Noble Cloud of Jewels Sutra, the Elephant Strength Sutra, the Great Cloud Sutra, and in particular the essence sutras that teach about buddha-nature — mention that eating even meat that is pure in the three ways is inappropriate. Thus, the teachings about practicing vegetarianism became prevalent.

In Mahayana, we should think about all sentient beings as if they were our parents, and if you really think of them as your fathers and mothers, not just mouthing it but feeling it within your heart, then it would be really difficult to eat their flesh. Likewise, if we eat sentient beings’ flesh, then this would stain our minds and our minds would become more hardened and eventually, we would have less loving-kindness and compassion.

Particularly in the essence sutras, it is taught that all sentient beings have buddha-nature and for this reason one should not eat their flesh. His Holiness the Karmapa suggested at that point that if one wished to read more about that topic, one might want to refer to the above mentioned Mahayana sutras.

In Chinese, there is a sutra called The Omniscient Sage not Eating Meat out of Compassion. That means that during the time of Maitreya, compassion was primarily emphasized, and if monastics at that time ate meat, they would incur a defeat and lose their vows. That is a prophecy that the Buddha is said to have made.

In the Mahayana tradition, most sutras that prohibit the eating of meat were taught during the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. Maitreya is the one who teaches buddha-nature and who wrote treatises such as The Sublime Continuum.

When we look at the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the reason eating meat that is pure in three ways was permitted was in order to become vegetarian in stages instead of doing it immediately. It is not a rule saying that one should eat meat. Whether it is a historical fact that people actually practiced accordingly, is difficult to say. However, followers of the Foundation Vehicle Schools would not accept that, according to the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, one should not eat meat after the Buddha’s passing away, because it was a Mahayana sutra.

In Questions and Answers with Jangdak Namgyal Draksang, (a king in Tibet, particularly learned in the astrology of Kalachakra; an emanation of Pema Karpo, or White Lotus.), Lord Gendun Drup states that in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, monastics were not allowed to eat meat after the Buddha’s passing into Nirvana and that the sutra was primarily meant for Mahayana monastics.

According to the Mahayana, meat was prohibited out of compassion at that time. The counter-argument is that farming itself kills many sentient beings such as insects. In the Angulimala Sutra  Manjushri, puts this argument to the Buddha: As many people maintain you should not eat meat because it harms sentient beings, then surely one should also not be allowed to plough fields.  And one should also not be allowed to use water for cooking  because it would harm sentient beings. Buddha replied that this is a worldly way of thinking. If this were to be the case, then –  lay people need to engage in farming in order to produce food – without them, no one would not be able to achieve buddhahood. There are living beings in the ground, in the water and in the air. It  would be impossible to avoid incurring a misdeed and harming sentient beings.

One thing to consider in this context, His Holiness stressed, is the fact that for the sake of meat, sentient beings are specifically killed, whereas insects are not killed intentionally when ploughing fields; this difference needs to be understood.  Thinking too narrowly, we would not be allowed to do anything and could not actually put that into practice.

In brief, in the Mahayana the emphasis lies on love and compassion for sentient beings, and in the respective Mahayana sutras, the eating of meat is prohibited, because of which most monastics in Mahayana countries became vegetarians.

For example in China, the practice of vegetarianism began about 500 years after Buddhism spread to China. Before that, monastics practiced vegetarianism if they wished, they did not necessarily have to give up meat. Subsequently, there was a great movement to give up meat and the person who was leading that movement was the Emperor Wu of Liang, who lived in the 6th century (502-549 CE). He had great faith in Buddhism, went forth as a monastic three times and spent a lot of time reading Buddhist scriptures. When he was reading the Mahayana sutras, he saw many of those statements that emphasize abstaining from eating meat out of love and compassion for sentient beings. This influenced him greatly and he established rules that prohibited the sacrifice of meat in temples and medicine made from animal products. Moreover, he used the Mahayana sutras as a basis for writing a letter that said that monastics should not eat meat. He also specifically invited 198 male and female monastics to come to the palace in order to discuss the issue of whether, according to the Mahayana, eating meat was appropriate. The emperor had prepared over fifty questions and asked the upholders of the Vinaya to respond. Because of him, vegetarianism spread greatly throughout the country and among the monastics.

In Tibet, some people argue that vegetarianism is a Chinese Buddhist practice not a Tibetan one. However, vegetarianism in Tibet is not something new. Generally, problems of geography and altitude and lack of technology have made it very difficult to give up meat and grow vegetables in Tibet. The primary practice among monastics was to eat meat which was pure in three ways.

Later on, after many generations and years had passed, the rules grew lax, and people started to eat any meat that was available. Monasteries had slaughterhouses or ordered animals to be killed. Thus, there were many situations that were inappropriate and contradictory to the Vinaya. That was the main reason why many great beings, such as Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo, Shabgar Tsogdruk Rangdrol,, Nyala Pema Dundul, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen,  the 14th Dalai Lama, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok and others gave up eating meat and spoke out in favor of a vegetarian diet .

Now, in the 21st century, most monasteries in and outside Tibet have stopped serving meat in their community kitchens, many members of the Sangha have become vegetarians, and there are different vegetarian movements in Tibetan society.

Of course, people have different opinions in this regard and many issues need to be researched. In any case, His Holiness thinks that vegetarians criticizing meat eaters and meat eaters speaking badly about vegetarians, even getting into disputes, is not good. Thus, if we practice vegetarianism but our motivation is not wholesome, we become just like Devadatta whose act of giving up meat became a non-Dharmic action. We should be careful about our motivation!

After the break, His Holiness continued by speaking about the innumerable Kagyu forefathers who gave a good example, such as Milarepa. The collected works, tell how he was at Nyanang Belly Cave with Rechungpa, who would not listen to his advice. Rechungpa had thoughts of the eight worldly dharmas, and when Milarepa told him to give them up, Rechungpa argued that the Dharma texts say that if one has given up his homeland, which he already had done, one would have accomplished half of the Dharma practice. Milarepa replied that these were just words and did not have much benefit; he gave him many instructions but they did not help Rechungpa very much.

One day, Milarepa and Rechungpa went to a market in the Nyanang valley in order to beg for food. The market was primarily butchers so there were stacks of meat, piles of animals’ heads, blood, animals to be killed and so forth. In the centre was a butcher. One way to slaughter animals is to suffocate them, the Karmapa explained. Another method id to slit their bellies open and sever the artery to the heart. While the butcher attempting to slaughter a sheep using the latter method, the animal escaped, running around with its intestines hanging out. It ran to Milarepa for protection, and died right there. Milarepa felt such great compassion that he wept. He immediately did transference of consciousness for the sheep, placing it onto the bodhisattava path. Out of his great compassion he sang this song:

E MA! Sentient beings of samsara,
Look to the path of liberation.
Alas! These here with such negativity—such a shame!
Ignorant of karma in this human birth with leisures,
How devastating is this killing of beings!
How regrettable to have such self-delusion!
How shameful, indeed, to kill one’s parents!
What’s to be done with this stacking of killed flesh?
What to do with all this pooling of blood?
Eating meat, however hungry one is;
Such confused perception, thinking anything;
Such negativity without any compassion;
Delusive ignorance that’s obscured everything;
What can be done with such cultivation of negativity?
Giving torment however they please;
Such wickedness of those who act this way;
How shameful! Oh, such sadness and heartache!
So busy with negativity in all that they do,
Later, they won’t remember a single moment.
When I see such people, I fear for them.
I think of those with such negative conduct, and I am disturbed.
Rechungpa, doesn’t it make you think of the sublime dharma?
If it does, then give rise to sadness and disillusionment.
If you meditate, go to mountain retreats.
If you contemplate, contemplate the guru’s kindness.
If you escape something, escape from the root of nonvirtue.
If you let go of something, let go of mundane deeds.
If you keep something, keep your promise to practice.
If you understand, then bring your life to the dharma.

Essentially, His Holiness commented, the song is telling us to look at all sentient beings with compassion. We have to stop fooling ourselves. We need to realise these are our parent sentient beings that are dying. People eat meat with no compunction at all.

His Holiness shared that he had found this song very helpful personally.

After Rechungpa had seen that sheep dying in the market, he felt some world-weariness and the wish for liberation. He told Milarepa that now he would really give up the eight worldly dharmas, give up wicked food and stay in the mountains.

There were many people at the butchers’ market who felt faith and who gave them many offerings; but as the offerings were mainly meat, Milarepa and Rechungpa did not accept them and subsequently went to Lachi.

When we think about the Kagyu forefather Gampopa and his students, such as Pakmodrukpa and his disciples, many Kagyu forefathers practiced vegetarianism.  Likewise, in the Karma Kamtsang tradition, from the 4th Karmapa Rolpai Dorje up until the 10th Karmapa Choeying Dorje, there was a strict rule against eating meat, in the Garchen and also in the Kamtsang monasteries. Vegetarians were considered very highly and praised.

The non-sectarian master the First Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye wrote:

For me, the weight of offerings is definitely a large burden, but by the kindness of the teachings of the Great Sage, and in particular because of encountering this Secret Mantra Vajrayana, my root vows and samaya are unbroken. There is no way not to violate the secondary ones, but it is illogical to think the methods of confession are unimportant. Though there is no hope of totally purity, it is possible to achieve a mere human body, and I have prayed that at that time I be reborn in a land where it is not necessary to eat meat. 

He made confessions again and again. Having no hopes to be born in a pure land, he nevertheless thought it possible to achieve a human body, and he made aspirations to be born in a place where it would not be necessary to eat meat.  There are many such examples, His Holiness commented.

During the Buddha’s time, monastics practiced exactly as had been taught in the Vinaya, as they had all the facilities needed to do this. But these days the monastic way of life has changed greatly from how it was during the time of the Buddha. Other than in a few Theravada countries or countries of the Southern Transmission, in Tibetan Buddhism and the traditions of the Northern Transmission,  the tradition of daily alms rounds ceased a long time ago. Meals are prepared in the monasteries for the Sangha. Consequently, a lot of provisions need to be bought and stored as well, and if a monastery needed to buy a large amount of meat for the monastics, it would be difficult to say whether it was pure in the three ways or not.

During the time of the Buddha, however, when the monastics went on alms round, they would just take what had been offered to them and they had no control over it. When we buy food for the Sangha these days, it is under our control; we have the choice.

In the past, when the monks and nuns in the monasteries ate meat, butchers’ shops were opened near that monastery and when the monastics stopped eating meat, the butchers’ shops would close quickly. Thus, the lifestyle of the monastics at the Buddha’s time and now has hugely changed, and we need to understand this.

His Holiness then shared that when he was a young nomad, he really liked meat. Once a year, Chinese butchers would come and slaughter the animals. Yet, when His Holiness saw the animals being suffocated, because they did not die immediately sweat broke out all over their bodies, he would scream and jump up and down. So later, when they were going to butcher the animals, they knew to take him somewhere else, away from the scene.  When the meat was cooked and served, he would eat it because it was the custom to do so; not only did he eat it, His Holiness admitted, he enjoyed it. Tshurpu monastery, His Holiness went on to share, had delicious dried meat. And when he got to India, he thought that Indian meat had not much flavor. In Tibet, he never ate goat, yet in India he was served goat meat a few times.

His Holiness explained that his attitude changed after he saw a video in which animals were slaughtered. It was no longer possible for him to eat meat, and he made the decision to give it up entirely. He realised that in this lifetime he is in the position where he does not need to take the life of another sentient being in order to live. As there is no guarantee that this state will continue into future lifetimes, His Holiness made the aspiration that he would never be born in a body where he needs to take the lives of other sentient beings, and composed a verse which said. If we think of the sufferings of sentient beings under the sky, then I do not want to separate them from my life, and I need to give up eating meat.

He did not intend to encourage people to eat a vegetarian diet and thought it best for people to decide for themselves rather than telling them to do so. Then, in Bodhgaya, on the last day of the Kagyu Monlam in 2004, a vegetarian group asked His Holiness to speak about the importance of a vegetarian diet and encourage people to give up meat. In his talk, the Karmapa advised that the best option was to give up meat entirely for life. Alternatively, if that is not possible, try not to eat meat at least once a week, or at the very least, once a month. He stressed the importance of showing some interest in giving up meat. His Holiness did not think that many people would be keen to follow his advice, yet after he had spoken on the subject, half of the people attending the Monlam raised their hands, wanting to give up meat for the rest of their lives.

Reaction to His Holiness’ vegetarianism was mixed. He was told that to give up eating meat would damage his health, because he was from a country where the consumption of meat is widespread. Others argued that being the Karmapa, he would make an important connection with those living beings whose meat he consumed, and that he would be able to guide all those sentient beings to the pure land of Sukhavati or another good rebirth.  His Holiness wryly commented that as he was not even able to guide himself to a pure realm, how could he possibly bring anybody else there?

It has been at least ten years now, His Holiness continued, that he has been eating an entirely vegetarian diet. And when it comes to the difference to eating meat versus a vegetarian diet, His Holiness stated that due to a vegetarian diet, his compassion and empathy for other sentient beings has grown and that he has more feelings for the suffering of sentient beings. Eating meat, one would generally not really think about how that affects those living beings whose meat one is consuming.

There is a Tibetan saying: The compassionate eat meat and those with samaya drink alcohol. It reflects the idea that eating the meat of an animal and reciting the mantras of the buddhas as well as making aspirations for them, would benefit those sentient beings. There are texts that describe how to recite mantras and the names of the buddhas when eating meat. However, Drukpa Kunley said that it is best not to eat meat and that it is difficult to eat meat compassionately. His Holiness then shared a story about Drukpa Kunley:

At one time, Drukpa Kunley went to a region in which there was a great drought, the crops did not grow properly and the people there had a difficult time because of a great famine. One family—father, mother and son— had a really difficult time as they had nothing to eat. The parents initially thought that as they were already quite old, if one of them were to die, their son could eat their flesh and be able to live a little longer. The son, however, could not bear the thought of either of his parents dying, so he decided it would be better to die himself so that his parents had his flesh to eat. Finally, the son committed suicide and left a note which said that he had died so that his parents would not need to die of hunger, and urged his parents to eat his meat, otherwise there would be no point in his death. Thus, the parents had no choice but to eat their son’s flesh. While they were eating, the flesh was tasteless and they wept continuously.

Making the connection to the Mahayana tradition, His Holiness stated that there are no sentient beings that have not been your mother. Thus, one has to think of all sentient beings as one’s father and mother. If we think in this way, it becomes impossible to eat one’s father’s or mother’s flesh, even in the most desperate of situations. And even if there were no other choice, how could there be any taste to it? Tears would flow down our cheeks. We might claim to eat compassionately, but where is our compassion? We might initially say a short prayer, but then immediately we start wolfing down the food, without any feeling or restraint.

On the other hand, it is not necessarily true to say that someone lacks compassion on the grounds that they eat meat. There are in fact many great beings who eat meat and we certainly cannot say that they lack compassion. Sometimes, we take those great beings as a model when it comes to eating meat, but our actions are not the same as those great beings. We cannot know what qualities of abandonment and realization great beings have. We are not at their level yet so we cannot take them as a model for our own actions, it would just not be the same. The saying “the compassionate eat meat” may sound good, but in fact it is not easy to both feel compassion and eat meat.

Giving up meat does not need to depend on Buddhist texts or logic. Even ordinary people who do not practice the Dharma become vegetarian; they do not need quotes from scripture and can give up meat easily. To illustrate this, His Holiness jokingly said: “If you need to go to the bathroom, do you need any scriptures and logic to prove that you need to go to the bathroom? You don’t!”   If an ordinary person thinks well, they understand why they should practice vegetarianism. On You Tube, for example, we can find videos in which little children aged four or five state they do not eat meat. When they understand that animals need to be killed in order to produce meat, they refuse to eat it. However, nowadays, because the meat is wrapped up and sold in supermarkets, many children do not realise that meat comes from killing animals. But if they learn that animals were killed to produce the meat, most children will not eat it. His Holiness pointed out that if we need to use scriptures and logic as proof to make us do something that ordinary beings can easily understand, it is actually a bit of a disgrace.

His Holiness then explained that there are basically two types of people who do not eat meat: those who refrain from eating meat for their own sake, and those who give it up for the sake of other living beings and the environment.

In general, Buddhism is often associated with loving-kindness, compassion, non-violence and peace. That is the impression most people have of Buddhism or Buddhists. If, as a Buddhist, one eats a lot of meat, then people may wonder what is going on. We need to know what others’ opinions are and not merely focus on our own thoughts and habits. Particularly, in the Mahayana tradition, the primary work is to liberate all beings from suffering and bring them to happiness which shows in the aspirations that we make, such as, “May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering …” Harming sentient beings for food is in contradiction with those aspirations and is something we really need to think about, His Holiness stressed. To eat meat or not is nothing complicated or profound like the concept of emptiness or selflessness; anybody can easily understand it.

Going back to the topic of meat that is pure in three ways, His Holiness explained that if we look at the Vinaya, there are specific reasons given why meat should be pure in three ways. Rice, on the other hand, is never mentioned. A piece of meat and a cup of rice are very different. When it comes to eating meat, the way we usually think is that we ourselves have not killed the animal, nor do we think that we ordered someone else to kill that animal for our sake. At that point, His Holiness emphasized that apart from not doing any misdeed ourselves, we also need to consider others who commit misdeeds and think about what we can do for them.

The impact of eating meat on living beings and the environment

His Holiness used statistics and information he had gleaned from various sources.

He first mentioned the Oxford University website www. Our World in Data in which data collected from 1968-2018 is summarized. The data shows that during a period of fifty years from 1968 to 2018, the world production of livestock tripled. In 2018, just one single year, there were 346 million tons of livestock production, that is, for the purpose of meat. That includes 69 billion chickens, 1.5 billion pigs, 574 million sheep, 479 million goats, and 302 million cattle.

If we explain those totals differently, if we count only the livestock slaughtered in the year 2018 and do not consider fish and seafood, the number of animals slaughtered was ten times greater than the total human population in the world.

In a single day in the entire world, a minimum of 190 million animals are slaughtered. At least 4.1 million pigs are slaughtered. At least 1.57 million sheep are killed, most of which are killed as lambs less than a year old, and some before they even reach two months. 1.3 million goats are slaughtered. As goats are primarily raised for milk production, billy goats are slaughtered as soon as they are born. Similarly, 1 million cattle are slaughtered every day.

According to the website www.cowspiracy.coma total of 6 million animals are slaughtered for human consumption every hour.

This is just livestock, not counting seafood and fish. According to the World Economic Forum, in 2016, the total world production of seafood was 155 million tons. This does not include ‘by-catch”, fish that are caught and thrown back into the sea, and it does not include molluscs and shellfish.

Food wastage

If one thinks that all the tens of millions of animals slaughtered were used properly and destined for human consumption, then that is a childish way of thinking. In actual fact, how many animals die meaninglessly? According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2015 annual report, 1/3 of the total world food production is spoiled or wasted. Within that, 1/5 of all meat is wasted.

This, His Holiness commented, was just to give a summary of how many animals are being slaughtered.

The cruelty of animal husbandry

His Holiness added that we also need to take into consideration how all those animals are being raised and cared for before being slaughtered, when and how they are killed. These are all terrifying thoughts, their suffering is hard to describe and we may not even dare to talk about it. We might assume that these animals are well-looked after before being slaughtered, that they are well-fed, can roam around freely like in Tibet and so forth, and think that they have some freedom; however, this is not the way it is for the majority. If we could actually see with our own eyes how those animals are being raised and slaughtered, His Holiness is convinced, we would then not dare to eat meat or meat would have no flavor.

The environmental impact

Water: Moreover, His Holiness stressed that it is also very important to think about the impact that meat production has on our environment. For example, in the entire world, almost 345 trillion liters of water are used for livestock production in the entire the world. The entire human population uses 8.6 trillion liters of water for household use. So the amount of water used for livestock would provide drinking water for the entire human population for forty years.

To produce one pound of beef requires 11,000 liters of water. To explain that from another angle, it requires 3550 liters of water to produce the beef for one hamburger. That is the amount of water it takes for one person to shower daily for half a year.

1/3 of the drinkable water on the Earth is used for livestock. Every day, all the humans on the Earth drink 25.6 billion liters of water, but the water drunk by all the cattle kept on the Earth is 250 billion liters. Thus, the total amount of water drunk by cattle is more than nine times the total amount drunk by humans. Each day, the human population of Earth combined eat 9.5 billion kilos of food, but just the cattle on the Earth eat 61 billion kilos of animal feed, so more than 6 times as much as humans.

Land useOver half of the entire Earth’s available land is used for livestock.

In brief, livestock is the primary destroyer of wildlife, the source of the depletion of oceans, water pollution, and the destruction of biodiversity.

WasteA feedlot with 2500 cattle produces as much waste as a city with a population of 410,000 people. In the US, the amount of waste from livestock is 130 times as much as the waste produced by humans. The waste produced by livestock in the US alone is probably 52,600 kilos per minute. That is the weight of 35 cars.

Food Inequality: There are many children in the world who do not have enough food and are malnourished. These children live in countries where most of the food is fed to the animals, which in turn are used to supply rich western countries.

Greenhouse Gases: When we look at the data from the World Environmental Organization, we have greenhouse gases around the world, causing global warming. 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions come from animal agriculture and livestock. These are more greenhouse gases than those that are produced by all the cars, airplanes, trucks, trains, boats, and other forms of transportation in the world. Thus, there is a lot of environmental destruction caused by livestock production.

Concluding today’s teachings, His Holiness made these final remarks:

There are many different reasons for giving up meat and becoming vegetarian. Whether or not you have faith in the Dharma, there is a lot to think about when looking at the actual situation in the world. However, you have to be very skillful about giving up meat and practice vegetarianism. You have to look at your own physical health and need to practice in a way that matches your health. To give up meat and become a vegetarian should be something that you want to do and decide for yourself; to think that the Buddha or the guru said you should become a vegetarian and follow that tradition without really wanting to, is not the way to go about it, because you should see the reasons and the purpose to give up meat for yourself and really wish to do so. 

The crux of the matter is that a lot of people are really attached to the taste of meat, because of which they think they cannot give it up. In the Vinaya, it is primarily about giving up attachment, while in the Mahayana there is the danger of harming sentient beings out of one’s attachment to the taste of meat, thus it is prohibited.

In general, giving up meat is good. Whether one is able to give it up, depends on one’s health, environment and so forth. One should practice in accordance with one’s situation. Also, giving up meat and becoming attached to that, is not good either. Giving up meat for the sake of protecting other sentient beings is something we should do, but there is no reason to become conceited about it. Nor should we look down on or disparage others who have not given up meat, as there lies the danger of turning towards the austerities as proclaimed by Devadatta, who wanted to diminish the Buddha, and had a mistaken motivation. Likewise, those who are not able to give up meat should not disparage those who follow a vegetarian diet and get into arguments. We should not only consider the way we think about things but also take others’ viewpoints into consideration.

Day 18: “All Beings, without Distinction, are the Same as My Parents”

March 13, 2021

After offering prayers, His Holiness sincerely welcomed Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche Chungsi, Khenpo Rinpoche, all of the khenpos, geshes, and teachers and all the monks. In particular, His Holiness greeted the nuns in the nuns’ shedras as well as all the male and female lay students watching the webcast around the world.

Part One: All Sentient Beings are as Kind as Our Parents

His Holiness began the eighteenth day of teachings by returning to Mikyö Dorje’s Good Deeds. He reminded us that the text is into two main parts and the ninth verse falls within the second part: The main part: how he practiced the paths of the three types of individuals. This second part is comprised of three parts: 1) How he practiced the path of the lesser individual, 2) How he practiced the path of the middling individual, and 3) How he practiced the path of greater individual.

Within the third section on practicing the path of the greater individual, there are three additional topics. The last topic is how he practiced the path of the greater individual which includes: a) the intention: rousing bodhichitta, b) the action: meditating on the two types of bodhichitta, and c) how he trained in the precepts of the two types of bodhichitta. Verse nine reads:

All beings, without distinction, are the same as my parents.
It is illogical to group them into factions of friend and foe.
With uncontrived love for beings in intolerable states,
I thought, when can I bring them the benefit of true enlightenment?
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

His Holiness proceeded to provide a more in-depth explanation of the intention to rouse bodhicitta. First, he explained that we all say we are Buddhist and call ourselves Mahayana or Vajrayana practitioners. We identify ourselves as Buddhist, wear the clothes, and so forth; however, when it comes to the actual practice, do we actually act as a practitioner should? On the one hand, if a friend experiences a loss or something inauspicious happens, then we worry and feel miserable for them. On the other hand, if something goes well for people who are against us, then we cannot bear it; we think to ourselves that it should not go that well for them.

His Holiness emphasized that we forget about having love and affection for all sentient beings. We consider anyone we do not like as our enemy. Even if we have something good to say about them, we cannot even bring ourselves to do it. When we think this way, it is impossible to have love and compassion for all sentient beings.

To truly bring any amount of benefit, we have to turn our thinking inward. It is imperative we examine our thoughts and ourselves. Before we do any Dharma practice, we have to analyze and check if our intention and our motivation aligns with the Dharma. Only then we can understand what we have in our hearts, and we have to examine this to decide what actions we need to take or what to give up.

Mikyö Dorje’s life exemplifies what it truly means to rouse bodhichitta, as he always acted with love and compassion. His Holiness emphasized, “From the bottom of his heart, he thought of all sentient beings as his kind parents; that is how he acted and thought.” His Holiness proceeded with several examples: Whenever Mikyö Dorje saw any sentient being committing the cause of suffering by performing misdeeds, he could not bear it, and everyone could see his worry. From the moment Mikyö Dorje heard of anyone stricken by illness, bad crops, famine, armed conflict resulting in death, masters and disciples not getting along, and so forth, it was as if he experienced the situation and any of these difficulties himself. His Holiness emphatically shared, “He felt that suffering. He would always ask what could he do?”

During Mikyö Dorje’s lifetime, in Ütsang each lord or minor king’s responsibility included protecting everyone in the region. To illustrate his worry and concern for these well-known leaders and gurus who had bad intentions and conduct, Mikyö Dorje would say: “What they should do is to protect many people, but the way they think and act ignores helping all others. In the next life, which lower realm will they fall into?’”

His Holiness continued:

Mikyö Dorje would say, ‘You are harming your own everlasting aims. When the sky has fallen without you noticing, what point is there to any other meaningless concerns?’ This is a sign of how he worried that the other person would be permanently unhappy.

Mikyö Dorje always had the pure intention to cherish others and never forgot that all sentient beings had been his parents. While we have to intentionally strive for this intention, it automatically arose in his mind; it was something he never had to strive to produce. He lived this through his teaching. For instance, after a relative died someone came to ask Mikyö Dorje, “’What virtuous action should I do on their behalf?’ And, he would reply, ‘If you have so much love and compassion for the deceased, shouldn’t you love all beings who have been your parents?’”

His Holiness emphasized several key points that demonstrated how Mikyö Dorje roused bodhichitta. He never differentiated between who was helpful or harmful, friend or foe; he recognized that we have known all sentient beings through countless rebirths. Mikyö Dorje exhibited this by not having any bias as he wanted everyone to do well and to be equally happy. His intention was evident in how Mikyö Dorje interacted with anyone who came to speak with him,  for he never had the idea he was close to some and not to others. He was happy with whatever work anyone did for him. He was very easy to serve. The attendants and the workers of the encampment would do the jobs they were given. He would not criticize. Sometimes people made mistakes but he would not embarrass them in front of others. He would speak of them lovingly and that influenced everyone in his entourage.

The reason for this is evident from the time Mikyö Dorje received bodhisattva vows from Sangye Nyenpa Denma Druptop Rinpoche. At that time Sangye Nyenpa said to him, “’I have the feeling that for innumerable past lives, your bodhichitta has not weakened.’” Sangye Nyenpa’s comment is surprising since he did not flatter people. As a mahasiddhi and a yogi, he used only very direct, forceful speech. His Holiness pointed out that if we look at the way Sangye Nyenpa spoke, it is immediately clear that Mikyö Dorje had deep imprints of bodhichitta from previous lifetimes.

Whether Mikyö Dorje was writing, reading, studying, teaching, giving transmissions of Dharma, or making connections with others through mani mantras, he would make a pure intention. For this reason, people placed high hopes in him as he was free from any selfish thoughts or intentions. His Holiness noted:

From the time he was little, he would say, “Now, I have this title of Karmapa. I do not have any hope of being a great lama or an influential person in this lifetime just because I have been given the title of Karmapa. Because of this title, I have become a Lord of Dharma or great lama, and, because of that, innumerable people have placed great hopes in me and depend on me. To benefit those people and to tame their mind streams, just knowing how to teach a short text, knowing how to give them a short instruction, or doing a few years or months of meditation retreat will not lead to anything. The beings to tame are infinite and the afflictions are infinite. So, I also need infinite methods for taming beings. I need to train myself in listening, contemplating, and meditating to benefit them.” He said this from the time he was very young. 

He was never distracted when he had to take a lot of empowerments and transmissions. He followed the main four great teachers. He took responsibility himself to read great texts. He always spent his time listening, contemplating, and meditating on the scriptures. When he gained a bit of understanding, he was as delighted as if he had found a jewel in a garbage heap. If he did not quite understand something, he would say,

“I am an obscured being deprived of true Dharma!” He would worry and suffer so much that his health was disturbed and he could not sleep at night. However, because of the power of his training in previous lives and the blessings of the gurus and Three Jewels, he was able to understand the textual meaning of scriptures.

When you read the liberation stories of Mikyö Dorje, some people would criticize him because he spent so much time reading all these texts and taking notes about issues. Others would ask, “What point is there to doing this?”

Some people in his entourage thought, “We are staying here in Ütsang so he can, without any benefit, read texts, take notes about issues, and edit carefully, but there are few people who make offerings. Instead of toughing it out here, it would be better to go a place like Kham where it would be as if food and drink showered on them like rain and he could have tens of thousands of followers? The way His Holiness does it is like a child’s game,” they thought. There were people with such wrong thoughts who denigrated him. In particular, most of the students and entourage who liked material things did not stay with him in Ütsang, but went off to their own homelands where they busied themselves with worldly concerns and gaining food tainted with misdeeds.

Mikyö Dorje would never denigrate them; instead, he would give them as many gifts as he could before sending them off. On the one hand, it is depressing because the student is giving up the guru. But, the way Mikyö Dorje studied texts and subsequently gave us the scriptures, opens up the eye of prajna for everyone. This is all due to Mikyö Dorje’s kindness. His Holiness relayed how Gyaltsab Rinpoche had noted to him, “If we look at how Mikyö Dorje went through a hard time, we should really rejoice in it.”

In brief, no matter what task or action Mikyö Dorje undertook, he did not engage in it with any ties of selfishness or the eight worldly concerns. Instead, he solely had pure intentions and actions to benefit the teachings and beings. Due to this, sometimes he would say things such as this:

“There is no one worse or more obscure than me.” He also said, “Just as Lord Götsangpa said, I have undergone all the hardship, so it is nice for all of you who place your hopes in me. Supplicate me, and follow my example, and I will not deceive you.” In this way, he gave them the great relief of fearlessness.  

Part Two: Vegetarianism and the Environment

The Karmapa then continued his discussion on meat from the previous days’ teaching. Today, he put an emphasis on how animal agriculture and husbandry has great detrimental effects on land and water environments. His Holiness distilled the main points regarding the effects on oceans and forests.

Regarding oceans, His Holiness noted:

We catch between approximately ninety and one hundred million tons of fish. This includes 2.7 trillion living animals.” This is such an incredibly huge number of animals caught from the ocean each year. “There is a danger that by the year 2048, there will be no fish left to catch in the oceans,” he said. When you are fishing, if you catch a pound of fish, you are also catching so many other types of marine species. While you have the pound you wanted to catch, the others are discarded carelessly. Most of them die at that time. Every year forty percent of fish caught in the ocean are just wasted and are discarded. In terms of kilos, it is probably twenty-eight billion kilos of fish which are just thrown away. This figure is really scary. And, this is only fish. There are shrimp and other types of seafood, but it is really difficult to account for all the other sentient beings.

When we talk about animal agriculture or husbandry, in terms of forests, there is also great detriment. The largest forest in the world is the Amazon. Because of livestock production, over ninety percent of the Amazon Rainforest has been destroyed. In each second, between an acre and two acres is destroyed and converted to plant crops to feed cattle. Due to destruction of the forest, many different plants, animals, insects, and so forth go extinct every day. Not only do one hundred and thirty seven different specifies go extinct every day, but also due to livestock production, one hundred and thirty six million acres of the world’s forests have been destroyed.

His Holiness then distinguished between nomadic and commercial livestock production. He clarified that there are traditional ways of raising animals in the Himalayas which are quite distinct from commercial animal husbandry. The animals in Tibet must think they have been reborn in the pure realm of Sukhavati. Nomads only raise enough meat for a family in accord with what is needed for one’s life – slaughtering one yak will last for one year. Current livestock production, however, is quite different. It is only a business where the focus is on reducing expenses while selling larger quantities in order to get bigger and better meat. Since the emphasis is on production, it is significantly more dangerous and destructive than traditional ways of meat production.

His Holiness highlighted the correlation between taking up vegetarian or vegan diets as a means for environmental sustainability. First, His Holiness clarified distinctions between vegetarianism, not eating meat, and veganism, not taking or using produce from an animal. His Holiness emphasized that a single vegan can reduce water usage throughout the world by five thousand liters and twenty kilos of grains. Such a person protects thirty square feet of forest land by not eating any animal products. They can also decrease nine kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions and protect the life of one animal. By this person being vegan every day, the benefit and reduction in harm is that great. If we are vegan, then it is an even greater benefit to the world. His Holiness clarified, “The choices a single person makes definitely have a result and a connection to what happens in the world.”

His Holiness also gave several examples and resources for challenging common notions that eating meat is a source a strength. For example, the 2018 documentary about vegetarianism, The Game Changers, illustrates the health risks of eating meat from livestock production including: inflammatory diseases, heart disease, and cancer among others. Per this documentary, the research suggests that a vegetarian diet reduces heath risks and actually increases your brain power. Through examples of ancient Rome to contemporary Olympic athletes, the documentary demonstrates the numerous benefits of vegetarianism. For instance, many Roman gladiators were vegetarian and unbeatable due to their diet. Other examples included the champion ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek who linked his achievements to his vegetarianism, and nine-times Olympic gold medalist, Carl Lewis, who won track and field events between1984–1996. Lewis was the first person to break the ten-second barrier for running one-hundred meters. He is also vegetarian and was listed as one of the strongest men in the world at the age of thirty.

His Holiness spoke of the idiom, “strong as an ox.” Using this example, His Holiness reminded us that even these animals such as oxen and gorillas, known for their strength, eat vegetarian diets and get all their protein from plant sources.

He also emphasized the importance of nutrition. Because of the number of monastics in the monasteries, it is important to pay attention to whether the food is good and nutritious. The Karmapa mentioned that he had been vegetarian for ten years. Since becoming a vegetarian, he pays a lot more attention to the nutrition in the food eats. In fact, he has been learning how to cook. He joked that when he returns to India, he will be able to hold a competition with the cooks and nyerpas [the storekeepers who buy food].

His Holiness ended with some kind and encouraging advice:

When we talk about giving up meat, there is no need to worry. When I say it is important to not eat meat, we think it is important to not eat meat. But that is not the case. What I am saying is that if we cannot give up meat entirely, that is okay. But, if we can do something to reduce eating meat, then that is okay too. We just need to do what we can to decrease the amount of meat we eat. 

In conclusion, His Holiness advised that vegetarianism should neither be a debate nor complicated, “If we make something easy into being difficult, there is no point.” In brief, when we talk about giving up meat or being vegetarian, it should be in a measured way. We should think carefully about what we want to do and gradually put it into practice. Instead of thinking, the guru or the scientist said this, we should examine it for ourselves, think about it well, and take our time.

Day 19: Tibetan Art Forms: Menluk, Khyenluk and Gardri

March 16, 2021

His Holiness began by stating that this was the longest teaching he had ever given. He explained, “Because of the pandemic we are unable to travel so I thought everyone would have time, and also, because of the pandemic, people are turning more to the Dharma with the wish to be liberated from samsara.” He had not finished, so he intended to continue his exposition of the Good Deeds next year. To conclude this year’s teaching, he would concentrate on aspects of the Great Encampment.

The Eighth Karmapa decreased the pomp and elaborate ceremonies associated with the Great Encampment, and curbed the celebration of Losar. He also declined many invitations from wealthy sponsors in Amdo and Kham. He preferred to stay in poorer regions of Tibet, where there would be fewer opportunities for misdeeds and fewer obstacles to practice.  It was a time of many factions and conflicts between the lords of different regions. To live amongst them, he had to be skilled at accommodating them all. He chose to stay in isolated places and mountain retreats in Ütsang, where, generally, there was less fighting or problems. However, many members of his entourage disagreed with his decision and criticised him. They thought:

In Kham and Kongpo, people have more faith in us, and there is more freedom there, so why does he stay in Ütsang, where the officials have little faith and there are few offerings? In both respects, this is a much worse area than Kham and such areas, so why stay? Not only is his activity not flourishing, he also has no freedom and has to accommodate others. He is just making things hard for himself.

Some voted with their feet, deserted the encampment, and returned to their home areas.

The Karmapa reflected on Mikyö Dorje’s motivation. His followers accused him of lack of wisdom and being disinterested in furthering the Kagyu teachings. Was this the case? From childhood, Mikyö Dorje demonstrated how very independent and single-minded he was. When the Ming Emperor invited him, even though everyone, including the changzö, insisted he should go, he declined the invitation. He chose to follow authentic gurus such as Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche. He made firm decisions. Once he was in charge of the Great Encampment, he brought in strict reforms to root out the excesses and misconduct that had grown since Chödrak Gyatso’s death. This was a significant turning point for the Great Encampment. During the time of the Eighth Karmapa, the encampment gradually improved and became a thriving centre for the Karma Kamtsang. He established Karma Shungluk Ling, a shedra [for the study of sutra and Buddhist philosophy] and Rigdzin Khachö Ling, a tsokdra  [for the study of tantra and ritual]. There were 300-400 solitary retreatants staying in one-man tents. There were also extensive shrines.

It was also a time of burgeoning creativity. In particular, two people,  who were said to be emanations of Mikyö Dorje,  Töpa Namkha Tashi and Dakpo Gopa Nangso Sidral Karma Gardri, started two new artistic styles: Gardri, “Encampment Painting”, and Garluk, “Encampment Sculpture”.

Thus, we can see that he was not interested in the external aspects of the Great Encampment or his own aggrandisement. Instead, he worked hard to maintain the traditions of scripture and practice while furthering Tibetan culture. He did not simply follow old traditions though; he started new traditions. Consequently, he was criticised for not keeping the old traditions. Mikyö Dorje maintained that this did not make his activities impure. Because he had to accommodate the needs of infinite sentient beings, he needed different ways in which to tame them, according to the place and time.

In his Instructions for the Lord of Kurappa and His Nephews in the Hundred Short Instructions, he explains his purpose:

Also, if some guides who are sources of refuge benefit sentient beings in ways that do not fit with the examples or manner of dharma practice from their own previous gurus and previous True Dharma, some might say, “These gurus follow examples and dharma practices that do not fit with those of their Kagyu predecessors, so these individuals are impure,” and not hold them to be sources of refuge. This is a terribly wrong view. When gurus in their example and methods of dharma practice carry on activity in ways that are incompatible with some aspect of the provisional customs of earlier masters, their activity does not become impure. Sentient beings have infinite different capabilities and inclinations, and in order to tame them, the gurus have inexhaustible examples and methods of dharma practice. Since they tame them in these ways, it is logical to generate even stronger faith and respect for their wisdom, love, and power, because all the gurus’examples and methods of dharma practice are solely for the purpose of purifying the realms of sentient beings. 

In order to benefit sentient beings, he reformed things to match a new time and new students, His Holiness commented.  Additionally, he was criticised because he described the view of emptiness in a different way from his predecessor. Whereas the Third and Seventh Karmapas had primarily taught the shentong view (empty of other) and the teachings of the Third  Wheel of Dharma [the Mind-Only school],  Mikyö Dorje primarily taught the rangtong view (empty of self)  and, in particular, followed the teachings of Chandrakirti [the Middle Way school —Prasangika Madhyamika]. People said this was inappropriate and wrong. Even among his students, there were different explanations of how Mikyö Dorje explained the view; some said that his view was rangtong, while others maintained it was shentong. Many of his texts, however, emphasised the rangtong view.

Introducing the Karma Gardri Style of Painting

His Holiness first explained his preferred pronunciation of the term Karma Gar-dri. as Karma Gar-ri. In Tibetan, the word dri can refer to calligraphy as well as to drawing and painting, so he found it less confusing to call the painting style Karma Ga-ri; otherwise, when people heard the term Karma Gardri, they might presume it meant a style of calligraphy in the encampment.

The Karma Gar-ri style of painting became an exceptional Tibetan style, developed within the Garchen under the instructions of the Karmapas and their Heart Sons. It emerged as a new Tibetan artistic style augmenting earlier Tibetan art forms with techniques and styles from other cultures. It spread widely and continues to this day.

The Development of Tibetan Art Forms

How did Tibetan art forms develop? They are evident from the 7th and 8th centuries onwards, with the first establishment of the Buddhist teachings in Tibet, when the Tibetan kings founded various monasteries: Rasa, Pekar, Samye, Khamsum Midok and so forth. For example, at Rasa Trulnang Shalre Temple [built c.652 CE], an extant mural bears the words:

Khenpo Gor Yeshe Yang, Gelong Tak Yönten De, and Ge Namkay Nyingpo Yang drew these figures and dharma as merit for the king and all sentient beings.

[The ‘king’ in question is Songtsen Gampo. He built the temple in Lhasa to house the Akshobhya Vajra image, brought from Nepal by his Nepalese wife, Princess Bhrikuti. The temple was renamed fifty years later as the Jokhang, and remains to this day as the oldest part of a much more extensive temple.]

So, from that time, there was an established tradition of art in Tibet. These days, within Tibet, many modern scholars believe that the famous Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha image in the Jokhang was made in Tibet itself, rather than brought from China by Songtsen Gampo’s other wife, the Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang dynasty. Similarly, there are carvings done in 804 CE at the Vairochana Cave in Drakyap Ra in Kham, and in 806 CE at Kyekundu in Kham, which can still be seen; they are under the protection of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.

Also, during the Tibetan empire, artists began to sign their work. The earliest example is from Dunhuang, a silk painting of the Medicine Buddha and 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara from 836 CE, now in the British Museum. It is signed:

In the Year of the Dragon, I, the bhikshu Palyang, as service for his body, have drawn the Medicine Buddha, Samantabhadra, Youthful Manjushri, 1000-Armed Avalokiteshvara, the wish-fulfilling jewel, and dedications

During the time of the later transmission of the teachings, Lochen Rinchen Sangpo (958 – 1054 CE)  built several monasteries. He built Toling in 996 CE, and it is still possible to see the murals at Toling. There are also murals at Dungkar Sargo Cave and Wachen Cave. [At this point His Holiness showed two of the murals at Toling monastery, some of which may originate from the time of Lochen Rinchen Sangpo, others later.]

Continuing to give examples of murals that still exist, His Holiness next mentioned the monk Ngönshe, a very famous tertön. He was born in 1012 CE and in 1081 CE, he founded Pal Dratang Monastery. His nephews Jungne and Jungtsul finished the construction in 1093 CE. His Holiness showed photos of an 11th-century mural that has survived there, alongside one from Shalu.

In the 12th century, at the time of the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa, there was a famous artist from Ga in Kham called Kyura Lhachen.  Although he did complete some paintings, he was primarily a sculptor who made moulded images. One of his works was the statue known as “The Seven Wonders of Dusum Khyenpa”, which was at Karma Gön Monastery. It was destroyed during the time of the cultural revolution, but some fragments were rescued and returned to the monastery

At some time after 1263 CE, during the lifetime of Karma Pakshi, the artist and sculptor Pakshi from Phayul was invited to Tsurphu Monastery and made the Buddha statue “Ornament of the World”. Cast from copper and brass, it was 13 arm-spans high and the largest cast statue in Tibet.  It was such a solid piece that they were unable to destroy it during the cultural revolution. During the 1970s, however, a craftsman visiting Tsurphu realised it had been cast and used fire to smelt it down and destroy it that way.

In the 14th century, from 1306 CE onwards, Shalu Drakpa Gyaltsen painted the murals at Shalu Serkhang.

The Gyangtse Palkhor Chöde monastery was built between 1370–1425 CE, with many different statues and murals. Then, in 1427 CE, Gyangtse Kumbum Stupa was constructed with its extensive murals and statues which can still be seen. His Holiness showed two images of Tara from Gyangtse Palkhor Chöde. These were painted by two artists, Pachen Rinchen and Sonam Paljor, who were teachers of the great master artist Menla Döndrup.

Until the 15th century, most of the paintings and sculptures in Tibet were in either Indian or, primarily, Nepali/Newari style. How then did a distinctive Tibetan art form develop?

Bhikshu Rinchen Chok (born in 1664), from Milk Lake in Gyaltang, Kham, gives an account in a text entitled the Light of the Great Sun: A Commentary on the Presentation of the Characteristics of Bodily Forms Called the Essence of Goodnesswhich he composed at Tsurphu monastery in 1704. He describes how generally in Tibet, there was the style of the time of the kings, which had spread widely. Then, not long after that, an emanation of Manjushri, Menla Döndrup, was born in Mentang in Lhodrak.  At that time, there was a large deposit of vermilion in that region, which was essential for making paints and inks. He was a married layperson but was forced to leave the region because of difficulties with his wife. He went to Tsang, where he studied art from Dopa Tashi Gyalpo. At Dratang, there was one particular Chinese-style painting, and when Menla Döndrup saw it, he immediately remembered his previous life as an artist in China.  Using this recall of his previous life, he started using a unique, fully-developed artistic style. Additionally, he determined the measurements and proportions according to the Kalachakra and Samvarodaya, tantras which describe the proportions, costumes and accoutrements of the different deities.  This style became known as the Great Mentang style.

Gyalwa Gendün Drubpa, the First Dalai Lama, had a dream that he would meet an emanation of Manjushri the following day, and the very next day Menla Döndrup came to see him.  From this the Dalai Lama determined that Menla Döndrup was an emanation of Manjushri. When Gendün Drubpa founded Tashilhunpo Monastery at Shigatse, he commissioned Menla Döndrup to paint the murals of Vajradhara and the Sixteen Arhats. The murals still exist but are very faded, His Holiness commented. A few years ago, a thangka was found at Sakya Monastery in Tibet and on the back it says “painted by Menla Döndrup”. [His Holiness showed photos of the thangka and the inscription written on the back.] Consequently, His Holiness suggested, more research is needed into Menla Döndrup’s style and working methods, which became known as the Menluk tradition.

One of his companions and a fellow student of Dopa Tashi Gyalpo was Khyentse Chenmo from Upper Gang in Gongkar.  He also developed a particular artistic style which became known as the Khyenluk. His Holiness showed photos of extant murals by Khyentse Chenmo which can be seen at the Sakya Dorjeden monastery in Gongkar. After the break, he showed two more paintings of the Drukpa lineage which may also be by Khyentse Chenmo.

Thus, by the end of the 15th century, the two earliest Tibetan artistic traditions existed, the Menluk [also called Men-ri] and Khyenluk [also called Khyen-ri].

Then came a third, distinctive style developed by Tulku Chiu. He studied art very diligently, travelling around with his paintings and art supplies, studying with various masters. Hence, he earned the sobriquet chiu, which means ‘little bird’ in Tibetan, because, just like a little bird, he was constantly flitting from place to place. The first part of his name, Tulku, does not mean a reincarnation or emanation in this context but is a title given to artists who make statues and paintings of buddhas and bodhisattvas. He was noted for his superior use of colour.

There were, of course, many other different styles in Tibet, but most of them can be included in one of these three major styles.  In his text, the Light of the Great Sun: A Commentary on the Presentation of the Characteristics of Bodily Forms Called the Essence of Goodness, Bhikshu Rinchen Chok describes the origins of these three styles.

Lord Sangye Gyatso’s Catalogue of Offerings of the Ornament of the World, written in 1697 CE, is the primary source for historians of Menluk and Khyenluk. It mentions Dopa Tashi Gyalpo, his students Menla Döndrup and Khyentse Chenmo, and the Chiu style. However, there is not a single mention of the Gardri style. The reason for this is unclear, but Sangye Gyatso was writing at a time when the Karma Kagyu were being suppressed, so mention of the Garchen would also be suppressed.

Geshe Tenzin Phuntsok of Marshö Gojo [born 1673] was skilled in Tibetan medicine and astrology.  He also wrote about techniques of colouration in a text called Giving Hues to Flowers and Bringing Out the 100,000 Colours of Rainbows. In this work, he wrote a history of Tibetan art similar to that of Sangye Gyatso. In 1716, he wrote the Long Explanation of Consecration: The Smile that Pleases Maitreya, Eight Parts of Excellent Auspiciousness. This again reiterates what Sangye Gyatso wrote about “the three great styles”.

The Development of the Gardri Style

The first text to speak about the development of the Gardri was the Light of the Great Sun: A Commentary on the Presentation of the Characteristics of Bodily Forms Called the Essence of Goodness. Its author was Bhikshu Rinchen Drupchok from Gyaltang, who, as a boy of eight or nine, met Karmapa Chöying Dorje.

Many modern art historians who have researched Tibetan art say that Karmapa Chöying Dorje was one of the most important Tibetan artists. In the earlier part of his life, he painted in the Menri style, then later in life followed the Kashmir style and the Chinese style. He melded these two styles into his own unique technique for drawing figures and colouration. His work is very distinctive. When you see it, you know immediately that it is the work of Karmapa Chöying Dorje.

When the young Rinchen Drupchok met Karmapa Chöying Dorje, the Karmapa told him to draw images of the Buddha. The Karmapa consecrated them and predicted that in the future, Rinchen Drupchok would become skilled in drawing and painting and become a great artist. Later, when Rinchen Drupchok reached the age of 20, the Sixth Gyaltsap Norbu Sangpo told him, “There is no one else who is continuing the Gardri style, so this is a very difficult situation for the Gadri style…other than Tulku Awo Netso, no one is painting in the Gardri style, so you must go and study painting with Tulku Awo Netso.”

At the time of the Eighth Karmapa, there was a student of Könchok Pende  (a contemporary of Namkha Tashi), called Yangchen Tulku Töpa. He was an attendant of the Sixth Shamar Chökyi Wangchuk. It was said he could remember seven former lives during which he had been an artist. In particular, in his previous life, he had been Cha Netso, a parrot (Tib. netso means “parrot”; cha netso means “parrot bird”), and he had heard many teachings on painting from the Fifth Shamar.  Because of the imprints from that lifetime, he remembered them from an early age, and he was nicknamed Tulku Awo Netso.  He lived to the great age of 71. However, no one had been taking care of him, and he was having a very difficult time, So Gyaltsap Norbu Sangpo sent supplies of food and clothing. Rinchen Drupchok spent nine months studying art with him and learnt the fundamentals of the Gardri style. Not long after that, the teacher died.

Later, another artist, named Tsepel, encouraged Rinchen Drupchok to write about the Gardri style and proportions. Subsequently, seven years later, he wrote the Light of the Great Sun: A Commentary on the Presentation of the Characteristics of Bodily Forms Called “The Essence of Goodness”. This was in 1704 CE when he was 41 years old and staying at Tsurphu monastery.  His Holiness said that no one knows who wrote the root text, The Essence of Goodness, so it is essential to continue to search for it. Rinchen Drupchok’s commentary gives the proportions of the Gardri style and is the earliest and most respected source. His Holiness stated this text is one that all Gardri school artists should study and research.

Awo Netso is mentioned in the collected works of the Thirteenth Karmapa:

During the time of the Fifth Karmapa, Könchok Yenlak,
There was one named Netso,  
Who later became a monk called Tulku Awo Netso,
He became known as skilled in art.

His Holiness commented, “During the time of Könchok Yenlak, there was Awo Netso, a parrot. That parrot had a very nice voice, and later, in the next life, he became a monk and an artist, and so he was called Tulku Awo Netso.”

Rinchen Drupchok’s commentary, the Light of the Great Sun contains a detailed history of the Gardri tradition. His Holiness paraphrased the text with additional comments:

Now, what is our own tradition? In the Gardri style, there is Tulku Namkha Tashi; he is the one who founded the Gardri style. Tulku Namkha Tashi was born in the region of Yartö. When he was a young child, Mikyö Dorje said that he was his own emanation. Not only did he say that he was his own emanation, but said that he would perform the activity of his body, so that Namkha Tashi would have the intention of engaging in artistic activity; that is why  Mikyö Dorje recognised him as an emanation. He put him under the direction of Shamar Könchok Yenlak.

There was also a fortunate easterner called Könchok Pende from the region of É. Regarding this region of É, there were many artists who came from that region, particularly many painters. Many of the greatest painters in Tsang came from the region of É. It was said that Könchok Pende was an emanation of Gyasa Kongjo—the Chinese call him Wong Chong Kung. 

Namkha Tashi was put under the instruction of Shamar Könchok Yenlak, and Könchok Pende was put under the instruction of Gyaltsap Drakpa Döndrup. These two together used the Indian lima tradition of painting and the previous Tibetan Mentang tradition as a basis, and drew landscapes with colouration like Sitang during the time of the Ming emperors. During the time of the Fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa and the Chinese emperor, Yongle, there were many wondrous events, and these were drawn in a painting. There were two copies of this painting. The emperor himself kept one, and one was given to the Karmapa, and then to the monastery at Tsurphu, and is still extant today. That painting shows the Ming style.  Namkha Tashi and Könchok Pende used this style of painting from China, and they developed the artistic style called the Gardri. Likewise, there was an expert sculptor called Karma Sidral, nicknamed “Crazy Go”, and he had a student Po Bowa who was also said to be an emanation of the Eighth Karmapa.  There were many other people, such as Karma Rinchen, who were experts in this style of sculpture, but by the time of Rinchen Drupchok, this style of sculpting had already disappeared. So, at that time, there was not a lot to be seen.

His Holiness continued that although Namkha Tashi is generally credited with founding the Gardri style, he was working with Könchok Pende as well, so they should both be credited as founders of the style.

More recently, the main source that is used for the history of the Gardri style is Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye’s Treasury of Knowledge. It reads:

There was Tulku Namkha Tashi from Yartö. Mikyö Dorje said that he was his own emanation and would propagate artistic activity. With instruction from Shamar Könchok Yenlak and Gyaltsap Drakpa Döndrup,  the fortunate easterner Könchok Pende from É studied the Menluk style from Gyamo Sa Konjo’s emanation. Using the proportions from the Indian limaand Mentang traditions as a basis and drawing landscapes with colouration like Sitang from the time of the Ming emperors, this became known as the Gardri style.

Once more, His Holiness emphasised that Tulku Könchok Pende should be credited as well as Namkha Tashi.

Finally, he pointed out that although many people paint in the Gardri style in Tibet these days, there are still many blank areas in its history. It was, therefore, important to clarify the topic of the Gardri style by identifying the Gardri style of painting and proportion, and differences between the original and the modern style.

Day 20: Personal Reflections, More on Karma Gardri and Homage to the Gurus

March 17, 2021

The last day of the 2021 Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings began with the customary opening prayers. Then the Gyalwang Karmapa gave special greetings to all the monks and nuns in attendance and his Dharma friends listening to the webcast. On this the last day of the teachings, His Holiness noted that although he had not been able to cover the entire texts of the autobiographical “Good Deeds” and “He Searched Thoroughly . . .” as planned, he was glad for the opportunity to explain the beginning verses in some depth. Reiterating his intention to teach the rest of the verses next year, he said this would probably happen after the Tibetan New Year. His main purpose in presenting Mikyö Dorje’s teachings was to give lay and monastic students a deeper understanding of the 8th Karmapa’s activities of body, speech and mind. This has been his aim. He added that whether reading a great guru’s liberation story or a biography of an ordinary being, we shouldn’t do so just to learn about a particular individual. We should try to develop an understanding of that individual’s whole world at that time. His Holiness said that although he hasn’t investigated history in depth, he has studied Lord Mikyö Dorje’s life story and teachings quite deeply and therefore feels close to the world in which the 8th Karmapa travelled.

Throughout this year’s teaching, it appeared to His Holiness that the events he described were new to his students, but they have particular resonance in his own life. For him personally, studying Mikyö Dorje’s liberation story helped to develop greater faith in the Gyalwang Karmapas and in the 8th Karmapa in particular. Before Mikyö Dorje was enthroned, as we learned, a succession dispute arose between two candidates. Despite the amazing signs at the time of Mikyö Dorje’s birth, many in the Encampment still doubted that he was actually the Karmapa. Most supported the rival candidate, the Western tulku. Its leaders only enthroned him as a last resort, because they feared that the Khampas, the Eastern supporters of Mikyö Dorje, would attack them. Because of his karma, Mikyö Dorje in the end had to stay in a community that included those who doubted him. And shortly after Mikyö Dorje took the throne, his greatest supporter, Gyaltsap Rinpoche, passed away—we suspect by poisoning. Sangye Nyenpa and others offered teachings, but they couldn’t actually improve the conditions for Mikyö Dorje in the Encampment. He had to live with other people’s suspicions, threats and criticism. If he had been an ordinary individual, he would have become meek and faint-hearted, conforming to what people told him to do. This might have led to anxiety disorders or other psychological difficulties. But despite his difficult situation and environment, his unstoppable resolve was as firm as a mountain; it was as powerful as the flow of a river. In addition, he worked to tear down the iron walls of bias and cast off superfluous material things, always hoisting the banner of teachings and practice. He left a legacy that was as large and broad as any of the Gyalwang Karmapas. The traces of his deeds cannot be erased.

His Holiness clearly felt a parallel between his own personal history and that of the 8th Karmapa. Although he was recognized at a young age as the incarnation of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, a huge controversy soon arose over who was the Karmapa’s true reincarnation. He explained:

I was put into a very difficult political situation and encountered many never-ending difficulties. If you wonder what I’ve learned from teaching this liberation story of Mikyö Dorje, . . . for me, what [it] teaches is that regardless of whatever someone says or what I think about whether I am—or am not—the Karmapa, if I have a lot of hopes and fears in my mind, then I should not become a slave to those hopes and fears. Instead, I don’t need to use up my entire life worrying about an empty title. . . . I need do what I can to arouse some pure motivations from my very heart. Even if all I can do is shoulder even a small portion of the burden of Buddhism and sentient beings, I think that I will not be mistaken in the path that I travel. And I think that Mikyö Dorje’s life story gives evidence of that.  

Beyond teaching it to others, His Holiness’s study of Mikyö Dorje’s life story showed him a path forward for his life—to look inside himself in order to develop some experience and understanding. So for this reason, he feels extremely fortunate from the bottom of his heart for this teaching opportunity.

Then the Gyalwang Karmapa moved on to finish his discussion, started yesterday, of the Karma Gardri style. The two founders of the style were Namkha Tashi and Yartö Tulku Pende. These days, it’s said that Tulku Pende was the art teacher of Namkha Tashi, but his role in the development of the style is not well known. His Holiness’s research established that he was a very important figure. Light of the Great Sun by Rinchen Drupchok and other related histories give a clearer picture of his relevance. In the Golden Garland of Kagyu Biographies by Situ Chökyi Gyaltsen [the latter], there is a story:

Each storey of the Yermoche main temple [built by Situ Chökyi Gyaltsen] with 150 columns and a foyer with eight columns, took nine years to build. Tulku Pende and Tsebum Tende painted the murals that depicted the 100 deeds as described by Lord Chökyi Wangchuk. 

Most of the paintings at the Yermoche (Karma Gön) Monastery are gone; His Holiness showed pictures of two existing lineage murals that are still in the main shrine room. Additional evidence from 1918 shows that when Kathok Situ stopped at Karma Gön on his way to Central Tibet, he saw murals there depicting the Jataka Tales in the Gardri style. His Holiness surmised that Tulku Pende probably painted them.

Further evidence of Tulku Pende’s importance exists in other texts. The 6th Gyaltsap Drakpa Döndrup’s liberation story of the 9th Karmapa says that after Mikyö Dorje passed away, Tulku Pende made a reliquary stupa for him. The Golden Garland of Kagyu Biographies records that there was no master artist during the time of the 9th Karmapa, and Tulku Pende criticized him for this. To demonstrate, His Holiness showed an illustrated representation of the Mahakala melodies made by the 9th Karmapa. It was charmingly naïve, like a child’s drawing. Since Tulku Pende was close to Wangchuk Dorje, he could be frank with him about his lack of artistic skills. (His Holiness feels that in response to this criticism, the 9th Karmapa’s successor—Chöying Dorje—became an accomplished artist.) Also, the autobiography of Situ Panchen mentions paintings of the eight close sons by Tulku Pende. He commissioned copies of Tulku Pende’s work; other artists applied color to these copies. His Holiness then showed one of these works, a beautiful and skilled depiction of Manjushri in the Karma Gardri style, originally conceived by Tulku Pende.

Tulku Pende may have initially painted in the earlier Mendri style, but he eventually became a Karma Gardri innovator. To compare his work to Namkha Tashi’s is difficult, until we can actually examine the paintings. It does seem clear that his technical skills were equal to Namkha Tashi’s.

Turning to Namkha Tashi, His Holiness established that this artist was considered an emanation of Mikyö Dorje, and therefore he developed his skills easily. He also was an innovator in establishing the Gardri style. The 9th Karmapa and his heart sons treated him very well, and he worked on many of their projects as an artist and a supervisor. If we look at the Golden Garland of Kagyu Biographies, and in particular, the story of the 5th Shamar Könchok Yenlak Rinpoche, we learn that Namkha Tashi was asked to make a copy of a work by Mentangpa depicting the amazing deeds of the Buddha. Shamar Rinpoche told the artist to draw one like that, and he did it very well. The artist also wrote the Twelve Deeds and the Qualities of Removal and Ripening of the Buddha in gold letters on silk, attaching them to the sides of the central thangka.

In fact, the 5th Shamarpa was the first person to patronize work in the Karma Gardri style, and Namkha Tashi appears to have been very close to him. Gyaltsap Drakpa Döndrup wrote in the 9th Karmapa’s namthar that in 1582, when Wangchuk Dorje went to Tsurphu Chökong Gön (which later became the residence of many of the Gyaltsap Rinpoches), Namkha Tashi painted the murals in that shrine. In 1583, when the 5th Sharmapa passed away, Namkha Tashi supervised the construction of his silver reliquary.

Likewise, when the 9th Karmapa was young and studying philosophical texts, many other intelligent students gathered around him, including Namkha Tashi. Because he was in the Karmapa’s entourage, he was called ku-kor, which means “near the Karmapa.” In 1591, the 9th Karmapa founded Kushok Okmin Ling Monastery (Yung Okmin Ling Monastery in modern day Shitse City, Rinpung District). There Namkha Tashi executed the thangkas of the lineage masters. It took him eight years; in 1599, he offered them to the 9th Karmapa. His Holiness showed us the remains of the monastery in the present day. Despite its ruinous state, the walls still stand and some of the murals remain. Because the monastery was built at the time of the original Gardri style, these murals are precious early examples of that style. They are in danger of being completely destroyed, so it is important that they are recorded and studied to determine the original characteristics of the style.

His Holiness then showed two murals in the Gadri style depicting the Kagyu lineage masters, including Wangchuk Dorje, from Lhalung Monastery in Lhodrak, Tibet. These also were painted in the original Gadri style so it is possible that Namkha Tashi, Tulku Pende, or one of their contemporaries painted them. A depiction of the 9th Karmapa is in the middle, surrounded by the Kagyu gurus. Hidden in a cave during the Cultural Revolution, the works got wet and were damaged, but the traits of the early Gardri style are evident.

His Holiness next discussed a recent discovery concerning Lhodrak Nyidey Monastery in Thimpu, Bhutan—now a branch of Thrangu Monastery, and once the seat of the 5th Sharmapa Könchok Yenlak. The monastery used to house old thangkas depicting the Kagyu lineage, but it now seems that they were among a collection of sacred objects taken to Tashi Gephel Gön monastery in Lhodrak. This is where Kathok Situ saw them in 1918. He described twenty-five paintings with silk brocade frames in the old Gardri style, painted during the time of Shamar Könchok Yenlak, Contemporaries felt that no other works could compare with them. Because these thangkas are associated with the 5th Sharmapa, there is a good chance that Namkha Tashi painted them. They are among the oldest remaining examples of the early Karma Gardri style—ancestral jewels that also deserve to be studied and researched.

With this, His Holiness concluded his discussion of the early masters of the Karma Gardri—Tulku Pende and Namkha Tashi.

The Gyalwang Karmapa then briefly turned to the work of the 10th Karmapa Chöying Dorje. In the Light of the Great Sun, Rinchen Drupchok says that the 10th Karmapa first studied the Mendri style, and later, Chinese and Kashmiri painting traditions. An unparalleled innovator, no one in Tibet was as skilled as he in poetry and art. Chöying Dorje felt that he had pleased Avalokiteshvara and declared that his life’s purpose was to make paintings. He also sculpted, creating a new image daily, not missing a single day. According to foreign scholars who have studied his work extensively, the 10th Karmapa ranks among the greatest of all Tibetan artists.

Many of Chöying Dorje’s works survive, but His Holiness only had time to show one example, The Deeds of the Buddha, which depicts Shakyamuni sitting under the Bodhi Tree subduing the maras. The Karmapa plans to continue speaking about the 10th Karmapa’s paintings next year.

Then His Holiness listed many of the important texts on Tibetan art. As already mentioned, Rinchen Drupchok (b. 1664) wrote the Light of the Great Sun, one of the oldest texts to discuss the Gardri style. It includes mention of how to determine the proportions of the deities. This was formulated by Drogön Chopak’s student, Sönam Öser—or Jamyang Drakpa—of Tsawa Rongpa. There are also other important texts concerning artistic practice: The Flower Motif, by Yonten Jungne and Rikpay Raldri; Mirror for Viewing Reflections, by Tsongkhapa’s student Tashi Tsultrim; Wish-fulfilling Jewel of Proportions by Menla Döndrup; Proportions of Deities: the Mirror that Shows the Sutras and Tantras, by Tsang Tanak Rikhar Tulku Palden Lodrö; and The Proportions by Taranatha, among many others. The Karmapa encouraged the study of these texts to determine their most important features.

The Gyalwang Karmapa continued his consideration of the Karma Gadri style by discussing a few more examples. There were several early thangkas in Gardri style depicting the Gyaltsap lineage. His Holiness chose to show one old thangka depicting the 6th Gyaltsap Rinpoche Norbu Sangpo by one of his students, probably Gelong Rinchen Sangpo. During the lifetime of the 3rd Khamtrul Kunga Tenzin [1680-1728], an artist named Chö Tashi—one of the three great artists named Tashi in the Karma Gardri school—painted thangkas depicting the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage, including Vajradhara. And in the 18th century, Situpa Panchen, a figure well versed in all fields of knowledge, studied painting thoroughly and sponsored a revival of the Karma Gardri style. With this, His Holiness concluded his consideration of a remarkable artistic tradition.

The Gyalwang Karmapa mused that in past times, the Karma Garchen didn’t stay in one area—it moved from place to place in order to reach as many people as possible in remote regions. These days, because of technological advances, it’s not necessary to go to different places. We can travel via a webcast and reach the entire world. The Karma Garchen is now the “Internet Encampment!” It doesn’t need horses and pack animals and tents, as before. All you need is a computer. “So from this year onward, I thought I shouldn’t hide all of my experiences and what I’ve understood. . .  I should teach as much as I can to you,” he explained. Before, people had to come to him. Now, through the internet, he can teach all that he knows, and his students can receive his wisdom in their own homes.

Then the 2021 Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings concluded with several beautiful and moving ceremonies. A representative from Palpung Yeshe Rabgyeling read a statement of gratitude, which began with an homage to the omniscient Mikyö Dorje and included heartfelt thanks to His Holiness for his clear, extensive teachings and sincere wishes for his long life and continued efforts to propagate the Buddha’s teachings.

His Holiness then instructed the Sangha to combine the ganachakra offering of the mandala with devotional songs taken from the Rain of Wisdom, a collection of dohas composed by the Kagyu masters. He added, “This teaching has been completed very well in the beginning, middle and end. So now I’d like to make an auspicious connection with all of you. I’m very grateful and feel thankful to all of you.”

As the nuns’ choir from Karma Drupdey Nunnery chanted verses of offering and dohas composed by Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa and Düsum Khyenpa, heartfelt devotion pervaded the closing ceremonies. With eyes closed, His Holiness joined in, appearing to chant the complex verses from memory. Tibetan speakers could pick out Milarepa’s repeated refrain, “I remember the guru once again,” and Gampopa’s command, “Sons, don’t go any further down, come back up!” The monastics presented elaborate offerings to all the gurus, a fitting end to a precious month of teaching. The Gyalwang Karmapa’s final words were “Sarva Mangalam!”[May all be auspicious!]