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

The Life of the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje

Beginning in 2021 and continuing in 2022, the Gyalwang Karmapa taught on the life and lessons of the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje. This special event is 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.

Year One

Day One: The Black Hat Lama

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

Day Three: First Deeds of a Nirmanakaya

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

Day Five: Mikyo Dorje’s Second Good Deed

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

Day Seven: The Blessings of Many Authentic Gurus

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

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

Day 10: Karmapa Deshin Shekpa, Karmapa Mikyö Dorje and China

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

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

Day 13: Severing the Stream of Misdeeds

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

Day 15: Rousing Bodhichitta and the Sacred Gandhola

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

Day 17: His Holiness on Vegetarianism

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

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

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

 

Year Two

Day 1: Remembering Our Good Fortune and the Purpose of Liberation Stories

Day 2: The Practice of Exchanging Oneself for Others

Day 3: Gathering the Accumulations

Day 4: Taking Harm as the Path and the Faults of Sectarianism and Bias

Day 5: A Defence of the Nyingma: Mikyö Dorje’s Seeds of Honesty

Day 6: Setting the Record Straight

Day 7: Taking Adversity as the Path in Post-Meditation

Day 8: The Path is Paved with Good Intentions

Day 9: Taking Acting Upon Good Intentions as the Path

Day 10: Authentic Dharma Practice

Day 11: Taking Hostility as the Path

Day 12: Living the Dharma

Day 13: Karmapa Mikyö Dorje and the Bhikshuni Vows

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!]

Year Two

Day 1: Remembering Our Good Fortune and the Purpose of Liberation Stories

March 19, 2022

The session began with the crystal clear voices of Karma Drubdey Palmo Choskyi Dingkhang choir singing The Praise ‘He Searched thoroughly’, followed by recitation of the opening prayers.

The Gyalwang Karmapa greeted everyone—”all the lamas, tulkus, and spiritual friends; the monks and nuns from the monasteries and nunneries, and in particular the nuns participating in the Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings; all of our dharma friends from all parts of the world, and all my fellow Tibetans at home and abroad.” He then wished everyone a healthy New Year in which they would be able to accomplish all their wishes according to the dharma.

The Karmapa began by establishing the correct motivation for all those watching.
It was our good fortune to be able to continue last year’s teaching on Gyalwang Mikyö Dorje’s liberation story, he asserted. At a time when the whole world was affected by epidemic, famine, and war, we should rejoice that we have the leisure to practise the Dharma. The Karmapa swiftly put things into perspective. In Ukraine, people are reeling under the terrors and sufferings of war, night and day, without respite. In Afghanistan, millions of people have nothing to eat. In many countries, conflict and disputes have forced people to leave their lands and go as refugees to other countries. In Syria, conflict and fighting is creating many refugees. Though we hear this on the news, we need to repeatedly remind ourselves what is happening to others. Instead of appreciating our good fortune, we waste the opportunity. We spend our time voicing minor resentments, speaking about people behind their backs, and inciting conflict. Such behaviour is “more insane than insane!” and we need to recognise that. We should be using whatever little leisure and freedom we have for a great purpose —we must not let it go to waste.

It was crucial to discard any self-centred motivation too. We should not be motivated in an abstract way by thoughts of personally achieving the state of buddhahood. Our motivation to achieve the state of buddhahood should be grounded in an awareness of the vast suffering of all other sentient beings. The Karmapa warned that trying to arouse the motivation by thinking abstractly of attaining buddhahood would have little effect.

He then moved on to the main topic of the teachings, the life of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje, and began by reviewing what he had taught the previous year. Karmapa Mikyö Dorje is renowned as a great scholar not only in the Karma Kamtsang or Kagyu lineages but in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Sakya, Geluk, Kagyu, and Nyingma. Of all the successive Karmapas, he has had the greatest influence through his commentaries on the Middle Way, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, and Abhidharma. Thus reading and studying his liberation story is essential, no matter how you view it.

The shedra curriculum does not include specific courses on history, and, as a consequence, many students do not even know the liberation stories of the great teachers who composed the textbooks that they study. The Karmapa quoted from the Langi Poti Seru:

People who do not know their ancestry are like monkeys in the jungle.
People who do not know their maternal lineage are like the phoney turquoise dragon
Those who do not know their forebears’ heritage are like Mönpa children who have left their homeland.

The Karmapa elaborated that though we are born in this human body, we are like wild monkeys if we do not know the history of previous generations. If we have no knowledge of our maternal lineage or clan, but regard ourselves as something special, whether we become well-known or not, we are like a phoney turquoise dragon. It makes a big noise but actually there’s not much to it, and there’s little point to it. Likewise, we need to know and understand our ancestry and origins, our heritage.

As to Mikyö Dorje, there are two different types of liberation stories (Tib. namthar) those that he wrote himself and those written by his students. The majority of those he wrote himself are in verse form, and amongst them, the most well-known is The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…” His Holiness suggested that this is primarily because it is included in the Karma Kamtsang prayer books. The words are quite difficult and it is challenging to memorise. He admitted that he also had some difficulty memorising it when he was little. However, the things that were difficult to memorise when you were small are the ones you can never forget, because you worked so hard at them and were beaten by the teacher. Memorising when young, however, the teachers do not explain the meaning much, and the young students are often focused on memorising and have no interest in the meaning.

“The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…” has an incredibly vast and profound meaning, as witnessed, for example, by Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa, who used it as the framework for his biography of Mikyö Dorje in the Feast for Scholars. He cites all of the lines of “He Searched Thoroughly” from beginning to end, connecting it with a detailed discussion of Mikyö Dorje’s life story.

Of the biographies of Mikyö Dorje that still exist, the one written by Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa is the longest and most complete. It is over 33 folios or 67 pages long. Within the Feast for Scholars it takes up 10% of the history of the Karma Kagyu lineage. The Praise is only nine stanzas long, but it covers a lot of subject matter that requires interest, study and research.

Similarly, the Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds” discusses the good deeds that Mikyö Dorje performed during his lifetime. As followers and students, we need to reflect on what a “good deed” is. This text not only summarises the life of Mikyö Dorje but is something we, as his disciples, should take as an important example for our own lives, something to aim for.

At this point, His Holiness explained the importance of studying namthar; anyone who regarded study of them as pointless was missing the point entirely.
In theistic religions, the relationship between God and sentient beings was very different from the Buddhist view. God’s word was communicated by a prophet or messenger. As God transcends humans and is ineffable, humans can never attain that state. In contrast, in the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha Shakyamuni came in a human form. He ate human food and wore human clothes. He lived a human life and performed the twelve great deeds and other actions. His reason and purpose was to demonstrate that we ordinary, worldly people can also become individuals with wisdom, love and power like a buddha. The message was not conveyed by anyone else. The Buddha clearly showed us visibly, right in front of people’s eyes, how to put his teachings into practice. If we think about this, the Karmapa stated, we can get an idea of how vital the deeds of our Teacher and the lives of the gurus are for Buddhists. If, instead, the Four Noble Truths and the three baskets (piṭaka) had come down to us from a voice in the vast and empty sky, we would have no one to actually show us the path or give us experiential instructions, and it would be hard for us to know how to practice.

The basis of Buddhist practice is meditation, turning inwards and transforming the mind, and we are dependent on the kindness of our root gurus and spiritual friends. In order to do meditation practice, it is impossible to separate yourself from the guru or spiritual friend who teaches the path. The story of their lives is like living, breathing dharma, and so it is essential to study them and put them into practice. For this reason, in Tibetan, the biographies of great masters are called by the specific term ‘nampartharpa’, shortened to ‘namthar’, which means “liberation”. The term “liberation” comes from the Sanskrit word vimokṣa. When translated directly into Tibetan, it means liberation or emancipation.

What is liberation? In the Kadampa presentation, individuals are categorised into three capacities, and, consequently, all Buddhist practices are also divided into three separate sections, each section appropriate to one of the three capacities: the stages of the path of the lesser individual; the stages of the path of the middling individual; and the stages of the path of the greater individual. Likewise, there are three different levels of liberation. Through having the pure faith believing in karmic cause and effect, the lesser type of individual achieves liberation from rebirth in the three lower realms. Through the pure wish for emancipation from the ocean of samsara, the middling type of individual achieves liberation from the ocean of samsara. For greater individuals, through having the pure altruistic intention to benefit others, they attain liberation from both extremes of existence and peace. Hence, there are three types of liberation.

Liberation stories can include the previous lives of a great being or be about their current life. Among the twelve types of scripture, there are the Jataka tales, a genre that recounts the Buddha’s previous lives while he was a bodhisattva and the hardships he underwent as he travelled the path.

Why are they called namthar, and how do these “liberation stories” differ from biographies? The Karmapa explained that, in general the greatest difference is that a namthar is not about the life, activities and thoughts of an ordinary being. A namthar is always about a great being whose qualities of listening, contemplating, and meditating are superior to that of others. In particular, the namthar describes how they engaged in listening, contemplation and meditation on the Buddha’s teaching and how, as a result, they developed certain qualities. These are the scholarly qualities of teaching, debate, and composition; the venerable qualities of not transgressing the precepts of the three types of vows; the qualities of practice – developing an extraordinary, clear realisation of the path in their being; and the qualities of goodness shown in their vast activity for the benefit of all sentient beings. Relating these orally and recording them in writing can increase the uncontrived faith and devotion in the mind streams of those who see or hear them. Because of this, for their followers, the ways that these great beings were liberated becomes at the very least something to aspire to: “May I become like that.”.

Druk Gyalwang Kunga Paljor’s definition of namthar says:

It must, through the form of its topic and language, become a cause for students who see and hear it to reach liberation and omniscience.

Thus, when teaching the liberation stories of great beings, teacher and students must understand the reason why the namthar should be taught, and then they can develop in their mind streams either one or all of the three types of faith: sincere faith, the faith of longing, and the faith of conviction. If they are able to develop any of these three, it is called “awakening the potential of the family” or “planting the seed of liberation”. Developing faith within one’s own being is the key point. In summary, a namthar must have three characteristics: the subject must be a great being; the topic must be directly connected to the true dharma; it must be able to instil longing and inspiration in people of all levels.

Whenever we read the sutras, they always begin with the words, “Thus have I heard. At one time…” This phrase is repeated again and again. Mention of this phrase seemed to spark the Karmapa’s memory of an amusing traditional Tibetan story, so he digressed to share it with everyone.

In the old days, he explained, Mongolian monks would come to Lhasa to study at the three great Gelukpa monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Gaden. One such group of seven set out one day from a remote village. They were poorly educated and illiterate. Before they left, they were given advice for the journey: you need to protect each other, help each other, and particularly, so you don’t lose anyone, always count how many people are there.

On the road, they followed the advice and repeatedly counted each other. But whenever a member of the group counted, they could only count six. It seemed that someone was missing.

Once in Lhasa, they decided it would be best to ask for a divination from the omniscient Dalai Lama to help them find the missing person. But they were mostly illiterate, so had great difficulty composing the request letter. One of the group had some education, so he had an idea. He opened up the Kangyur and began copying the Tibetan: “The Bhagawan spake thus..” and instead wrote “We Mongolians…spake to the Fifth Dalai Lama…” and then explained their problem. Seven monks had left their homeland, and now there were only six. They had lost someone, and they didn’t understand how.

In the audience with the Fifth Dalai Lama, they presented the letter. He read it, looked at them, immediately understood the situation, told them to sit down, and ordered his attendant to bring tea for everyone. Then he instructed the monks to put their tea bowls down on the ground in front of them. “How many tea bowls are there?” he asked. When the monks counted the number of bowls, there were precisely seven. “There are seven bowls. You haven’t lost anyone,” the Dalai Lama reassured them. The monks were amazed by the Dalai Lama’s omniscience and how he had found the missing person.

Resuming his discourse, the Karmapa returned to the word “thus”. It can be explained in many different ways, but one important explanation is that saying “thus” or “in this way” evokes faith. The very words “The Buddha spoke thus” or “The Buddha spoke in this way” instil confidence and faith in us, and encourage us to practise the dharma.

Faith is incredibly important, the Karmapa emphasised. To support this, he paraphrased two sections from Nagarjuna’s commentary on the Prajnaparamita in One Hundred Thousand Lines, translated into Chinese by the great translator Kumārajīva.

The first quotation compares faith to our two hands. If an individual has hands, when they go to an island of jewels such as diamonds and so forth, they can pick up whichever jewels they like. Similarly, faith is like hands. In Buddhism there are the five faculties, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, the paths, and dhyanas— these dharma teachings are like jewels. When you have faith, you can practice whichever you want. But if you don’t have faith, it’s as if you don’t have hands. Even if they go to an island full of jewels, a person with no hands cannot pick up any of them. Lacking faith is similar; you cannot enter the dharma. You may try but you are unable to do anything.

The second quotation states that any individual who has faith will be able to enter the ocean of dharma and achieve the results of the spiritual path: shaving their head and wearing dharma robes will be meaningful. However, if they lack faith, they will be unable to enter the ocean of the dharma, they will not achieve any of the results of the spiritual way. They may shave the hair on their head, dye their robes, read many sutras, and become skilled at questions and answers, but they will not gain anything from the Buddhadharma.

Faith is the most important condition for entering the gate of dharma.
That same commentary on the Prajnaparamita says that the Buddhadharma is so incredibly profound and vast ordinary people cannot understand it completely. Only the Tathagata can understand it. But through the power of faith, even if they have not awakened to buddhahood, they will have confidence in the Buddhadharma and be able to enter the path the Buddha taught. Through the power of faith, they will believe that the Buddhadharma is meaningful and valuable, study it, engage in it, and gradually develop realisation of its meaning. For this reason, faith is absolutely crucial for beginners.

According to Nagarjuna’s commentary, when the Buddha became enlightened in Bodhgaya, he did not teach the dharma immediately. Several weeks passed, and then the god Brahma asked him to “turn the wheel of dharma”. The first time Brahma made the request, the Buddha responded that as the dharma is so profound and very difficult to find, no one would be able to understand its meaning exactly. Then Brahma made the request a second time, and the Buddha thought: “All the buddhas of the three times have turned the wheel of dharma, and in the future, there will also be many buddhas who will turn the wheel of dharma. Even at this time, many buddhas in other universes are teaching the dharma. All the buddhas of the three times are teaching the dharma, so I also should do the same.”

At that point, the Buddha told Brahma:

Today I shall teach the flavour of this nectar.
Those with faith should rejoice.
Today I shall teach them this true dharma.
So, this says that those who have faith should rejoice. The true dharma is for those who have faith and believe.

A different commentary explains the reason why the Buddha did not say “Those who are generous should rejoice” or “Those who keep discipline, rejoice” or “People who practice patience, rejoice” or, “Those who are diligent”, “Those who practise dhyana..”, or “Those who have great prajna should rejoice”. He said “those who have faith” because the true dharma is profound, subtle, uncountable, and inconceivable. Even the highly intelligent cannot understand. Those with prajna do not realise it; it is only realised by the omniscient. The Buddha is going to teach the true dharma to those who have faith because they will be able to enter the dharma. Faith is like the seed of liberation or the gate to the dharma.

These days many people emphasise analysis through logic and reasoning, the Karmapa observed. “You need to examine it,” they say, and think they will realise the entire nature of the Buddhadharma through using an incomplete pseudo-logic, but that seems somewhat overconfident and too audacious, he commented.
The autobiographical verses Good Deeds and He Searched Thoroughly were written by Mikyö Dorje himself, not by someone else. This gives them a special quality. A student of Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Gyalwa Yungtönpa, wrote:

Most liberation stories written by students
Praise him so highly they turn the guru into a charlatan…

When followers of a guru write their namthar, His Holiness explained, they go overboard in their praises and turn the guru into a fake. Most namthar written by students have this fault.

Gyalwa Yungtönpa said:

As I know my own experience best, I shall write a bit.
So the guru is the best source for their own liberation story. They know their own life experiences, thoughts, deeds and activities best.

The yogi and mahasiddha Drukpa Kunlek said:

Though they may deserve praise as one’s guru,
These multitudinous stories of doing what they did not
May give fools faith, but they embarrass the wise.
This is Kunlek’s liberation, told naturally.

Drukpa Kunlek says that gurus are worthy of praise, but if you claim the guru did things that they didn’t do, you might fool simple people, but others with wisdom and intelligence will laugh and dismiss them as fanciful.

Some of the namthar of Drukpa Kunlek are doubtful, but in his own writings he explained all his qualities and faults without hiding any, so these are authoritative.
Similarly, Je Barawa said:

It is inappropriate for me to write my own liberation story, but if someone else did, there would be many meaningless, stained words.

The Karmapa commented that it could be very difficult to write an autobiographical namthar. On the one hand, people feel uncomfortable writing good things about themselves, and on the other, if they write bad things, people might be disappointed. You have to say all your qualities, both good and bad, or the result could easily seem phoney. However, an autobiographical namthar would be the most complete.

As the Tibetan saying goes, “Criticism from someone who does not know how to criticise is better than praise from someone who does not know how to praise.”
This does not mean that liberation stories are pointless. Ancient Tibetan histories say that Tibetan history began with stories, riddles, and bön. Likewise, the great world religions, such as Christianity and Islam, include many stories in their most important scriptures. Similarly, one of twelve types of Buddhist scripture is the Jataka stories, which is an important category of Buddhist literature. It contains many stories of the previous lifetimes of the Buddha.

Another important point in teaching the true dharma through stories is that everyone, young and old, enjoys listening to stories, and they are easier to understand. We have to use various different ways and means to help people understand the Buddhadharma. If you only teach philosophy, using terms and words that ordinary people do not understand, they can become bored and lose interest. Moreover, Buddhism is not just philosophy; it is primarily a way of turning inwards and taming one’s own mindstream. This practice is necessary for everyone, whether or not they are educated, and it is beneficial and has a practical application in our human life.

The namthar of the great masters of the past are more than mere stories; they are examples. They describe how these great teachers practised the dharma during their lifetimes and provide examples of how we can practise. They are like instructions based on experience: living pith instructions. If we see them as just stories, it is a sign that we are only at the level of listening to stories and that we ourselves have not developed any qualities. It does not mean that these liberation stories are pointless.

The Karmapa rounded off the session with an overview of what had been covered last year and where he would resume this year in the two texts.

The Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds” has three main sections:

I. Homage and pledge to compose, II. The nature of the biography, and III. The Conclusion.

Section II The nature of the biography has two main parts:

A. The preliminaries: how to enter the dharma and

B. The main part: how Karmapa Mikyo Dorje practised the paths of the three types of individuals. This is divided into three parts, corresponding to the three different paths: the paths of the lesser, middling, and greater individuals.
By the end of last year’s teaching, we had reached the third of these– how he practised the path of the greater individual. This has three parts and we have reached the third part. This also has three sections:

a) The intention: rousing bodhichitta;
b) The action: meditating on the two types of bodhichitta;
c) How he trained in the precepts of the two types of bodhichitta (v. 22–33)

This is covered by the ninth good deed, which the Karmapa had already gone through:

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. (9)

The next session would begin with the tenth deed.

In The Praise He Searched Thoroughly, the teaching so far had covered the first five stanzas, so the teaching would resume from the sixth stanza.

In conclusion, the Karmapa raised the question once more of the celebration of the anniversaries of the Kagyu forefathers, Marpa Milarepa and Gampopa. He suggested that more research was needed to establish the exact dates for the anniversaries, followed by discussion. Once there was a consensus, it would be possible for all the Kagyupa to celebrate the anniversaries of the forefathers together on the same day.

Day 2: The Practice of Exchanging Oneself for Others

March 21, 2022

Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings: 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses

On the second day of the Arya Kshema Teachings, His Holiness the Karmapa began by wishing us good health and started to explain the tenth of the good deeds described in the autobiographical verses Good Deeds. He mentioned that one of Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s attendants, Sangye Paldrup, wrote a commentary on the text, and he would like to teach based on its outline. He showed several slides to review the outline as presented in Day One’s teachings.

Of the final three parts mentioned in the previous day’s teachings, we have reached the meditation on relative bodhicitta. There are also two parts to this:

(a) Exchanging himself for others in meditation
(b) Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation

He explained that today’s teaching would focus on the first of these, exchanging oneself for others in meditation. The verse for this reads:

Benefiting others depends at root on giving away
Your happiness to others and taking their pains upon yourself.
I gave without a trace of ego-clinging
My body, possessions, and virtue to wandering beings.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (10)

As previously mentioned, there are thirty-three good deeds in total, and this is the tenth of them. “When we say that someone develops the genuine intention to achieve great enlightenment,” explained Karmapa, “they must use all of their places, bodies, and possessions, from now until space disintegrates, to create the roots of virtue that will bring all sentient beings who want the higher states and true excellence to achieve their goals. They need to have this strong feeling to do it, as if their hair were on fire.” In order to free all sentient beings from all suffering, they have to gather these virtues both through intention and action.

He then pointed out that in the Foundation vehicle, practitioners have lesser methods and prajna to benefit other sentient beings. “For them, the Mahayana conduct is seen as being filled with suffering and hardship. But someone who has bodhicitta does not see it as all that difficult,” said Karmapa. Instead, they joyfully and willingly undergo suffering and hardships for the benefit of others. He explained that by having this attitude, they are actually able to put it into practice and carry out real actions. This is what is meant by exchanging oneself with others, or to give the profit and victory to others and take the loss and mishaps on yourself.

Checking our practice

Karmapa cautioned that some people do not really understand this crucial point. They think that just being a little generous is equal to exchanging oneself for others, or they hope that by spending the first part of their life undergoing hardship and pain, they will be regarded as good dharma practitioners in the latter part of life. Others believe that if they take defeat on themselves and give victory to others in the first part of their life, their families, friends, and students will gain even greater profits in the latter part of life.

“If you actually think about this, they have not really given up on this life,” Karmapa explained. “They are seeing if they can get an even greater benefit than the loss they suffered earlier. They think that by bringing others to happiness in this lifetime, the karmic credit will come back to them in the next lifetime, and they will be very happy, prosperous, well-known, and so forth.” In particular, some people say they have done the mind training practices and trained in cherishing others more than themselves, but in actuality, in order to help people who take their side, they completely disregard and walk all over their enemies.

According to the way these people act, it is possible for many to think that they are exchanging themselves for others. However, Karmapa stated, they are misunderstanding this method totally. He advised, “Forget about such ways of taking others’ suffering upon oneself being the path to great enlightenment—they are nothing more than karma that mixes virtuous actions of the Desire realm with unvirtuous acts. It is not even the pure virtue of the Desire realm.”

These days, we might say we are training in bodhicitta, or in the profound practice of the Chöd severance of Maras; we might also say we are suppressing harmful demons in a forceful way. Although we say all these impressive things, His Holiness indicated that it is doubtful that most of us actually understand the profound crucial point of how to exchange ourselves for others. “When we pretend to do it, not only are we fooling other people, we are also fooling ourselves. When you lie at first, you think you are lying. But later, as you repeat that lie over and over again, in the end you begin to think it is true,” he explained. If we were going to follow the path of the bodhisattva, we absolutely must rely on a spiritual friend who is skilled in teaching that, and then train in the vast virtue that will bring all sentient beings to the state of liberation and omniscience.

Mikyö Dorje’s loving-kindness and compassion

In this regard, Karmapa Mikyö Dorje himself thought greatly about all sentient beings, his mothers who are bereft of refuge or protection. The way he thought about them was that they all want to be happy and not to suffer. But as it is said:

The noble ones take up or give up the causes; ordinary individuals take up or give up the results.

Ordinary individuals are deluded about what they should do and what they should not do. Although virtue is the cause of happiness, they abandon it as if it were poison; even though non-virtue is the cause of suffering, they use it as if it were medicine, and the result is immeasurable and inconceivable suffering without respite, without even a moment of pleasure. Mikyö Dorje understood this from the depths of his heart and knew this to be the main cause of continuous suffering.

His Holiness pointed out that when suffering happens to others, it is common to think that whatever happens to them makes no difference to us. In contrast, for ourselves and those close to us, we think, “What can we do to live a long and healthy life? How wonderful it would be to become well-known and well-liked!” We take this attitude as if it was the essence of our practice, and we use this like a yidam meditational deity. “This is the main cause of our suffering,” he stressed.

Knowing all this, Mikyö Dorje felt unbearable affection for these inane and insubstantial beings. He thought, “There are so many types of suffering of all those beings. What would be wrong if even the suffering of one hundred or a thousand times more severe than that befell me, but I could take their place? Wouldn’t that be better?” He had this uncontrived feeling and intention in his heart.

How do we know this was so? His Holiness explained that we can understand by looking at his liberation stories, both the autobiographies and ones written by others. From the time when Mikyö Dorje was little, it seemed he naturally had unstoppable loving thoughts toward other sentient beings. There was a little dzo (mix between yak and cow) calf that he thought was going to be slaughtered. Out of love, he protected it in the daytime and slept with it at night in his room. Likewise, there was also a nanny goat that his parents were going to give to a lama as an offering. Worried that it would be butchered, young Mikyö Dorje said, “This nanny goat has been kind, so I won’t let you give it away,” and held on firmly to one of its legs until he was completely exhausted. Even before he was recognized as the Karmapa, he already had such compassion. “It is taught in the Mahayana sutras that the people belonging to the bodhicitta family naturally had such signs, such as getting goosebumps or shedding tears at the sight of others’ suffering. This was the case with Mikyö Dorje,” said Karmapa.

He then shared a saying of the Kadampa masters: If you could take the place of one sentient being, even if it meant experiencing the suffering of hell until samsara was emptied; when you have that feeling actually arising, you have developed authentic aspirational bodhicitta. When you have this intention, and you feel not even the slightest fear or discouragement about putting that thought into action with your body and speech, only then can you be said to have authentic engaged bodhicitta. Once you develop such aspirational and engaged bodhicitta, there is no difficulty in developing the vows of engaged and aspirational bodhicitta.

Likewise, in Mikyö Dorje’s mind, all sentient beings have been our fathers, mothers, friends, relatives, siblings, life partners, and so forth. “It is inconceivable when we think about all the ways they have protected us, in terms of our bodies, life, and possessions. It was not just in one place, and it was not just trillions of times; it was not just one or two beings. In sum, the number of times, places, individuals, and so forth is so great that even the buddhas cannot calculate it,” explained Karmapa. Mikyö Dorje had such strong certainty in this that he thought, “If I could take even one of the hardships they encounter or one of their sufferings; if I could take their place and experience it until samsara is emptied, I would.” He developed the courage of thinking as such as well as the diligence of actually trying to do so. Thus, Karmapa explained that he had no difficulty in actually exchanging himself and others; it just happened naturally.

From the time Lord Mikyö Dorje was little, he had few thoughts of self-interest. He did not worry about his own comfort, such as whether his stomach was going to be full or not, but he was always worrying about whether things would go badly for others. Karmapa explained, “There were probably more bad people than good ones around Mikyö Dorje. They never listened to what he had to say and did various different things, but he was not bothered at all. For the sake of others, he cast away any pleasures of his own body, speech, and mind as if they were spit. He was always thinking and wondering, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’” Likewise, many felt that an ordinary person would not be able to work as hard as he did; they would become exhausted and die if they tried.

During that time, the earth was filled with pseudo dharma practitioners who pretended to be authentic; they were willing to sacrifice even their own lives if it meant gaining some fame or pleasure. At that time, whenever any sentient being gained the higher states of gods and humans, or the enlightenment of true excellence, Mikyö Dorje always felt incredible joy and delight for them. Karmapa compared this to the moment when someone receives one million U.S. dollars, and they feel as if they will die of happiness. Similarly, when something went well for others, Mikyö Dorje was extremely delighted; he never had feelings of jealousy or of being unable to bear it.
“Many of us who are called dharma practitioners like it when things go well for people we like, but it is a little uncomfortable in our hearts when it happens to our enemies or opponents,” explained Karmapa. “When people are unable to bear others enjoying a small bit of good fortune, it is difficult to say that they have bodhicitta.” If we cannot get our minds around others having some good fortune in this lifetime, saying we are giving everyone the happiness of complete enlightenment is totally laughable.

Therefore, for someone like Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, his heart and his words were aligned. For him, the most profound method for bringing ordinary beings to the supreme state depended on the wish of exchanging oneself for others. Not only did he not feel jealous when others experienced happiness , but when others experienced suffering, he wished for that suffering to happen upon himself instead, and he was delighted if that actually happened.

The Great Encampment was very vast at that time, so when certain things did not go according to plan, or when there were unfounded accusations, Mikyö Dorje never placed the blame on anyone else but himself. When certain things did turn out well, he never boasted of it or took the credit. Karmapa explained that it was impossible for him to be deceptive or blame others for his own duplicitous acts.

As far as actually exchanging others’ suffering with himself, he occasionally mentioned to some of his receptive students that, he would think about the people who were ill or suffered misfortunes and, without them knowing, take it upon himself with his mind. As a result, he would experience discomfort and unease. Karmapa added that he did this secretly; if he told everyone, it would become one of the eight worldly dharmas.

Likewise, he was always very modest and assumed a low position, never asserting that he was the Karmapa or a dharma practitioner. He would never speak of his qualities; he only shared some of them when the need arose. He treated others as equals and made no difference between rank or station; he neither praised the Kagyu lineage nor criticized other lineages and masters. Because of all this, His Holiness shared that there were many Kagyupas who complained, “Mikyö Dorje is letting everyone else stomp all over his own wisdom, merit, and majesty. He has no appearance of a great lama; he is just like a kid. This is really harmful to the Karmapa’s teachings because no one is looking up to him.” No matter what they said, Mikyö Dorje was never swayed, and devoted his body, speech, mind, and merit for the sake of the teachings and sentient beings. “This was not just speaking from faith and pure perception,” explained Karmapa. “It was something that receptive students saw in their shared perceptions. His deeds and examples are what we should understand as the practice of exchanging self for others.”

Langri Tangpa, a genuine spiritual teacher

Resuming after the intermission, Karmapa noted that there was a historical person we absolutely must know when speaking about the practice of exchanging oneself for others. This was the great Kadampa spiritual friend Langri Tangpa, whose actual name was Dorje Senge. Born in the year 1054 in the region of Penpo Lhundrup Dzong, he was the one who first popularized the instructions of exchanging self for others in Tibet. Along with Shang Sharawa, they were great students of Potowa, and the pair was often compared to the sun and moon.

The transmission of the instructions on exchanging oneself for others was passed down particularly to Langri Tangpa, who became the most important practitioner of this practice, explained Karmapa. Later, he founded a monastery in the Penpo region, which had over two thousand monastics at that time. His Holiness then showed pictures of the Langtang Monastery. It was originally a Kadampa monastery, and later became a Sakya monastery. He indicated that in the main shrine room, there was a statue of Langri Tangpa, wearing a hat that we do not usually see. He likened it to the Gampopa hat. Since Gampopa was originally a Kadampa, His Holiness deduced that there was a connection, and this was possibly the origin of the Gampopa hat.

The instructions on exchanging oneself for others was initially a secret practice. Langri Tangpa arranged the mind-training visualizations into eight verses and made it his primary practice. He later taught these in public, particularly to the monastic communities. With regards to exchanging oneself for others and the tonglen meditation, Langri Tangpa himself had said, “I have never taken an ordinary breath.” Karmapa explained this meant he was doing the practice continuously; he combined each inhalation and exhalation with exchanging his happiness for others’ suffering. Each breath he took was for the sake of bringing benefit and happiness to other sentient beings.
The author of the Seven Points of Mind Training, Geshe Chekawa, said he first developed faith in the Kadampa because he heard these eight verses taught by Langri Tangpa. Karmapa noted that there are two versions of the Eight Verses of Mind Training— the verses that are well-known today and a prose version. In his opinion, the original Eight Verses might be the prose version. “In Tibetan, the term tsig refers to a phrase or a line of verse, but it’s impossible to count the verse version as only having eight lines or phrases, while the prose version can. Likewise, the commentary by Ja Chekawa is clearly based on the prose version, so there are several reasons for thinking in this way. But I’m not saying that the version in verse is not by Langri Tangpa,” explained Karmapa.

Some scholars hold that the version by Langri Tangpa originally read:

Thinking that all sentient beings
Surpass a wish-fulfilling jewel
For accomplishing the highest good,
I’ll always train in cherishing beings.

The last verse of each line read “I will train in it,” but Sangchenpa Darma Sönam later changed it to read “May I”, turning it into an aspiration.

An individual who practices exchanging oneself for others must be able to take the lowest position for themselves and carry everyone, whether greater or lesser, above the crown of their head. Another crucial point, Karmapa added, was that Langri Tangpa said that no matter what profound text he might read, none could be understood any differently than saying that all faults are his own; all positive qualities belong to other sentient beings. Due to this, we must give all profit and victory to others, and take all losses and mishaps on ourselves. He believed that was how we should understand the dharma.

Another quality of Langri Tangpa was that he was always scowling, His Holiness remarked. The reason he never smiled was because he was always meditating solely on the problems of samsara. Once, one of his attendants said to him, “People are all calling you scowling Langtangpa. You should smile sometimes,” to which he replied, “When you think of these sufferings in the three realms of samsara, how can you have a happy expression on your face?”

“We don’t really understand the suffering of samsara,” explained Karmapa. “We just say, ‘Oh, it’s the idea of suffering,’ but in the depths of our mind, we don’t feel it. But he felt it deeply, and it actually showed in his body language.”

It is said that Langri Tangpa only ever smiled three times in his life. One time, while he was meditating, he had a mandala in front of him with a piece of turquoise on it. A mouse came and really liked it, but the gem did not move when the mouse pushed, so it called a friend for help. One mouse pushed from behind, while the other pulled the gem. Langri Tangpa started to smile a little when he saw this.

Karmapa then gave a further illustration of how Langri Tangpa practiced exchanging himself for others. One day when he was giving a dharma talk, a woman came and put a newborn baby on his lap. She simply said, “This is your son; I can’t raise him,” and left. Everyone was amazed, but Langri Tanpa accepted the baby without any change in his facial expression. He looked for someone to provide milk, and he raised the child. When the boy had grown up, his parents came back for him and apologized, “We had many children before and they all died. According to the divinations and astrology, we had to give him to a lama to prevent him from dying young too. Please forgive us and return our son to us.” Langri Tangpa then returned the child to them. Even when people criticized or deprecated him, he would never explain but took all the loss and defeat upon himself.

Langri Tangpa had many excellent students, including Geshe Shapo Gangpa, Gya Chakriwa, and Ra Lotsawa. Khyungpo Naljor, the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage, was also a student of his. When Khyungpo Naljor went to India, he requested bhikshu vows from Lama Bodhgaya, who replied, “As an Indian, I cannot be your khenpo. Go back to Tibet and there there is an emanation of the Buddha Amitabha in Langri. Take full ordination from him.” Following his instructions, Khyungpo Naljor went back and took full ordination from Langri Tangpa, who was forty years old at that time. Another of his students, Geshe Shapo Gangpa, said, “Langtangpa had incredible bodhicitta. For someone like me, I can sacrifice myself for those who help me but not those who have harmed me. He can do so for both.”

Due to Langri Tangpa’s great loving-kindness and compassion, even the animals within the area of Langtang Monastery would not harm each other. On the day of his passing, an elderly woman was circumambulating Langtang. “What is going on?” she said. “In the past here at Langtang, wolves did not kill sheep and falcons did not harm birds. But this morning, I saw a falcon carry away a bird. It seems Langri Tangpa is not here anymore; he must have left his body.”

Karmapa elaborated that Langri Tangpa made the prayer, “May I be reborn in hell to help sentient beings,” before he passed away, but it seemed that this was not fulfilled. Langri Tangpa said, “I’m only seeing pure visions,” and became very worried. His Holiness pointed out that most of us are worried we will be born in hell, but Langri Tangpa was the opposite. He passed away at the age of 70 in the year 1123.

Langri Tangpa’s reliquary stupa is still at Langtang Monastery, and people and gods circumambulate it all day and night. His Holiness explained that if a human shadow fell on a god, the person’s life would be shortened, so Geshe Shangshung made a rule that humans could circumambulate until noon, and then gods and spirits could circumambulate until nightfall. This rule is still being upheld, according to a sign in a picture of the stupa. Karmapa encouraged any who could to go there on pilgrimage. “He was someone who really had bodhicitta, so I think it would be very beneficial for developing bodhicitta if we made supplications there,” he explained.

An extraordinary tale about Gya Chakriwa

Karmapa continued by sharing with us a miraculous story about Gya Chakriwa, one of Langri Tangpa’s main students. He was also an important Kadampa lama whom Gampopa followed. His Holiness emphasized that since we say that the Dhakpo Kagyu is the confluence of the Kadampa and Mahamudra, we need to be able to remember the name of the person who passed down the Kadampa teachings.

According to most Kadampa masters, Gya Chakriwa was born in Kham, but Ra Lotsawa’s liberation story said he was born in Penpo. In any case, his father died when he was young, as had all six of his elder siblings. In such situations, Karmapa explained, Tibetans tended to think that perhaps the mother was a witch or a monster.

Every evening, his mother disappeared, and the child started wondering, “My mother is a little strange. I’ve got to see what she’s doing.” One night, he pretended to go to sleep and around midnight, two women with dark red faces came and asked the mother to go with them. The mother sat astride a large wooden trunk as if riding a horse. Then all three of them flew right through the wall. The child fell asleep a little while later, but his mother had already returned when he awoke, so he did not see where she had gone.

The next night, he decided that he wanted to see where his mother had gone, so he climbed inside the trunk and waited. Just as on the previous night, the two women arrived and held the same conversation. His mother sat on the trunk, and it made a creaking sound; as she flew, it nearly touched the ground. His mother remarked, “Tonight this horse isn’t moving well.” Eventually, they reached a charnel ground where many women were gathered.

Karmapa explained, “When we talk about dakinis, we consider them to be very good. But in India, people see them as witches who cast spells. When we Tibetans say the word ‘dakini’, everyone is like, ‘Oh, I want to be one too!’ People think they are something special, but it actually isn’t like that; they are really scary. If we don’t treat them well, they will cast spells.”

The child’s mother was the main one, the boss. The women placed her trunk in the center, and it became a throne she sat on. Then, they brought the corpse of a young man and had a party. First, they cut off the top of his head and offered it to the mother, who then exclaimed, “Oh, but I left my spoon at home!” One of the women replied, “Just stretch out your long arm,” so his mother, while still sitting on the throne, extended her arm a long way to fetch a spoon from her home. Then, she ate the brains. The son saw all this from inside the box.

When dawn approached, all the women left, and the mother also rode the trunk back home and went to bed. The son slowly got out of the box and lay down in bed without his mother sensing it.

Nothing happened for a long time, until one day his mother dropped the wooden spindle she was using to spin yarn upstairs. It fell in front of the boy who was downstairs. The mother instructed, “Bring me my wool.” The boy could not stop himself saying, “Oh Mommy, just stretch out your long arm.” His mother realized he knew her secret and immediately got angry. She grabbed him, shook him a few times, and immediately he turned into a dog. Although his body had turned into a dog’s, his mind was still human, which tortured him immensely. He was devastated and thought to himself, “It would be better to drown myself in a river than to stay like this.” While he was on his way to do so, he heard many people talking about Langri Tangpa’s incredible qualities and powers. He decided to go to him and see if he could be freed from this body.

According to the Kadampa histories, the boy followed some merchants to Ü-tsang. Geshe Langri Tangpa already knew that he was coming and told an attendant to make a torma and bring it to him. Just as the sun was setting, Langri Tangpa told him, “Go outside and see if anyone has come.” The attendant looked and saw that no one had come, but there was a dog running towards them. He related this to Langri Tangpa, who then put on his hat, took the torma, and went outside. He immediately threw the torma at the dog, instantly turning him back to a human body. The boy felt great faith in Langri Tangpa and stayed with him as his attendant. He was ordained and received bhikshu vows. However, Langri Tangpa warned him, “Another misfortune will happen to you, so do not make any decisions without asking me first.”

Not long after that, the boy’s mother heard that he had gone to Langri Tangpa and his body had changed back to that of a human’s. She cast a spell on a wooden box that she then gave to someone going to Penpo, saying, “My son is studying dharma with Langri Tangpa, so give this to him and tell him it is to support him.” Subsequently, the son received the small box, but it was so heavy that it almost dragged him to the ground. He wondered what his mother could have put in it that was so heavy. He was about to open it when he remembered Langri Tangpa’s warning. The boy immediately went to ask the lama, who took off his dharma robe and gave it to the boy, saying, “Put this on before you open that box.” He did as he was told. When he opened the box, nine claps of thunder and lightning exploded. The building and all his belongings caught fire, but because he was wearing the lama’s dharma robe, he was not burned at all, even as molten metal pooled on top of the dharma robe. That dharma robe is still kept privately at Langtang Monastery. After that, Langri Tangpa told the boy, “You are now free of obstacles,” and gave him instructions. He realized emptiness and compassion and became one of Langri Tangpa’s best students.

The son we have been talking about is Gya Chakriwa, Karmapa reminded us. This story was recorded in the histories of the Kadampa lineage and the liberation story of Ra Lotsawa, but with some differences. According to Ra Lotsawa’s version, the person who changed him back to human form was Ra Lotsawa, while most accounts state that it was Langri Tangpa. His Holiness mentioned that he had decided to explain in accordance with the Kadampa tradition, since there were more sources on it. In conclusion to the Day Two teachings, he mentioned that he would teach more on the practice of exchanging oneself for others the following session.

Day 3: Gathering the Accumulations

March 22, 2022

‘’I spoke yesterday mainly about exchanging oneself for others,’’ said His Holiness Karmapa, as he began the third day of teaching on the autobiographical verses of Mikyӧ Dorje. He continued the topic further.

Buying Suffering and Selling Happiness

Generally, exchanging oneself for others is not disconnected from the situation of our daily life. For example, if our parents, life partners, and children are dear to our hearts, we are able to sacrifice ourselves for them. When they encounter difficulties, we think, “It’s better for me to take on the suffering.” Our hearts ache for them, and we do whatever we can. That is exactly what it is to exchange oneself for others. We would be happy to take their place. That is one way of exchanging self for others. It’s something all human beings can feel. It’s not inconceivable.

However, the exchange of self and others usually taught in Lojong Mind Training doesn’t come naturally. The intention and the aim are quite different. The focus is broader, and the intention is far vaster. We have to do it for all sentient beings. We have to take the feelings we have for those we love and apply it to all beings. We need to enlarge our intention; this is the first step and it’s not an easy one.

Do we feel the wish to exchange ourselves for people we are not usually connected to, whom we don’t even know, when they face difficulties? This is a huge question. It is very unlikely. They aren’t connected to me. Why should I put myself out for them? Why should I sacrifice myself? It’s understandable to think like that. In general, everyone is so habituated to cherishing themselves that we naturally think in that way.

It’s even more difficult to do with our enemies. Why would I feel love for them? Why would I sacrifice for their sake? We feel disconnected from them. To begin with, we have to understand that person’s suffering. That’s why Geshe Langri Tangpa says, as the first stage in his Eight Verses of Training the Mind, that we should train until we see all beings as similar to a wish-fulfilling jewel. Without sentient beings there is no way to attain buddhahood, no way to purify. All sentient beings are not only as important as we are, but they are also even more significant. They are actually indispensable.

The way we accumulate merit is similar to a business model. When we have the opportunity to do a deal with a big business person and earn a lot of money, we make sure not to miss that chance. Gathering the accumulations is the same. The difference is that normally we work for someone else to earn money but when we practice dharma, we take on suffering ourselves to accumulate merit. There is no limit to sentient beings’ suffering, so our opportunities to gather merit are limitless. The dharma profits just roll right in. We buy their suffering and sell our happiness.

Just as we have to work hard to earn money because we need food and drink to live, we need good conditions to lead a good dharma life, and for that to happen we must gather the accumulations. Gaining a precious human body and meeting an authentic guru will not happen without the support of gathering the accumulations. It is the same as earning money.

Right now, we are just spending the merit we accumulated in previous lives, and if we do not continue to accumulate more, one day the merit, like money, will run out. We need to grow that exponentially. Gathering the accumulations is more stable than earning money. Money is limited but the accumulations are limitless. The currency of the two accumulations can be used in any world system at any time.

Accumulating worldly wealth is important for humans, but in terms of the wider universe it has no value at all. The power of gathering merit transcends any limit of the material and can bring immeasurable benefit and happiness. To look at it from the widest and most long-term perspective, gathering the accumulations is much more important than earning money. It is a way to eliminate all our problems and fulfill all our wishes.

The best way to become rich is to take birth in a rich family. Right now, we don’t have money like Elon Musk, and this is due to whether or not we have the merit for wealth. Thus, a good or bad rebirth is a question of whether or not we know the methods; in this sense, reincarnation is a technical matter.

Even if we cannot think that way now, we must not belittle accumulating merit. If we do so, that is the foundation for losing everything we have.
We have to think about it from the depths of the mind and with a pure motivation.

The Karmapa then turned his attention to the 11th Good Deed of Mikyӧ Dorje

Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation

1.Taking running out of supplies as the path

The 11th verse reads:

Although I gave without attachment to beings,
When combative people responded to that with harm,
I thought to myself, “This purifies bad karma!”
And felt as much delight as a beggar finding treasure.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

The roots of virtue Mikyӧ Dorje was striving to attain brought on obstacles caused by the Maras, both in human and spirit forms. Both would try to denigrate his intentions and actions. They would say, “generosity and discipline such as this will never become the path to great enlightenment. This is not the Mahayana path. This is not work that will help you or others. This is harmful.”

At such times we need to focus our minds and remember this is their obstacle without bearing a grudge towards them. And we must be really diligent in this. The more obstacles, the more momentum our antidotes will gather, like the current of a river.

The way to be victorious over the Maras is to have the kind of confidence and courage that cannot be changed by any condition, internal or external. We must be as still as the depths of the great ocean, unmoving and stable. This is important.

The Karmapa then referred to the rift in the Great Encampment before Mikyӧ Dorje was correctly identified and enthroned as the 8th Karmapa. After he was enthroned, he received a mountain of wealth from the Ming Emperor of China. He had not the least attachment to any of it and would give away a thousand bricks of tea; countless bolts of silk; four or five mule loads of gold and silver; or innumerable pack animals to his students and entourage, without any discrimination. Even an ordinary person in the retinue would receive wealth fit for a great lord. Yet he never even referred to it. He never said, “I gave you a gift.” Sadly, those people, had neither gratitude nor respect. They would try to get whatever they could as if they were recalling a loan. Then they would ask for respect in accordance with their new status and use all their powers to denigrate their benefactor.

They would say: “Your activity is because of our kindness. By yourself you aren’t capable. We are kinder than you. Without us, who knows where you would be now.” They even threatened to destroy all the monks.

He understood that this was because their minds had not been tamed. When people repaid his help with harm, he saw that if he continued to help them, the result would be the cause of inexhaustible wealth. He never said an angry word or even criticized them even when all the jewels and artifacts that had been offered him and the previous Karmapas were stolen or destroyed. He showed only loving kindness and spoke naturally. He never exposed hidden faults or humiliated anyone. He saw them as a teacher who shows how wealth and possessions have no point. They were no different from a buddha.

He said:

When others have robbed the sensory pleasures, we have been given, debts from beginning-less samsara are being purified, so we must accept them. If instead we accumulate the karma of greed and hatred, we and all other sentient beings will be born in the great hells. If without accumulating karma we take it as an aid on the path to great enlightenment, there is no better method for swiftly awakening to buddhahood.

A few bodhisattvas may have vast activity, the Karmapa reflected, but the results of their students’ bad karma are so powerful that their activity cannot flourish.

The Food of Faith

In the Vinaya it is said that the proper livelihood of a monk is to live off alms. In the alms round they should hold out their bowls like beggars. The difference between a monk and a beggar is that the donors make offerings to monks out of faith. The food and clothing that lay people offer to monastics is called the “food of faith.” The recipients need to pay due respect to this aspect of offering.

The Vinaya scriptures teach five ways of accepting offerings from the faithful. The first is accepting them like an owner. This applies to Arhats. The second is by accepting what is designated or permitted, which applies to stream-enterers. The third is using them in the allowed manner, which applies to ordinary individuals who have discipline and strive on the path of virtue by practicing meditation or recitations. The fourth and fifth have serious consequences: using them like red-hot iron and using them like a loan.

To illustrate this, the Karmapa recalled the story of the great sponsor Anatapindata who invited the Buddha and his entire retinue to Jetavana Grove in Sravasti in order to make impressive offerings. Once there, Anatapindata asked the Buddha: “Who is the best recipient of an offering?” “The Sangha,” replied the Buddha, meaning solely the noble ones, the learners who had eliminated the afflictions. Not everyone present was in this category; some were just ordinary people.

The Arhats wouldn’t take the offerings because they were taught not to boast about themselves. Many others didn’t take them either because they thought they still had the afflictions. In the end, not a single bhikshu would accept the offerings. Anatapindata turned ghostly pale, thinking it must be due to his lack of merit. The Buddha asked the bhikshus why they had not taken the offerings, but they remained silent. The Buddha then asked, “Why did you go forth as monastics? Was it for liberation or food and clothing?’’ Only then did the bhikshus understand the meaning.

It is said that for those disciplined monastics who intend to reach Nirvana, there is no fault in enjoying expensive robes, good food, and large houses. To sum it all up. individuals who have discipline or who have reached liberation may enjoy the food of faith. The vast merit of offering benefits the donors. It is not appropriate for those who do not have discipline to enjoy the food of faith, and if they do, it becomes like a lump of red-hot iron going into their stomach. This is really important, the Karmapa emphasized.

At this point, the Karmapa recalled the teachings of Patrul Rinpoche:

Even if all we know is to sit in rows in a puja and recite one text, those of us who live on offerings of faith must focus our minds, stop speaking, and recite. If we mix the recitation and mantra repetition with ordinary chatter, there is no point at all. In particular, when reciting rituals for the deceased in the bardo who are stricken with fear and suffering, if we have negative thoughts or sit there chatting, the bardo beings will know because they are clairvoyant. They may get wrong views or aversion toward the ritual, and they may go to the lower realms. That kind of bardo ritual is not helpful; better not to have it at all.

If we just recite empty words in loud voices, it destroys the essential meaning. When we get to the mantra recitation, our bodies become like corpses, and we cannot even sit up straight. We look around distractedly, prick our ears up at any noise and open the floodgates to pointless idle chatter.

This is reducing dharma to the flimsiest of facades. An ancient proverb says: “It is better to sing a little ditty with good intentions than to recite manis while harboring ill intentions.”

We lamas, monks, and nuns, no matter who we are, should not think, “How many offerings did I get today? How rich was the tea? How good was the bread?” The donor, whether living or deceased, has come to a critical point. They have put their hopes in us. We are their refuge. If we shatter their hopes that does not bode well for virtuous karma. At the very least we can pray from the heart that the gurus and Three Jewels will care for these desperate bardo beings. The compassion of the Three Jewels, the unfailing power of karma, and the limitless benefit of bodhichitta, will help the deceased person in the bardo.

Phowa on Demand

“There’s a story about this also,” said the Karmapa, launching into a wondrous Tibetan anecdote about the unfailing power of faith to help bardo beings.

There was a monk at Tsurphu Monastery, probably during the time of the Fifteenth Karmapa, who wasn’t very bright and so lazy that he was unable to memorize the daily prayers. The custom was to make the uneducated monks into the senior tea servers, and that is what he became. But one day he made a mistake at his job, and he was afraid the discipline master would beat him. So, he and a friend ran away from the monastery. They ended up going to Tö Ngari, it’s said.

One day they went to a nomad family to beg for food, and as it happened, a family member had just died. The family, knowing they were monks from Tsurphu, invited them in, and asked them, “Please do phowa for the deceased.”

Forget about knowing how to do phowa, they didn’t even know what the texts for phowa were! But lamas and monks from other lineages had also been invited so they were embarrassed to admit they couldn’t do it—they thought it would be a disgrace to Tsurphu Monastery. So, they screwed up their courage and went in and took their seats.

They sat there for a while, looking at each other and thinking, “How are we supposed to do phowa?” The senior tea server could stumble his way through the Four Sessions Guru Yoga, so he thought it would be good to recite that. He said to his friend, “If we don’t recite anything, we’re finished. I’m going to recite the Four Sessions Guru Yoga, and you can help me out and recite it too.” They got ready, but so many people were sitting there staring at them and waiting for them to do something, that they panicked. Their faces began to burn, and they weren’t able to even begin reciting the Four Sessions.

They had no choice, so they covered their heads with their robes and began to recite the Four Sessions: “My mothers, all sentient beings throughout space…” When they got to the Karmapa Khyenno mantra, they prayed fervently, “Karmapa! Please look at us with compassion now!” Then they recited the mantra so loudly. At that point, the senior tea server suddenly heard a voice in his ear, “Now do it!” Without thinking, he cried “hik!” in a crackling voice, and then “peh!” A piece of skull the size of a palm popped off the top of the corpse’s head. Everyone there was amazed and said, “There are no monks like Tsurphu’s! Look at these signs of phowa!” They felt great faith in the two monks and plied them with offerings of butter, meat, and cheese. The two errant monks decided to return to Tsurphu. They distributed offerings to the sangha, confessed remorse for running away, and were allowed back into the monastery.

At that time, it was said that the Gyalwang Karmapa had heard their prayers when they were reciting the Karmapa Khyenno, and it was he who said, “Now do it.”

So even if we don’t have any qualities or abilities, when we call out to the gurus and Three Jewels with pure motivation, there will be a response, the Karmapa concluded.

Day 4: Taking Harm as the Path and the Faults of Sectarianism and Bias

March 25, 2022

After warmly greeting listeners, His Holiness continued his teaching of the Eighth Karmapa MIkyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses which he has based on Sangye Paldrup’s commentary. Previously His Holiness had discussed meditating on relative bodhicitta. This has two parts:

  1. Exchanging himself for others in meditation
  2. Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation

The latter is further divided into ten sub-sections. His Holiness had spoken of the first, “taking running out of supplies as the path”, on Day 3. Today, he gave a presentation of the second sub-section, “taking harm as the path”.

Taking harm as the path

Of the thirty-three good deeds described in the Autobiographical Verses, this is the twelfth. Mikyö Dorje wrote,

When others unreasonably repaid kindness with harm,
I’d think, “May the results all ripen on me,
To never be experienced by this person,”
And dedicated all the virtue to them.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

When many of us think about the era during which Mikyö Dorje lived, we believe it to be a fortunate time with fewer conflicts and strife than the present day. We believe that people of Mikyö Dorje’s time had great faith in and devotion to the gurus, and thus they would not criticize dharma teachers. However, through examining Mikyö Dorje’s life, we see that this was not the case. During his early life, there was dispute about whether Mikyö Dorje was really the Karmapa or not, and there were conflicts within the Karma Kamtsang tradition as well as between schools. In addition, Mikyö Dorje took care of many people, giving them food, supplies, wealth, and kindness but he was sometimes falsely accused and was met with unwarranted hostility. People from both inside and outside his tradition tried to create obstacles to his activity of spreading the Dharma.

How did he face these obstacles? It is as he said in his own Instructions of Training in the Liberation Story of Mikyö Dorje,

When these external and internal maras caused such harms, it is because of accumulating the karma of causing them harm and the afflictions from beginningless samsara that in this lifetime they caused harm. Otherwise there would be no basis or cause for them to harm you and it would have been impossible for them to cause you harm. For this reason, one thing we must pay attention to is that we must continue to strive to purify our own being of the bad karma that will ripen upon rebirth and that is certain to be experienced, and the obscurations that prevent higher states and true excellence.

If we follow Mikyö Dorje’s instructions, in cases such as these, we should turn our attention inwards and put effort into cleansing our obscurations, such that we do not continue to harm others and such that we end this ongoing spinning of the wheel of harm and suffering. No matter how much harm others cause us while we’re on the path trying to bring benefit to beings, we need to see this as a way of accumulating merit for both the bodhisattva and the mara (those who cause obstacles to spreading the dharma or those who cause harm). If it becomes a way of accumulating merit and becomes a cause for achieving enlightenment, we have changed a bad condition into a good condition and a good cause. In turn, we will not be harmed. For the other person, there will not be such a bad full ripening in the future that typically comes from harming others. We have to see how much we can train in the vast conduct of the bodhisattva; this is the main point of what is said in the Instructions on Training in the Liberation Story of Mikyö Dorje.

Putting the instruction into practice: never losing a loving attitude

Ordinarily, people would give up on those who treated them wrongly but Mikyö Dorje never did. To those who repaid his kindness wrongly, he never thought, “They’ve done all of these bad things so therefore let them be sick,” or so forth. He never blamed them or said, “I helped you in this way in the past so why are you treating me like this now?” He never believed he was right while they were wrong or accused them of being bad people while asserting he was good.

Mikyö Dorje never blamed others after they mistreated him. In fact, he treated them with kindness and with a particular affection. He made aspirations such as, “May those who have been ungrateful to me not experience a bad ripening of karma,” and “Causing harm is a misdeed and the ripening of the misdeed can only be suffering. May that ripening of suffering not ripen on them but on me.” Another example was a man by the name of Lhatse: Mikyö Dorje sent him many gifts and treated him very well. However, Lhatse caused significant problems for Mikyö Dorje. When Mikyö Dorje heard that Lhatse had died a horrible death, he never thought, “He deserved it,” or ,“It served him right.” He took no joy or satisfaction from his death and never uttered insulting words at all. Rather, he said that Lhatse had had a hard time and was overcome and controlled by his afflictions. The Eighth Karmapa often thought about all those enshrouded by the darkness of delusion, burning with the fire of hatred, and enslaved by the afflictions, as they were accumulating bad karma. Mikyö Dorje’s attendant, Sangye Paldrup, recorded that Mikyö Dorje was really very anxious for them, as though his heart was pierced by a needle. He fretted for days, and he went to the Three Jewels and shed many tears.

Mikyö Dorje was not only a lama well-known for teaching the dharma, he was a worldly judge as well, with great influence throughout Tibet. Thus, in addition to having spiritual authority, he was given secular authority. He could have had all those who did not listen to him, were proud or acted wrongly punished, by way of fines, physical punishment or even execution. He could have fiercely upheld the law or had strict rules. Yet Mikyö Dorje did not act like this. He did not state, “This is the rule of the Encampment or the rule of the land.” Instead, he did not cause problems for wrongdoers or punish them because he did not want them to suffer or be unhappy. If he had an opportunity to talk to them, he would tell them to use the dharmic antidote of the Four Powers and confess, but even from the depths of his mind he would never feel any bias, attachment, or hatred towards any other sentient being. This shows he thought only of their needs and their feelings.

Without making any effort on his part, Mikyö Dorje’s merit and fame became widespread. As a result, some people from other schools and lineages grew jealous and annoyed by him. They accused and criticized him unjustly, and prevented the public from going to see him or having audiences with him. For example, in his mid-30s he was unable to travel to see the precious Jowo Shakyamuni statue in Lhasa because of grudges some people held towards him, which made it difficult for him to travel. Also, while in his 40s, an important king in Tibet named Lord Pakdru offered Mikyö Dorje Sulpu monastery in the region of Ü, which was one of the six important monasteries for the study of Buddhism during the reign of Je Tsongkhapa. Before showing a photograph of the monastery ruins, His Holiness explained that Mikyö Dorje did not want to be the administrator of the monastery. He did not believe it would work out. However, because of Lord Pakdru’s importance, he could not refuse the offer. Accusing Mikyö Dorje of being an emanation of a mara and of coming in to take away their place, sangha members of other traditions took up arms in order to stop Mikyö Dorje from entering their territory.

This demonstrates how Mikyö Dorje experienced difficulties and conflict during his lifetime, yet never lost his loving attitude towards those who had caused him harm. He even said that they should be offered sustenance and other goods.

We say the downtrodden worry about their own suffering but noble beings worry about others, as they know those people will experience suffering. We may wonder how beings can act in harmful ways. His Holiness explained that in this degenerate age, maras, ghosts and spirits who don’t like the dharma can have a great influence on others and change the way people are thinking and acting such that they do harm. His Holiness explained that we may not be able to see these spirits and maras with our eyes but they do try to change especially powerful and influential people. Controlled by their karma and their afflictions, they can’t be blamed for their actions.

Mikyö Dorje thought about this extensively. Instead of blaming others for treating him badly, he did everything he could to stop their afflictions. If he couldn’t stop the afflictions, he tried using skillful means to stop their harmful actions. For example, he avoided going to places where he would have many students or receive many offerings and went instead to isolated areas. He prayed that the karmic effects of bad actions would ripen on him and the results of his pure actions would ripen on others, and he dedicated his virtue to evil beings that were threatening or harming him. MIkyö Dorje wrote that this was one of his good deeds.

The shared characteristics of the Liberation Stories of the Karmapas

His Holiness shared his motivation for teaching the Liberation Stories of the Gyalwang Karmapas. He asserted that, as an ordinary sentient being who is controlled by the three afflictions, when he is teaching and speaking about liberation stories, he thinks about being a follower of the Gyalwang Karmapas and of Buddhism. Following the path of the body, speech and mind of the Gyalwang Karmapas entails, for him, studying their liberation stories and doing as much as he can to practice them. This is a motivation we should all share.

There are four shared characteristics found in the liberation stories His Holiness chose to discuss during today’s session. First, all of the Karmapa incarnations have been skilled, hard-working dharma leaders who have used many methods to spread the dharma to many places. Many Karmapas never stayed in one place but rather traveled to remote areas and to many regions throughout Tibet, China, and Mongolia. As a result, they gave many people opportunities to see them and hear them teach, and developed deep connections with people in different areas. Even today, in some regions where there is no Kagyu monastery or Kagyu monastic, many households have an ancestral tradition of chanting “Karmapa khyenno”. This shows the deep imprint made when past Karmapas traveled to those particular areas and forged connections with the local people. We can ascertain from this that past Gyalwang Karmapas spread the Dharma to many areas of Tibet and worked hard to bring benefit to the region.

The second characteristic discussed is that each Karmapa had his own individual character and style and brought his own ideas to the tradition. As such, the Karmapa tradition was not just old, ossified and dogmatic. Some Karmapas were wrathful while others were more peaceful. They had diverse interests. Mikyö Dorje, for example, really enjoyed studying and discussing texts with others, and he liked statues and other representations of Body, Speech, and Mind. In addition, he had a recognizable writing style. It is said that Gendun Chophel’s Ornament of Nagarjuna’s Thought was influenced by Mikyö Dorje’s style as seen in his Chariot of the Practice Siddhas. On the other hand, the Tenth Karmapa, Chöying Dorje, had a great interest in art and his own particular artistic style. We can say that the Karmapas not only helped to spread the Dharma, but were broadminded and had different areas of knowledge.

Third, none of the Karmapas has liked having power and influence. This does not just refer to political power; they did not much care for administering monasteries such as Tsurphu and did not care to maintain the status of “Karmapa” either. The liberation stories of the Eighth and the Ninth Karmapa state that they preferred to go to remote places and did little to maintain the Encampment.

The fourth and last characteristic is that the Karmapas rejected sectarianism and maintained a broader view of benefiting all of Tibet. Although we say that their main activity and responsibility has been to uphold the Kagyu lineage, in the Bright Lamp of the Teachings by the Fourteenth Ganden Tripa Rinchen Öser, it is said, “The Karmapas are revered in common everywhere throughout China and Tibet.” If you look at the activity of the Karmapas up until the Tenth Karmapa, you can see how they had the great broadminded view to teach all Tibetans and all schools in general. They did not identify the Kagyu lineage alone as being correct. Instead, they saw the reasons for having different schools, regarding them and the Bön tradition favorably. The Karmapas unilaterally rejected sectarianism and bias towards the various schools and lineages. For this reason, Patsap Lotsawa gave the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa two sacred objects––a painting showing all of the upholders of the Buddha’s teachings from the Buddha Shakyamuni to Bhikshu Simha and a conch said to be from Bodhgaya from the time of Nagarjuna. Giving these sacred objects to the First Karmapa, Patsap Lotsawa told him, “I am transmitting the Buddha’s teachings to you, so you must take the responsibility for teaching the entire teachings of the Buddha.”

Similarly the Second Karmapa Mahasiddha Karma Pakshi had no sectarianism or bias for any sentient being or school. He compared his inclusive view to the sun shining in the sky:

Like the sun in the sky,
May the being Rangjung Dorje 
Have nonsectarian auspiciousness.
Through the activity of a bodhisattva,
May the light of his compassion shine
In all directions like the full moon.
May there be the auspiciousness
Of happiness in the world.

Bodhicitta is having no bias toward any sentient being, whether they be close or far, which can be compared to the light of the moon that shines on all sentient beings without dividing them into factions or sects. The activity of the bodhisattva is like the light of compassion, shining in all directions without any bias, and their sole wish is that there may be “the auspiciousness of happiness in the world”.

Documents of the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje and the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa say that theirs is not a lineage of Indian Kings nor of Chinese emperors. Theirs is a lineage that upholds the Buddha’s teachings, that is to say it is not sectarian.

The Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso likewise wrote,

Here in Tibet, all lineages are primarily only Buddhist, Mahayana, and in particular Secret Mantra teachings. There is no discordance within the teachings taught by the Buddha. The current separate lineages of the Sakya, Jonang, Shaluwa, Bodongpa, Gelukpa, Radreng or Kadampa, Sangpuwa, Gampopa, Tsurphupa, Drikung, Taklung, Drukpa, and so forth do not mean individual dharma lineages. They are distinct traditions of daily prayers and hats in different regions and customs due to the development of monasteries. Not being the same in those ways does not mean that the teachings of the Buddha are different. All of them are solely pure teachings of the Buddha, so they are proven to be true recipients of offerings to gather the accumulation of merit.

Here, the Seventh Karmapa is emphasizing that, although there are many different lineages, we are the same in being practitioners of the Buddha’s teachings. There is harmony amongst us regardless of whether we are practicing the teachings of the Sakya, Gelug, Foundational, Mahayana, Secret Mantrayana traditions and so forth. We are divided into different lineages, we have different names, different monasteries were founded, we wear different hats or ring our bells in puja slightly differently, but in actuality, we are all the same. The minor differences in external form do not make an actual difference because we are all the same in being practitioners of the teachings of the Buddha.

In his Letter to be Announced in all Kingdoms, the Seventh Karmapa also wrote:

As the Karmapa, I do not distinguish between any factions in places, communities, students, teachings, dharma traditions, and so forth. I do not hold there to be a separate “Karmapa’s tradition” or “teaching.” The teachings of the Buddha are the teachings of the Karmapa. I take care of the teachings of the Buddha. All those who enter them enter the teachings of the Karmapa.

Although His Holiness did not discuss them at length here, he mentioned Mikyö Dorje’s Instructions for the Lord of Kurapa and his Nephews as additional relevant reading. In this text, Mikyö Dorje offers detailed reasons why having sectarian views about the Buddha’s teachings is not appropriate.

His Holiness then stressed one of the main points of the day’s teachings: the importance of assessing the situation in the world and seeing the harm of having biases. Normally, he said, we stay in our own monasteries that exist within specific dharma lineages. This shapes how we see things with our eyes and how we think about things with our mind. However, this may lead to our views being limited. We really only consider how our own monasteries and our own labrangs will flourish and we think our own monasteries need to remain forever.

Consequently, we do not see others at all and we don’t see that things are changing. Thus, we need to begin thinking more profoundly, using our two eyes to examine ourselves rather than looking at others, His Holiness urged. He recommended trying to look at our lineage, our monasteries, and our labrang as though we were a person on the outside looking in. He then stated that we need to expand the range of where we’re looking so that gradually we can expand our viewpoints.

As we are now in the 21st century, we can no longer continue as we did before with our hands covering our eyes. Looking at the world, we see there are many, many religions, and many true religions among them. Christianity and Islam are the largest religions in the world and several countries identify as being Christian or Muslim. On the other hand, there are only a few Buddhist countries left in the world. Although Buddhism is considered to be one of the world’s major religions, if you compare its spread or dissemination to that of Christianity or Islam or other large religions, it is relatively small. Previously, there were many more Buddhist countries than there are now, and many of these countries have ceased to be Buddhist. This shows there has been a real decline in the Buddhist teachings.

Though there are some external factors contributing to Buddhism’s decline, such as conversion to other religions, His Holiness suggested that the most significant factor contributing to Buddhism’s decline is an internal condition, specifically the division and factionalism that exists between Buddhist communities. There are, in fact, very few good connections between Buddhists. This is something we need to consider seriously. We continue to make many different distinctions such as Foundational and Mahayana, or Sutrayana and Vajrayana. Likewise, we say Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Theravada Buddhism. Even within Tibet, there are five great lineages. Within the Kagyu there are dozens of traditions, with its elder and younger lineages and so on, there are many different divisions.

Originally, there were very few Buddhist lineages, His Holiness explained, but over time, they split into many smaller factions and became weaker and weaker. There is the danger that one day there won’t be anything left for anyone to see. For that reason, among Buddhists, in Tibetan Buddhism, and in the Kagyu lineage, we shouldn’t have this sectarianism of saying “us” and “them”. Even making a distinction is not good because when you make distinctions, naturally you begin to have bias. We must take the first step ourselves; we must take action otherwise it’s like having a nice piece of fruit. You put it on a plate and leave it. What happens? It rots. We have to start with our own monasteries and lineages. We do so by increasing our ideas of creating connections and unity, and expanding our idea of belonging, until we reach the belief that we’re the same inside and out, and understand the unity of Buddhism. This really comes down to the idea that if one declines, we all decline; if one spreads, we all spread. Whether Buddhism declines or spreads therefore depends on this. Take the example of the United States. Because it is a powerful country, its citizens can hold their heads high and be confident anywhere as an American. If an entire country is not doing so well, its citizens will be weaker and have less confidence. It is difficult for us to develop this feeling when we stay within the environment of our own specific lineages.

People often fail to realize how very sacred it is to be in Buddhist monasteries in the presence of the sangha. But one day if you travel to Europe or a non-Buddhist country, you may not even find a statue of the Buddha, never mind there being Mahayana, Secret Mantrayana or disputes between Tibetan traditions. If you were to see a statue of the Buddha in such a place, you would be overjoyed! We take such things for granted, but in many countries around the world, there aren’t even any Buddhists, much less Kagyupas or Karma Kagyupas. Kagyupas are like rabbits with horns — they don’t exist! And yet many people sit in their monasteries thinking, “The sky is Kagyu, the earth is Kagyu, everything is Kagyu.” Thinking this way is no better than being the frog in the well, unable to see the external world or the overall situation.

Some monastics sit there thinking that nothing will change, but there has been a lot of change in the world already. We are becoming a single, global, human community with increasingly greater connections. In a time of such development, if we stay in our own little world covering our eyes, we’re just deceiving ourselves. We have to open our eyes.

In terms of being Buddhist and bringing benefit to the Buddhist teachings, we need to all respect one another and serve all in the same way. This is the foundation of being Buddhist; we need to take care of this great basis that we have. This means we can be a follower of the Buddha and practice the Dharma as it’s taught, that is to say not having any bias in the teachings or towards people, or having any notion of greater or lesser. We should not let the kindness of the great masters of the past, who upheld and spread the teachings with such great effort, go to waste.

The Karmapa clarified what it means to be non-sectarian. He emphasized that it does not mean not having our own standpoint or basis. We each have our particular karmic connections and the lineage we have entered because of them, so it is our particular responsibility to serve our own particular lineage. It is extremely important to respect that. Rather, being non-sectarian means considering other lineages as the same as, if not better than, our own. Even with the intention of preserving and spreading the Buddhist teachings throughout this world, if your thinking and outlook are old-fashioned, if you are unwilling to open your eyes and look at how the world is now, simply saying “I will spend innumerable eons achieving the state of Buddhahood” is merely an ensemble of words that you will be unable to accomplish. For these reasons, we need to train in the Liberation Stories of Mikyö Dorje and think about the faults that come from factionalism and bias.

Day 5: A Defence of the Nyingma: Mikyö Dorje’s Seeds of Honesty

March 28, 2022

Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation:

3) Taking speech as the path

On the fifth day of the Arya Kshema Spring Teachings, His Holiness began by explaining he would speak about the thirteenth good deed, starting at the section Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation. The section has ten sub-topics and he would begin with the third sub-topic: “taking speech as the path”:

To bring benefit and happiness to everyone throughout space,
I spoke kind words distinguishing what to do and what to reject.
How could I ever, in any situation, say harsh words
That would make myself and others circle in confusion?
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (13)

The Karmapa explained that this is what is meant by ‘noble speech’. Many people say that they are dharma practitioners or lamas and that their primary responsibility is to open the eyes of all sentient beings to what should be done and what should not be done. That means becoming aware of what is appropriate: what counts as a virtuous deed and what counts as a non-virtuous deed. We should be someone who can teach or show what needs to be taken up and what needs to be given up.

There are many people called lamas or dharma practitioners whose conduct of body, speech and mind does not appear in the Vinaya of the three vehicles. It is not found in the sutras either and contradicts the Abhidharma. It transgresses the three baskets of the Buddha’s teachings and is not in accord with the teachings. When their faults are discovered, they use guile or deceit; if they lack qualities, they pretend they have them; if they have faults, they hide them. They even explain their faults as qualities. What is more, they imagine that there is a great purpose in accomplishing pointless acts and consider the harm they bring themselves and others to be greatly beneficial.

In summary, they are shrouded in the darkness of ignorance. They are completely mistaken as to what to do and what to give up in this and future lives. They are given prestigious names such as “Lama” or “Rinpoche” or “dharma practitioner” and pretend to be that way. It is not only that they are lying, but they also like it when similar people appear. They hope they will be of mutual benefit to each other, bringing more fame by praising each other and saying, “Your conduct of body, speech, and mind accords with the Vinaya. You have mastered bodhichitta. You have great aspects of liberation of the secret mantra. Your view is broad and vast, and your meditation experiences are stable. You are the most generous and have very strong intelligence,” they say, deluding and fooling each other.

If someone tries to point out that their conduct contradicts the scriptures, their reply is that the person hasn’t understood the scriptures, properly: “The teachings of the Buddha are expedient things that need interpretation”. Thus, they are able to twist the Buddha’s words in many different ways and stretch them so that they fit whatever they want to do.

Another argument they use is that during these degenerate times we cannot put the Buddha’s words into practice. Consequently, for all our studies and practices, we should primarily follow the guru’s pith instructions. “There are many such gurus,” His Holiness observed. They then lead all their followers down the wrong path, deceiving many people.

However, Mikyö Dorje never intended to deceive others. He realised that when others taught false dharma, they were leading people down a mistaken path that would not lead to liberation and omniscience. Thus, there is no wrong speech more severe than the lies of teaching incorrect dharma.

Thus, when Mikyӧ Dorje was teaching the Dharma to those whose capacity for higher states and true excellence (i.e., liberation) was awakened—those who could understand it— he taught in accordance with the Dharma. If they had the appropriate capacity, he would teach according to the scriptures, primarily using the stainless words of the Buddha and explaining them to the people. However, for those who would not understand the words that matched the scriptures, he taught the Dharma through funny stories about brief experiences, sayings and stories, pointing out their faults in ways they could understand. By speaking in an ordinary way, he would thus give them some understanding of the Dharma.

Mikyӧ Dorje only had the pure intention to help all beings, whether they were of great or low status, wishing for their benefit and lasting happiness. He had unsullied, stainless, pure intentions. No matter whether it was in terms of dharma or worldly affairs, he would say exactly what he thought directly to the person; if there were a fault, he would say so, if there were a quality, he would acknowledge it.

Because Mikyӧ Dorje was very direct and pointed out peoples’ faults and qualities, not only in terms of the Dharma but also in terms of worldly ways, he was “like the Buddha right before your nose”. Many people immediately recognised their faults to be faults, stopped doing negative actions and began doing good actions. Moreover, they cast away inauthentic teachers and their teachings and conduct and gave them up. They understood the characteristics of individuals and the dharma as they were, and learned the crucial points of progressing and not progressing down the path of dharma. Because of that, people developed certainty in their minds, saw the reasons and developed such wisdom so that they subsequently could not be deceived by false teachers or led down the wrong path.

Mikyӧ Dorje never held anything back when he taught or gave advice. Because of his direct teaching style, there were people who had faith in him and developed the eye of prajna or wisdom – the ability to distinguish what should be done and what should be avoided. From the bottom of their hearts, they thought that Mikyӧ Dorje had great compassion for beings, always wanting to help them, and opening peoples’ eyes as to what is Dharma and what is not. The way he did this was considered amazing “like the great being, the Sakya Pandita.”

Some people, on the other hand, were controlled by the “eight worldly dharmas’. These included people such as gurus, lords, politicians, rinpoches and deceptive monastics. They were prejudiced, resentful people, who pretended to be good, who were called scholars but who quoted words superficially, were arrogant and meddlesome practitioners, seemingly honest but in fact just shameless with bad habits. Some people were called by the name “dharma practitioner” or “yogi” but were actually just weak and incompetent. In brief, there were many people who had no wish for liberation from samsara.

They had much to say about this incarnation of the Karmapas: “He talks a lot but looks down on everyone else. He only tries to bring everyone down. In particular, he is always criticising and reprimanding people, in particular those with faith in the Dharma, trying to eliminate their faith.” The reason for this, they claimed, was that Mikyӧ Dorje would make exaggerations about the Dharma and individuals of the Dakpo and Shangpa Kagyu, Sakya, Geluk, Nyingma, Chöd lineages and so forth, having objections to all these schools and criticising them. Many contemporaries of Mikyӧ Dorje implied that his objections and criticisms of other schools were groundless and could lead to the karma of rejecting dharma.

His Holiness continued that he was sure that, given Mikyӧ Dorje’s character, when he spoke, it was always appropriately for the Dharma. To say that someone who practices the Dharma properly has the “karma of rejecting dharma,” is the same as what is said in the Prajnaparamita in Hundred Thousand Lines: “No matter how much fools criticise an irreversible bodhisattva and dharma teacher, the more they are criticised, the more the practice of the irreversible bodhisattva increases.”

Likewise, it also says that some fools and those who do not know the main points will say, “This is not the dharma; this is not the Vinaya. This is not the Buddha’s teachings. “It predicts that many such people will appear in the future, His Holiness continued, but the more they criticise and denigrate the bodhisattvas, the more the bodhisattva’s courage and diligence will only increase.

The reason why some people criticise great beings is that when authentic gurus and great beings are teaching the Dharma in a proper manner, it points out the hidden faults of those who are unable to practice the Dharma, and they feel embarrassed. Out of their attachment, they develop aversion to the bodhisattvas; they begin to view them as enemies. His Holiness stated that this is what is called “The mara of the divine child”. We should be careful of such people. And it is not the case that so-called maras are external, frightening beings with a dark complexion and horns on their head. We should not have that kind of limited way of thinking. Maras prevent us from achieving liberation and omniscience and are mostly the people around us. They are the ones who are the most dangerous, such as our parents and siblings. It is also possible for maras to be among people around us who practice the Dharma, people whom you believe, whom you love or like and think are good. “I am not saying they are bad people, but they don’t have any autonomy because they are controlled by their afflictions, so they are controlled by the mara and thus cause harm to other people. It’s like the mara has remote control,” His Holiness stated.

Another important point is that of all the Karmapas, it is the Second Karmapa Karma Pakshi who has the most collected works, said to be as voluminous as the Kangyur, comprising more than a hundred volumes. This is recorded in the histories, but many are no longer extant. Changzoe Lodrö Tashi, the junior steward at Tsurphu Monastery, said that in the old days the works of Karma Pakshi reached from floor to ceiling in the library at Tsurphu monastery, before it was torn down during the cultural revolution. These days, His Holiness was not sure if even ten of those volumes remain.

In terms of volume of collected works, the one after Karma Pakshi is Mikyö Dorje. From the time he was young, he wrote many amazing treatises and doha. He wrote many commentaries on the sutras. Particularly, around the age of twenty, he wrote a commentary on the Vinaya sutras; when he was twenty-three, he composed a great commentary on the Prajnaparamita, the Rest for the Yogis; a commentary on Kalapa’s Sanskrit grammar; at the age of twenty-six, he wrote the long commentary on the Vinaya sutras; at the age of twenty-seven, he wrote a long commentary on the Abhidharma; and later, also, the commentary on Mahayana and the Chöd practice. In terms of the Tantras, he composed many commentaries, as well as mandala rituals and sadhanas, and many instructions that teach the main points of the practice of the Mahayana. In brief, when we look at the collected works of Mikyӧ Dorje, there are over twenty thick volumes. His Holiness recalled that when he was in Tibet, he found a few of the huge volumes of Mikyӧ Dorje’s works, so heavy that one person could hardly carry them.

When one thinks about his poetry, his poetic style falls into the category Difficult Ornaments. The texts on poetry have three different types of ornament: the Difficult Ornament is very complex. From a starting point, It can be read forwards and backwards, from the beginning to the end, or the other way around. This poetic form was very difficult to write, which shows how skilled Mikyӧ Dorje was.

There are so many volumes in his collected works that they are great in quantity but also in terms of their content. Later commentators used texts by earlier commentators as their models, whereas Mikyӧ Dorje never merely followed the words of earlier scholars. In terms of supporting texts that he used, he carried out a lot of his own profound research. In particular, in his great commentaries on the Middle Way, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, and Abhidharma, we find great explanations on difficult points and general discussions that are complete and perfect, bringing out the essential points of their particular philosophy.

These commentaries on the great texts are the common jewels of not just the Karma Kamtsang but of all the Dakpo Kagyu schools. His commentaries on the great texts are like the representatives of the great commentaries on these five texts. Many senior geshes have told His Holiness that Mikyӧ Dorje’s commentaries on Abhidharma and Vinaya in particular are often used as supplementary reading in the Gelukpa monastic colleges.

The Nyingma Controversy and Mikyö Dorje’s The Seeds of Honesty

After the break, His Holiness introduced his main topic for the day, one of Mikyö Dorje’s shorter texts: Presenting the Origins of the Undisputed Teacher and Teachings: Responses to Some Objections Regarding the Ancient Translation Secret Mantra.

The Karmapa began by explaining the content of this text is a refutation of a claim made that the Nyingma Secret Mantra tradition was not true Buddhadharma. In this text, Mikyӧ Dorje uses objections and responses in order to prove that this claim was wrong, and that the dharma of the Nyingma Secret Mantra is real Buddhadharma.

His Holiness showed photos of two old manuscripts of Responses to Some Objections. The upper one, from the library of Drepung monastery, had the word ’out’ written on it. His Holiness explained how this showed that it was a text which did not originate in the monastery. During the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the Mongol armies under Gushri Khan attacked the Kagyu monasteries in Kongpo and sacked the “Black Treasure” at Tse Lagang monastery. Many of the texts found there were brought to Drepung monastery near Lhasa. At Drepung, they were catalogued. These are very ancient manuscripts, over three hundred and sixty years old.

Why had His Holiness found it necessary to introduce this work, Responses to Objections, which is also called The Seeds of Honesty, in particular among all of Mikyö Dorje’s works? Firstly, it has a particular connection with today’s topic and, secondly, this work has had a considerable influence on later scholars.

Before looking more closely into this text, however, His Holiness considered it to be important first of all to understand Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s character. Because only by understanding his character could one understand the connection between his works and his way of thought, and its particular qualities.

Generally, his character was to be blunt and direct. He said directly whatever he thought without holding anything back; he said it immediately and did not think whether the other person would like it or feel hurt by it. In his writings, he would make many refutations of earlier and contemporary scholars, no matter who they were, if there was something that he thought was not logical.

If one is not familiar with his work, one might think that he was a lama who had a strong sectarian bias, but in actuality, that only shows being unfamiliar with Mikyö Dorje’s character. For example, if he thought the words did not accord with the intention of a particular text, he would even refute the gurus of his own tradition, other than his root guru, Sangye Nyenpa. He made refutations against his teachers Karma Trinleypa and Dulmo Tashi Öser. He also refuted many other well-known Kagyu lamas such as the Fourth Shamar Chökyi Drakpa and his teacher Gölok Shönnu Pal, and those with a great affinity for the Karmapa and strong connections to previous Karmapas such as Panchen Shakya Chokden. From this it is evident that Mikyö Dorje had no sectarian attachment towards his own lineage. His primary focus was whether a text matched its intention or not, and if he thought there were reason to, he would cite quotations from his own works. In brief, when he was commenting on texts and the Buddha’s words, he considered the dharma to be far more important than the individual.

Mikyö Dorje raised many objections to Sakya Pandita, Dolpopa, Bodong Panchen, Je Tsongkhapa, and other great Tibetan scholars. The primary purpose was to point out what was reasonable and what was not, in the way scholars do: it was not a question of worldly like or dislike. This can be known from Mikyö Dorje’s own text, Praise of the Five Great Beings Who Spread the Treatises in Tibet. In this praise, he mentions Bodongpa, Dolpopa and Lord Tsongkhapa, and praises all of them. Thus, there was no issue of unilateral objection to someone in a worldly way. Looking at the Collected Songs, we can see Mikyö Dorje’s character. He had faith in the great Tibetan lamas of the past and did not see them as enemies or opponents; he was not sectarian. Mikyö Dorje raised objections to many Sakya lamas and also refuted masters of the Gelug tradition, such as Lord Tsongkhapa, whose view of the Middle Way he disputed. But what is curious is that later it was not generally said that “Mikyö Dorje objected to the Sakya”, “Mikyö Dorje objected to the Geluk”, “Mikyö Dorje made many refutations”. Instead, it was frequently said that Mikyö Dorje made refutations of the Nyingma.

His Holiness then explained the historical context which led to this incorrect view.
Around the time when Mikyö Dorje was forty-six—just two years before he passed away —there was an incident that occurred. A letter criticising and objecting to the Nyingma Tantra tradition circulated through all areas of Ütsang, and it was purported to have been written by Mikyö Dorje. Consequently, this became a basis for many people to criticise him.

“Did Mikyö Dorje write these refutations of the Nyingma or not? If he did, why did he refute them? If not, how did such a letter come to be?” His Holiness asked.

We need to examine the Seeds of Honesty. First, we need to look at the opening of the text. It reads:

Because of my name “Karmapa,” someone has written a fake refutation of false mantra as if it had been written by a “Tibetan Mikyö Dorje.” I do not understand the name or purpose of whatever individual has done this, but this has caused many people in Ü-tsang to view us with hatred as people who chatter out of wrong views and say many insulting words. In order to prevent such misdeeds from increasing, I shall speak to this.

Thus, Mikyö Dorje states clearly that this refutation of the Nyingma was written by an unknown person who pretended to be him and stole his name.

He goes on to highlight inaccuracies in the letter which suggest it is bogus:

In the letter, all of the words from “Written by the Karmapa in Nyemo from conversations with Tedro Lama Dzogchenpa…” to “during the Tibetan month of the Year of the Rat. May it be virtuous!” seem to be completely false. From the manner in which it is mistaken, if we combine the letter with some notes, this is easy to understand.

When I was staying in Nyemo in the Male Year of the Wood Rat, there was no one known as the Tedro Lama Dzogchenpa. Therefore, to write “conversations with” him seems to be a slanderous lie.

He agrees that he was in Nyemo during that time, but there was no such person as the Dzogchen Lama at Tedro at that time, so the claim that this is a record of conversations with that lama is a slanderous lie.

His Holiness suggested that the “Male Year of the Wood Rat” is a copying error, because there was no such year during Mikyö Dorje’s lifetime. Thus, he had concluded that this year of the Rat must have been the year of the Water Rat, when Mikyö Dorje was forty-six. The Feast for Scholars records that he wrote the Response to Objections Called the Seeds of Honesty in the Water Ox year of the ninth cycle, and that must have been some time after the objections to the Nyingma appeared. Thus, the objections to the Nyingma must have been written in the Water Rat Year [1552 CE] when Mikyö Dorje was forty-six. He then passed away two years later in the Wood Horse Year of the tenth cycle [1554 CE].

It seems, the Karmapa said, that somebody out of jealousy wished to harm Mikyö Dorje, which is suggested in the colophon:

To those who cause harm in many ways
From motivations of great hatred, attachment, and jealousy,
I join my palms and make this request:

Whatever you people think,
We give up the crazy, unbearable ways of acting and thinking
towards our mothers for temporary pleasures and wealth.
You kind and loving mothers,
Have looked on your children lovingly from beginningless time.
Without interrupting the actions of loving-kindness and compassion,
Please always care for all beings throughout space without bias
In the short and long term with benefit and happiness.

This was written by Jamyang Shepa, who was blessed by the title Karmapa in upper retreat Namkha Dzong of Dra Jampa Ling. The scribe was Karma Trinley Jikme De. I dedicate this so that all beings may enter the teachings of the undisputed teacher the Lion of the Shakya and achieve the state of the Dharma Lord Great Sage.

He also mentions the place where he composed this text as well as the person who was with him to actually write it down; this was Karma Trinley Jikme De. There were several Karma Trinleys. There was Lama Karma Trinley from whom Mikyö Dorje studied the philosophical texts. He had studied first in the Sakya tradition before becoming a student of the Seventh Karmapa Chodrak Gyatso and was very influential in spreading the Kagyu tradition. Then, two of Mikyo Dorje’s students were called Karma Trinley: Sonam Trinzin who was at Tsurphu Monastery, and Karma Trinley Jigme Dewa, who was the amanuensis for this text. He was very skilled in poetry, skilled in Vajrayana rituals and praised by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama.

That Mikyö Dorje did not write the tract against the Nyingma is shown clearly in the Seeds of Honesty but also validated by his students. In Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa’s biography of him in the Feast for Scholars it says:

He was invited to Jampa Ling, where Yar Gyapa made offerings with devotion. Now at that time, there was a letter slandering the Nyingma Tantra that had taken Mikyö Dorje’s name in its colophon, and as that was completely disrespectful of the Nyingma, he wrote The Seeds of Honesty, a response to it and examination of its authorship.

So, it was when Mikyö Dorje was staying at Jampa Ling, that this letter, seemingly written by Mikyö Dorje, began to circulate.

Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa reiterated this in his Treatise Purifying Wrong Views, which he wrote when he was 53. The text states that the writer of the letter had borrowed the name of Mikyö Dorje. The letter had caused all those who had faith in the Nyingma Tantra to lose faith in Mikyö Dorje, and that was the reason he had written the lengthy response, The Seeds of Honesty.

In particular, a letter borrowing the name of the hope for all beings of the degenerate age, my own supreme refuge whose name is difficult to pronounce, Mikyö Dorje, appeared due to the power of the Maras, upsetting all those with faith in the Nyingma Tantra and spreading faithlessness. The exalted refuge himself wrote The Seeds of Honesty, a long response. It is remarkable, so read it in there.

Mikyö Dorje’s principal student was the Fifth Shamar Könchok Yenlak who compiled A Catalog of the Complete Works of Karmapa Mikyö Dorje. This catalog lists the complete title of the refutation as The Seeds of Honesty: Presenting the Undisputed Origins of the Teacher and Teachings: Responses to Some Objections Regarding the Ancient Translation Secret Mantra.

This is further evidence that the letter of objections to the Nyingma is fake and that Mikyö Dorje wrote the refutation. Although Mikyö Dorje and his disciples protested his innocence many times, the view that Mikyö Dorje had written the letter with the objections to the Nyingma persisted. Many of his contemporaries and those who came after him, primarily those of the Ancient Nyingma tradition, took it as a given that these objections were written by Mikyö Dorje, and made various responses, both polite and strident.

Why did this situation arise? His Holiness suggested that one reason was that scholars probably did not see the Response to Objections by Mikyö Dorje, in which he said very clearly that he had not written the letter and it was a fake.

Alternatively, scholars saw the letter objecting to the Nyingma Tantra as an opportunity to show off their own scholarly skills, or as a way to clarify the teachings of the Nyingma. Mikyö Dorje was a well-known lama at the time so to refute his writings would bring kudos.

Alternatively, they may have seen the Response to Objections but pretended not to have and wrote their response.

To know the events clearly, we would need to compare how many similarities and dissimilarities there are between the responses to the objections by Mikyö Dorje and by other scholars and to research whether it was taken as a model or not. Unless we do such research, there is no way we can know.

Next, His Holiness discussed how the earlier and later Nyingma masters responded to the objections in the letter that was seemingly written by Mikyö Dorje and how they responded:
The first master was Tulku Natsok Rangdrol, a great scholar and meditator, who, in the Wood Ox Year of the 9th cycle [1555 CE], the year that Mikyö Dorje passed away, wrote a text called The Luminous Dharma Expanse: A Response to Questions Posed by the Gyalwang Karmapa in an Official Letter. He takes it for granted that Mikyö Dorje was the author of Objections to the Nyingma.

Three years after Mikyö Dorje passed away, Yakde Dulzin Khyenrab Gyatso wrote A String of Jewels: Responses to Questions on the Origins of the Buddha Dharma, which gives answers to each of the 26 objections in the letter and responds to them in depth. This text became a source for the history of the Nyingma dharma, and Kyabje Düdjom Rinpoche cited many passages from it when he composed his own Dharma History. Guru Tashi in his dharma history wrote:

At one point in the past, I did see a Nyingma Dharma history known as the “Yakde Dharma History” said to be written by Dulzin Khyenrap Gyatso, but I have not obtained it at this time.

One major difference between Yakde’s response to the objections and others’ responses is that he rejects the view that the objections to the Nyingma were written by Mikyö Dorje. As he writes:

In the words of the emanation of the Buddha Lion’s Roar; the invincible master of the tenth level, and lord of the Buddha’s teachings named Pal Chödrup Gyatlso Chok Tamche Le Nampar Gyalway Mikyö Sangpo Dorje Gaway Yang, he instituted a tradition including all the Buddha’s teachings and spread and propagated the teachings of the Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma schools in all ways in all directions. He was indivisible from the wisdom expanse of Padmasambhava. But someone with a sectarian motivation wrote a fake letter with misconceptions about the teachings of the Kagyu and Nyingma. Tedro Dzogchenpa was taken as the target in this text disputing the tantras, practice, samaya substances, and so forth of the Ancient Translation school, and I have written this String of Jewels: A History of the Buddha’s Teachings because of seeing it.

Likewise, the person who encouraged Yakde to write the response to the objections was actually a disciple of Mikyö Dorje, the khenpo of Tsok Gendun Gang, Panchen Ngawang Kunga Chöjor. He said that the letter refuting the Nyingma was not a letter by Mikyö Dorje and that because of it many people were accumulating the karma of rejecting the dharma, so he should write a dharma history response to objections to clarify the teachings of the Kagyu and Nyingma.

Similarly, Yargyap Pönchen Kunga Sönam Gyalpo also encouraged him to write a dharma history with response to the questions that would benefit the teachings in general and specific, and that would be pleasing to Mikyö Dorje. When we look at these, it seems he believed the letter objecting to the Nyingma was not written by Mikyö Dorje. So, at that time, people who knew Mikyö Dorje and who had actual connections with him, did not believe he was the author of this letter criticising the Nyingma.

Twenty-two years after Mikyö Dorje passed away, Sokdokpa Lodroe Gyaltsen wrote The Thunder of Scripture and Logic: A Response to Gyalwang Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s Letter Questioning the Nyingma Secret Mantra

He gives responses to the objections to the Nyingma from beginning to end, on the assumption that Mikyö Dorje had written the letter in order to help the Nyingma by encouraging them to engage in listening, contemplation and meditation:

In the omniscient Gyalwang Mikyö Dorje’s letter about conversations with Tildro Lama Dzogchenpa, there are several figurative citations from scripture. In the letter written at Neudong Tser, it is saying, “These days here in the north of Uru, the Terton Changlochen and other emanations of maras…” On seeing such words, I wonder how much warmth there is in the view and thought? Such a manner of questioning are questions eliminating and uprooting all doubts about the Nyingma posed in a deep, vast way that is difficult to fathom. They were given to inspire Nyingmas to put effort into listening, contemplating and meditating. If we completely integrate them into our being, we will determine all the difficult points of the Nyingma Secret Mantra.

Sokdokpa Lodroe Gyaltsen also wrote that he had seen three responses to the objections before he wrote his own, but that those responses were pointless because they had failed to understand Mikyö Dorje’s intention in writing the objections and had resorted to sarcasm to denigrate Mikyö Dorje.

At the beginning of the 17th century, there is a text of the Liberation Story of Tsarchen Losal Gyatso, written by the Fifth Dalai Lama, which seems to suggest that Tsarchen Losal did not have much faith in Mikyö Dorje because the latter was fickle, sometimes objecting to the Nyingma and sometimes saying they are good, and also behaved strangely at time as if unstable and not in his right mind. So the Fifth Dalai Lama took for granted that Mikyö Dorje had written the letter of objections to the Nyingma.

And from the Fifth Dalai Lama’s Record of Teachings:

Karmapa Rangjung Dorje’s instructions on the Outer Cycle of Ati in verse seems to have produced an amazing experience of imprints awakened by Ngenlam Gyalwa Choking. It is not at all like the Mikyö Dorje said to be his reincarnation.

He praises the Third Karmapa, calls him omniscient and cites the nying-thik cycle in verse that he had written, which shows that he was an emanation of Ngenlam Gyalwa Choking. The Dalai Lama goes on to imply that the dissimilarity between the two means that Mikyö Dorje could not possibly be his reincarnation.

In the 18th century, The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Schools by Tuuken Chökyi Nyima wrote:
In particular, Khukpa Lhaytse and Drikung Paladin present many proofs that the Nyingma is not pure dharma, and Shakya Chokden and Karmapa Mikyö Dorje also follow their lead.

He presumes that Mikyö Dorje had written the objection to Nyingma.

In the 19th century, Guru Tashi wrote a dharma history of the Nyingma Secret Mantra entitled The Ocean of Amazing Stories that Delight the Wise which is usually called the Gutay Dharma History. It reads:

The Eighth Karmapa studied the Tanak Practice Cycle from Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal and practiced them, and he also wrote a sadhana combining the eight Karmapas, eight Shangs, and eight forms of Guru Rinpoche. He described (as above) how it was a school of pure perception. This master investigated the Nyingma, and intending to refute some small-minded people, he wrote his own response Seeds of Honesty to prove that it is pure dharma.

He writes as if both the objections to the Nyingma and the repudiation Seeds of Honesty were by Mikyö Dorje.

Also in the 19th century, Dzogchen Khenpo Padma Vajra wrote the First Dawn of Scripture and Logic: A Response to Objections to the Ancient Translation Nyingma Literature. In a section titled Questions from the doubt of not realising by Mikyö Dorje, he explains that Mikyö Dorje did not realise the nature and had doubts, he asked questions of the Ancient Translation Nyingma, and Sokdokpa responded.

In Jamgön Mipham Namgyal’s String of Vajra Jewels: A Supplementary Examination of Natural Mind from his Three Cycles on Natural Mind, he gives responses to the objections in three questions about the topic of “Liberation through Investigation”. He writes:

Unable to prove your own tradition which upholds the Shentong school, when you see the Ornament of Nagarjuna’s Thought, you vanish like dew on grass. Whatever you do, as a superior tulku who is pleased to consider a school that says that the various inconsistent states promoting the Consequentialist school to be a true school, is fine.

He says, that Mikyo Dorje originally upheld the Shentong view, but then was unable to defend his own tradition, so was forced to abandon the Shentong view and take up the Consequentialist school view instead. But, as a superior tulku he was free to do what he wanted! Basically, Jamgön Mipham was being sarcastic and the object of his sarcasm seems to be Mikyö Dorje, though he doesn’t actually specify a name. However, the Karmapa explained, Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje and the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso primarily explained the view in a Shentong manner, while the Eighth Karmapa explained it from the Rangtong or Consequentialist perspective.

In Mikyö Dorje’s collected works, there is the Dialogue with Gyatön Jadralwa, in which Mikyö Dorje is accused of destroying an image of Guru Rinpoche:

Did you destroy the talons and fangs on the Wrathful Guru made by Tertön Sangye Lingpa?” In response, “That was already cracked and broken. Only later, when we restored Tse Lhagang (monastery), did I hear that it had been broken.

Such events show how people believed that he was biased against the Nyingma and criticised him continually.

Though the basis for the Practice Lineage of the Karma Kamtsang is the Kagyu, our Dharma protectors such as Bernakchen and Palden Lhamo, Damchen and Shingkyong come from the Nyingma tradition. Later, it was frequently said within the Kamtsang that Mikyö Dorje had objected to the Nyingma. Consequently, there were very many, such as Karma Shenpen Wangpo, the reincarnation of Pal Khang Lotsawa, who said that many of our ancestral practices were Nyingma and viewed them like filth.

If this is the situation even within the Kamtsang, then it is totally understandable that people from other schools wouldn’t know the actual situation, the Karmapa concluded.

Day 6: Setting the Record Straight

April 1st, 2022

Previously, the Gyalwang Karmapa had explained how Mikyo Dorje was falsely accused of writing a letter refuting Nyingma Tantra as not real Buddhadharma. He now continued his analysis of the controversy in the context of the thirteenth good deed from the Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds”:

To bring benefit and happiness to everyone throughout space,
I spoke kind words distinguishing what to do and what to reject.
How could I ever, in any situation, say harsh words
That would make myself and others circle in confusion?
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

His Holiness clarified he would be focusing on dharma history in order for everyone to fully understand the situation and the main points clearly.

An historical overview of Nyingma Tantra

In the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition, there are two transmissions of the teachings — the Earlier or Ancient and the Later or New transmission [respectively Nyingma and Sarma]. During the Later transmission, the Dharma kings Yeshe Öd Jangchup Öd, and Podrang Shiwa Ö, the great translator Lochen Rinchen Sangpo, Gö Khukpa Lhetse and others wrote refutations of false mantras. This referred to the practice of secret mantra but specifically to situations where there were inappropriate usages of mantra. At that time, there was no clear distinction between the ancient and new tantra as there is now, and the main object of the refutation was those who engaged in false secret mantras of union, liberation, and so forth. They were not refuting secret mantra but rather refuting wrong uses of secret mantra in ancient [Nyingma] and New [Sarma] traditions. They were not objections to the Nyingma tradition.

When Atisha came from India to Tibet [c.1042 CE], he visited Samye, the largest monastery in Tibet at that time. In the library there, he discovered many Sanskrit manuscripts of secret mantra dharma texts which he had never seen in India, even though he was the abbot of Vikramashila. He was amazed to find them in such a remote place and expressed delight at the achievement of the Tibetan Dharma kings, praising them highly and calling them bodhisattvas. This is evidence that a collection of secret mantra manuscripts existed in Pekar Kordzoling, the library at Samye.

Later, Tropu Lotsawa Jampa Pel [c.1172-1236 CE] found a Sanskrit manuscript of the Guhyagarbha Tantra, also in the library at Samye. This tantra is a most important Nyingma source text, so he sent it to Chomden Rikral, a renowned scholar who was very important in the compilation of the Kangyur and Tengyur. Having read it, Chomden Rikral accepted its authenticity and acknowledged that the Nyingma had an authoritative source. He wrote a text, the Guhyagarbha: A Practice Ornamented with Flowers. Further proof of its authenticity is found in the great Sanskrit commentary on the Buddhajñāna tradition of Guhyasamaja by Viśvamitra. This cites many quotations from the Guhyagarbha, proving that the Guhyagarbha Tantra existed in India before it came to Tibet.

His Holiness commented that some had pointed out four faults in this tantra:

  1. It uses the phrase ‘thus have I taught’ not the more usual ‘thus have I heard’.
  2. The explanation that the ground is immeasurable is illogical.
  3. It says there are four times instead of three, which is also illogical.
  4. The principal deity of the mandala is Vajrasattva, which is inappropriate.

However, the Karmapa observed that the Sarma tantras also have similar explanations, so having these four faults does not prove that it is not authoritative. He gave further evidence in support of the authenticity of the Nyingma tantras. The Eight Classes of Illusion, and the commentaries on Guhyagarbha by Nyi Öd Sengge and Buddhagupta are listed in the Pantangma catalogue, one of the oldest Tibetan catalogues of sacred texts. This shows that many of the Nyingma texts were present during the early spread of the teachings to Tibet. Pandita Smritijñāna and Lotsawa Rinchen Sangpo both translated Sanskrit works into Tibetan, as testified by Chomden Rikral, who had a vast and broad knowledge of the Kangyur and Tengyur.

Similarly, the Sakya Pandita said that there was a root tantra of Vajrakilaya translated from Sanskrit, and Tarlo Nyima Gyaltsen also said he saw a Sanskrit manuscript of Vajrakilaya in Nepal. Therefore, it is possible to say that practices found in the Nyingma tradition were also present in ancient India. Hundreds of ancient Tibetan manuscripts were found hidden in the caves at Dunhuang. These manuscripts include an account of the origins of the Vajrakilaya tantra and a small collection of Dzogchen texts by Buddhagupta. Therefore, His Holiness concluded, it is not appropriate to dismiss the Nyingma tantras as false without thoroughly examining and researching the evidence.

The Dzogchen teachings on mind, space, and instructions were probably not widely known in India, but, as tantric practice in ancient India was taught in strict secrecy, that is not proof that they were completely non-existent in India or inauthentic.

Vikramashila was the centre of Vajrayana tantras in ancient India and Atisha was the abbot. He had also been given the keys to other monasteries, so his knowledge of tantra was broad.
However, when he was at Samye and saw so many Sanskrit Vajrayana texts that were not extant in India, he said it was miraculous, and that he had lost his pride in being learned in secret mantra. We need to reflect on this. From this account, we can deduce that at Samye at that time, there were many tantras and secret mantra texts as well as tantras on Dzogchen that were not extant in India.

Some later scholars argue the Nyingma tantras are incorrect because the explanations in the Nyingma tantras differ slightly from those of the Sarma, but based on that alone, it would be difficult to maintain that they are not valid. For example, the explanations in the tantra differ from those in the Prajnaparamita sutras, but we do not say they are invalid because of that. If we make objections without considering the issue from all angles, there is a danger that we will end up slapping ourselves in the face.

Primarily, whether a dharma lineage is valid and whether its sources are reliable depends greatly on whether there is a clear, logical history of its origins. Generally, ancient Indians saw little point in making a written record of what they had seen with their own eyes. They took little interest in history. Consequently, it is difficult to even determine when the Buddha was born and died. Even those dates are disputed, and the lack of a written record even raises a further doubt about whether the Buddha actually existed.

In comparison, Tibet was a little better, but historical documents from the time of the Ancient transmission are scarce. There was a period of time when Tibet became fragmented, and the history is a blank. This creates great difficulties for researchers into the history of the Nyingma Ancient Translation school. The Karmapa gave Guru Rinpoche as an example.

The only namthar of Guru Rinpoche which takes the perceptions of ordinary people as a basis is the one written by Taranātha. The others are mostly terma [revelations], and they contain differences in their accounts. Guru Rinpoche is said to have gone not only to Ütsang (Central Tibet) but to Bhutan, Amdo, Kham, and everywhere in Tibet, even the most minor place: “There is no place he didn’t set foot…” Even regarding how long he spent in Tibet, many things are difficult to fit with the dates of dynasties and so forth.

For that reason, we need to distinguish between common and uncommon namthar, compare dates with the reigns of kings, and use modern research techniques. His Holiness said he viewed it as an essential thing to do.

Many Tibetans have misunderstandings about the difference between the views of Zen and Dzogchen and the development of the Dzogchen view. In this context, the Lamp for Dhyana by Nup Sangye Yeshe is a crucial text. It contains invaluable material on the Chinese Huashang or Zen tradition and also contains a lot of material on the Dzogchen practice. Nup Sangye Yeshe’s dates still have to be determined, but the Karmapa suggested the most logical was that he was a contemporary of King Ngadak Palkhor Tsen.

Historically, there were many objections to the Nyingma dharma. Some were in order to rectify corruption in the texts, some led to an understanding of a particular philosophy and practice, and others were to clarify history and events. So from one angle, they had a positive influence. Thus, instead of reacting to these objections to the Nyingma as something to be discarded or as inauspicious, the Karmapa thought it was more beneficial to take them as the basis for study and research.

Karmapa Mikyö Dorje and the Letter of Objections to the Nyingma

The Karmapa began by showing the front cover of a book containing thoughts on the objections to the Nyingma, which was published as part of the “Karmapa 900” commemoration.

Karmapa Mikyö Dorje wrote many works, including commentaries on sutra and tantra. This shows that he had a great interest in Buddhist philosophy and practice and that he had his own particular viewpoint. Because of this, he was not someone who was fooled into thinking that there was a slim book called “the gurus pith instructions.” Instead, he was someone who worked hard to study all the great texts in the Kangyur and Tengyur and was very familiar with the entire Buddhist corpus.

Because scholars and researchers hold different philosophies and religious traditions, there are often differences in thought and perspective. Raising doubts and objections, making corrections and adjustments, and engaging in discussion are the methods used by everyone who engages in the study of philosophy. This is how scholars work, not just in Buddhism, in both East and West. For someone such as Mikyö Dorje, who was a scholar and the author of many commentaries, it goes without saying that he would raise doubts and objections for discussion.
When discussing whether or not Mikyö Dorje wrote the letter objecting to the Nyingma, before determining anything, it is essential to consider the background situation and reasons. Just looking at the colophon which states he’s the author is not sufficient.

Although the Karmapa had already examined this issue previously in the teaching, he said that it was necessary to look at it from many different angles.

The letter of objections appeared when Mikyö Dorje was about forty-six years old, and he wrote his response shortly after. In the response, he denied writing the letter and responded to its questions. However, some people did not accept his denial. As the saying goes, “Words follow the wish to speak,” so we need to consider the author’s character before we decide whether he would have written it or not.

His Holiness said that he had a degree of familiarity with Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s work and saw him as someone who habitually raised questions about the philosophy of the Sakya, Geluk, Kagyu, and Nyingma and always engaged in a lot of dialectical debate. He clearly writes about his own views and thoughts concerning other traditions in his various works, without concealing or holding anything back. In particular, regarding the Nyingma, he wrote in his Words Distinguishing Dharma from Non-dharma that the view taught in Dzogchen and the division of the philosophical schools was not generally accepted among Buddhists; that methods of manifesting luminosity by squeezing the two eyes and so forth were not valid; and that other than the terma Atisha extracted from a pillar in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, the termas revealed in Tibet were not authoritative.

Similarly, in the Dialog with Gyatön Jadralwa, which was a response to the statement that Guru Rinpoche was superior to the Buddha in five ways, so there could be no faults in the lineage of his disciples. Mikyö Dorje argued that the scriptures which said this about Guru Rinpoche were speaking figuratively and not definitively. That alone is not evidence that he disliked other schools and, in particular, the Nyingma. He was expressing his own opinion on various different philosophies and schools. He was not claiming this to be an absolute, as we can tell from his other works.

The Karmapa now put forward the arguments against Mikyö Dorje being the author of the letter.
It was Mikyö Dorje’s character to be very direct and blunt. He was unable to hide whatever he thought; he probably couldn’t help himself, and spoke out directly. He accepted that he said whatever came to mind, and his student, Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa, confirmed this. It was his character. Also, he was a very logical thinker who could easily spot a fault and then would speak out. In this context, it is true that he did raise objections to the Kagyu and other schools. We cannot deny that. But to use those objections as a basis for believing he also wrote the letter objecting to the Nyingma is not reasonable because the letter objecting to the Nyingma was written with malicious intent specifically against the Nyingma.

Because of the breadth of his experience, if Mikyö Dorje had written that letter, he would have known how people would react. As he understood clearly the pros and cons of writing such a letter, there seems no logical reason for him to have written it.

Apart from the colophon, there is no other evidence to support the view that he wrote it.
Mikyö Dorje was a confident scholar, able to mount arguments and explain philosophical thought. In his other writings, he makes objections. If he had actually written those objections to the Nyingma, he would have admitted it.

Prior to Mikyö Dorje, many other scholars, such as the Sakya Pandita, made well-known, strong criticisms of other schools. There was a tradition amongst Tibetan scholars of the different schools of vigorous back-and-forth criticism. Mikyö Dorje himself once asked the Sera Jetsun to critique his work for him. Within that context, it seems that if he had written such a criticism of the Nyingma, he would not have denied it.

Not long after the letter appeared, Mikyö Dorje denied that he wrote it. If he had written it, the denial seems pointless.

He wrote an in-depth response to the objections, which suggests clearly that he was not their author. He carefully analysed each of the questions and answered them in great detail. The particular explanations he gave were probably of greater help to the Nyingma teachings than harm, the Karmapa suggested.

However, it seems that, in spite of this, later. most Kagyus and followers of the Nyingma spread the idea that the Eighth Karmapa had objected to the Nyingma, and had no knowledge of Mikyö Dorje’s refutation of the objections. Consequently, the controversy has lasted several hundred years. Primarily, this demonstrates that the followers have not taken on responsibility for their teachers.

Why the unfounded allegation about the letter has persisted

The Karmapa suggested there were three main reasons why the fallacy continued.

1. The main reason is that Mikyö Dorje’s response to the objections was not seen by many people. There are three reasons why they might not have seen it:

a. Sixteenth century Tibet was not like the modern information era! Even communicating by letter was not easy. Many texts were handwritten manuscripts. The original had to be copied by hand, and then the copies had to be distributed. This was far more difficult than we can imagine. These days we can post something on WeChat or Facebook and within seconds many people will see it. Thus, it is understandable that many scholars of that time saw the criticisms purported to be by Mikyö Dorje but not his response to the objections or explanation.

b. Only a year after he wrote his response to the objections, Mikyö Dorje passed away, so he was unable to spread the response to many people, like a drop in the ocean. The fact we can see his response now is that after 1998 many of Mikyö Dorje’s writings were found in the libraries of Drepung monastery and the Potala Palace in Tibet. For over three hundred years, these texts were in a place where no one on the outside was able to see them. It was very difficult for people to read his writings.

c. If the letter of objections to the Nyingma was written by someone else, what sort of person would do that? That person was certainly audacious, a scoundrel, who was prepared to appropriate Mikyö Dorje’s name with the intention of offending all the Nyingma and causing a controversy. They would certainly have ensured that the letter was distributed widely within a short time. They may even have tried to prevent the dissemination of Mikyö Dorje’s response, because the more widely Mikyö Dorje’s response spread, the more their letter would lose its effectiveness. Conditions at that time meant that Mikyö Dorje’s letter did not spread widely, and still today, there are very few copies of that text in either pecha or book form, and many people have never seen it. At that time it would have been even harder.

People who had never seen Mikyö Dorje’s response, would readily believe that the letter had been written by Mikyö Dorje when they saw his name in the colophon. They would not imagine that anyone might have appropriated his name. It was complex and full of difficult questions, such as an ordinary person could not write. In particular, people from other schools who were not familiar with Mikyö Dorje’s character, works and activities would take for granted that Mikyo Dorje had written it; they certainly would not have investigated whether Mikyö Dorje had written it or not. For such reasons, as time passed, more and more people believed that Mikyö Dorje must have written the letter. That misconception spread and became the accepted view.

Another reason why people took such an interest in these objections, said to be written by Mikyö Dorje, was that Sokdokpa wrote about them.

The words of the Gyalwang Karmapa,
The omniscient actual Buddha,
The vajra words in good style with a weighty meaning,
Are difficult for ordinary individuals to refute.
Like fire and tinder, they destroy on contact.

He took it for granted that Mikyö Dorje had written it and praised its style, weighty meaning, and strong logic.

Whether or not the letter of objections was written by Mikyö Dorje or not, several of the questions in it raise difficult points, and evoked strong reactions and heated discussions amongst the Nyingma.

For over four hundred years, scholars have written responses to the letter, all the while presuming that Mikyö Dorje wrote it. On the one hand, this shows that there was a lot of affection and partiality towards the Nyingma teachings in the past. On the other it shows that because it had been attributed to Mikyö Dorje it had status. Scholars took an interest in it; they thought it would be influential and wrote many responses.

In conclusion, when we discuss the way of thinking and expression of others, and in particular historical figures, we need to be impartial, calm, methodical, and relaxed. We need to have the motivation and courage to justify and verify things when we research. There’s sometimes the danger of becoming too emotional or getting angry. We have to act in accordance with modern scientific methods, using logic and evidence. It’s similar to debate. On the basis of valid logic of the proof and clear examples and analogies that justify it, we establish what we are trying to prove.

It is even less necessary to get angry over it. It’s like watching an action movie: at the time, it seems hot and intense, but actually it’s just a show. It’s not reals. When we do research, not only do we need to use authentic analysis, we must be able to accept others’ explanations of the reasons for how things are, their corrections, and their opinions. If we continue to insist on our assertions without much of a level of education ourselves, speaking with bravado merely for the sake of attracting others’ attention, it’s the talk of someone who always takes short cuts. In terms of logical philosophy, it has no value at all. It is really important that we follow the paths of logic.

The Karma Kamtsang’s connections with other practice lineages

The Karmapa explained that he wished to talk in general terms about the connections between the other Tibetan schools and the Kagyu overall, and with particular reference to the Karma Kamtsang.

The lineage of the Kamtsang explanations of sutra texts goes back to the Sakya school. They were passed down from Rongtön Sheja Kunsik, Jamchen Rabjampa Sangye Pal, his student Karma Trinley Chokle Namgyal and other Sakyas.

The Gelukpa school teaches Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa according to the Kagyu tradition. Je Tsongkhapa learned these from the Kamtsangpa. Their primary tantric practice is the Guhyasamaja, and they emphasise the explanations of the tradition of Marpa. Their main sutra practice is the lamrim [Stages of the Path] and lojong [Mind Training], which they practice according to the Kadampa school. Other than a few differences in how they explain the Middle Way view and so forth, in terms of dharma in general, the Gelukpa and the Kagyu are closely connected, but a lot of people fail to understand this.

Since the time of Karma Pakshi and Rangjung Dorje, there has been a profound connection with the Jonang school [also known as the Six Yogas school because of the central role the Kalachakra plays]. Most previous Kagyu gurus professed the Shentong view, and later, from the time of Situ Chökyi Jung-le onward, many have taught the Shentong view as it is taught in the Jonang school, so there has been an inseparable connection between the Jonang and the Karma Kagyu which continues to the present day. Likewise, the Shangpa, Shiche, Dorje Nyendrup, and other lineages spread within the Karma Kamtsang around the time of Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. Later through the kindness of Jamgön Lodrö Thaye and so forth, one of the main upholders of those lineages has been the Karma Kamtsang. So there are very many connections between the Karma Kamtsang and other lineages. There is no such thing as a ‘pure’ lineage.

In terms of the relations to the Nyingma, the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa’s father was from a Nyingma family. Some say it was his grandfather. His ancestral protector was Rangjung Gyalmo, who thus became one of the main protectresses of the Kamtsang lineage. He received many Nyingma dharma teachings from Chöje Drak Karmowa such as the whispered lineage of the Aro Dzogchen, so the founder of the Karma Kagyu had connections with the Nyingma school.

Second Karmapa Karma Pakshi’s father was also a Nyingmapa, who practised Protector Bernakchen, a practice which had been passed down for thirteen generations of tantric practitioners. This became the protector practice of the Kamtsang. Kathok monastery had been the centre of the Nyingma tantric tradition, and Karma Pakshi received teachings from Kathok Jampa Bum on the Summary of the Intent of the Sutras, Net of Illusion, and the Eighteen Marvels of Mind [three Nyingma tantras that are the basis for the practices of creation phase, completion phase, and Dzogchen].

Karma Pakshi remembered previous lifetimes, and he recalled how, during the times of Indrabodhi, King Ja, and Garap Dorje, he had awakened through the secret mantra teachings of both the Nyingma and Sarma. He then made his main practice the view and meditation of the union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, the pith instructions on pointing out the crux of the four kayas. He wrote many treatises, including the commentaries on the three types of yoga and wrote in their colophons that his texts might disappear, but the Dharma would never disappear. Because he spent such a long time in Mongolia, most of his works have been preserved in China. In general, there are over one hundred volumes, and it is said that the majority of them are included in Nyingma dharma.

Druptop Orgyenpa was a student both of Karma Pakshi and Götsangpa Gönpo Dorje [founder of the Drukpa Kagyu]. Orgyenpa practised the same level of austerities as Götsangpa. From the age of seven until sixteen, he practised the tantras of Viśuddhe Heruka and Vajrakilaya in the Nyingma tradition. Later, he found some long-life water concealed by Padmasambhava at Chuwo Mountain. He also became the guru of the Mongol emperor.

However, within the current topic, the main point of mentioning Orgyenpa is that he went to India and Uddiyana. Based on his experiences there, he contested the claim by many later scholars that they had not seen Nyingma dharma in India, which threw doubt on its authenticity. Orgyenpa contradicted them. He said that if he were to make a catalogue of all the Sanskrit manuscripts he had seen in India on Dzogchen alone, it would be as long as the Prajnaparamita in 100,000 Lines.

His student was the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, who, of all the Karmapas, had the greatest connection with the Nyingma. He received many Nyingma teachings initially from Druptop Orgyenpa. Then, from Nyedowa Kunga Döndrup, he received transmissions of most Nyingma tantras including Summary of the Intent of the Sutras, Net of Illusion, and the Eighteen Marvels of Mind. While he was at Karma Gön, he had a pure vision of Vimalamitra dissolving into the space between his eyebrows and realised the meaning of Nyingtik, just as it is. Although he had already received the ultimate lineage in terms of pure visions, Rangjung Dorje knew that in our common perceptions, it was important to follow a guru and to receive an authentic lineage that had been passed down from Guru Padmasambhava. The principal holder of the Dzogchen view at that time was Kumaraja, a student of the Dzogchen Mahasiddha Melong Dorje. Kumaraja and Rangjung Dorje had studied together with Orgyenpa, but Rangjung Dorje recognised that Kumaraja was unequaled in his realisation of Dzogchen, so he invited him to Tsurphu and received the cycle of Vimalamitra Nyingtik from Kumaraja.

There are differing accounts of how Rangjung Dorje received the Dakini Nyingtik. This terma, written on yellow scrolls inside a rock, had been revealed by Tertön Pema Ledrel Tsal. According to some accounts, Rangjung Dorje met Pema Ledrel Tsal and was offered the empowerment and transmission from the yellow scrolls. However, the History of Nyingtik by Gyalwa Yungtönpa states that Rangjung Dorje was given the transmission by Lotön Dorje Bum, who had been Pema Ledrel Tsal’s assistant when he extracted the Dakini Nyingtik terma, and does not mention him meeting Pema Ledrel Tsal. This needs further investigation.

In his autobiography, Sho Gyalse Lekden, the main student and lineage holder of Pema Ledrel Tsal, relates how Rangjung Dorje summoned him to Kongpo. Sho Gyalse Lekden spent three months there. He gave the transmission of the complete cycle of the Dakini Nyingtig empowerments and initiations to the Karmapa, directly from the yellow scrolls and also received teachings in return. He explains how Pema Ledrel Tsal had given him the yellow scrolls, but he had kept them hidden for ten or eleven years, until he was summoned by Rangjung Dorje.

Rangjung Dorje also had a deep connection with another Nyingma Dzogchen master, Longchen Rabjam, who was said to be the reincarnation of Pema Ledrel Tsal. The two listened to many teachings together.

At the opening of the Questions on Difficult Points, which takes the form of a dialogue between the two, Longchenpa wrote:

Here there is no one else who could dispel the doubts in my mind
Other than the all-knowing one himself,
Whose unified vajra mind is profound peace, great bliss, and spontaneous.
Therefore I have asked these questions.

And at the conclusion, he wrote:

May I, from now until the essence of enlightenment,
Be born in the presence of the Rangjung Guru,
Enjoy the oceanic feast of dharma,
And reach the peace that is free of doubt.

When we see this, we understand that there was a deep and affectionate relationship between the two.

There were many other Kagyu lamas who received Nyingma teachings.

Furthermore, Rangjung Dorje did not just receive Dzogchen teachings; he was also influential in teaching them to others and propagating them widely, in Tibet, China and Mongolia. According to Yungtönpa’s History of Nyingtik:

In the first month of the Male Water Monkey, in the isolated place of Tsurphu Dechen, at the request of the great attendant Loppon Yeshe Gyaltsen, he [Rangjung Dorje] transmitted the teachings to five of us—Drongru Khenpo Gyaltsen, Tokden Yegyal, Tulku Önpo Menlungpa, and myself, Yungtönpa. He also gave the five empowerments in full to seven of us, including the shrine master and the tea server, giving us all the instructions in full.

As Rangjung Dorje himself said, “If these teachings of Dzogchen disappear, it will be a great loss, so Yungtön Dorje Pal should spread them in Tsang, Ye Gyalwa in Kham and Kongpo, Yeshe Gyaltsen in Mongolia and China, and Menlungpa Shakya Shönnu should spread them in Ü.”
Previously the spread of the Dzogchen teachings had been limited, but now they spread in all directions. The continuation of the Dzogchen teachings was one of the activities of Rangjung Dorje. In brief, the main person to spread the Dzogchen teachings in all directions was Rangjung Dorje, as predicted in the Dakini Nyingtik:

The bodhisattva on the earth
Will spread this to the ocean.

Consequently, he had a lasting influence on the Dzogchen tradition.

Rangjung Dorje’s student Yungtön Dorje Pal was well-versed in the entire sutra teachings, particular the Compendium of Abhidharma [Mahayana abhidharma text by Asanga]. He had received all the Nyingma and Sarma teachings, transmissions and empowerments. He was a student of both Rangjung Dorje and Butön Rinpoche. He had received the complete pith instructions on the three main Nyingma tantras and was very knowledgeable. He wrote the commentary The Illuminating Mirror on the Guhyagarbha Tantra, which became one of the most influential and a source for later commentaries.

The Karmapa related a story. On one occasion, the great Sakya Palden Lama Dampa Sönam Gyaltsen, Dolpo Sherap Gyaltsen, Gyalse Ngulchu Tokme Sangpo—who composed the Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattva—and Yungtönpa were all gathered together. Dolpopa suggested that among themselves they should show signs of their accomplishment. He began by saying that he had memorised everything that had been translated into Tibetan in the Kangyur and Tengyur.
Palden Lama Dampa said he took the four empowerments continuously, ie practised secret mantra without stopping. Gyalse Ngulchu Tokme said he continuously practised bodhichitta and had never lost it. Finally, it was Gyalwa Yungtönpa’s turn. He was a very powerful tantric practitioner, particularly of Yamantaka, so he always carried a skull with him. It was an entire human skull not just the kapala. So he took out this skull that he used daily in his Yamantaka practice and recited a mantra. The skull opened its mouth, bared its fangs, and raced around the room, terrifying the other three scholars. It was an amazing miracle, a sign of the power of his practice of secret mantra.

The later incarnations of the Karmapa all received many empowerments, transmissions, and pith instructions of the Nyingma tradition. Karmapa Mikyö Dorje had many connections with the Nyingma dharma. He had many visions of Padmasambhava while at Tse Lhagang in Kongpo and made a prophecy of an invasion being repelled. He saw that the eight forms of Guru Rinpoche, the eight incarnations of Shang, and the eight incarnations of the Karmapa were inseparable and wrote a Guru Yoga on that called the Shang Kagyama (Sealed Dharma of Shang), or by its full title The Sealed True Dharma of Shang, the Protector of Beings from the Turquoise Cliff. This can be found in his collected works. Although longer, it is very similar to the Kamtsang Four-Session Guru Yoga, which contains the essence of the Shang Kagyama. Also, in his long commentaries on the introduction to the three kayas and the four kayas, he explains the thought according to the Nyingma tradition, and according to the thought of Karma Pakshi.

Many of the famous Nyingma Tertöns were disciples of the Karmapa, so it was even said that it was the Karmapa who had to determine whether a Tertön was authentic or not. Around the time of Situ Chökyi Jungne, terma practices spread widely in the Kamtsang, so probably seventy per cent of the pujas and drupchens in the various monasteries are terma from the Nyingma tradition. The term “Kamtsang Nyingma” has come from this —the union of Kamtsang and Nyingma. The Karmapa suggested that the Nyingma component may be a little stronger. Even within the Karma Kamtsang, the transmission of teachings of the ultimate lineage follows instructions from the Nyingma lineage. Thus, scholars from other schools have suggested that the Kagyu are more knowledgeable about the Nyingma than their own tradition.

When we look at these accounts, we see that the previous generations of gurus and people respected all the other dharma lineages and schools. Not only did they feel close to other schools mentally, but if the opportunity arose, they would take teachings on practice and study from them. If they could serve them, they did.

Our responsibility toward the preservation of the Kagyu lineage

As followers of this lineage, preserving these impressive stories for future generations is our responsibility. But our most urgent and important duty is, as followers of the Kagyu, to uphold, preserve, and propagate the empowerments, transmissions, practice instructions, philosophy, sciences, and history of this lineage. This is because world religions in general and Buddhism in particular are facing a time of change and challenge in our present day. In particular, Tibetan Buddhism is threatened by many internal and external conditions, causing difficulty and harm. So, at this time, it is important for us to work for our own benefit and treasure our own interests, to take care of our own lineages and schools. If we do not take care of our own lineages, no one else will.

Over several hundred years, there has been a great decline in the Kagyu. One reason is that externally there has been political persecution. The Kagyu were ostracised. “There was even a time when we weren’t allowed to play drums or ring bells,” His Holiness declared. “Our communities of practice and study deteriorated, and there was no opportunity to be in an environment where we could study the texts of our own tradition and develop into scholars.”

However, he pointed out, there were also internal factors within the lineage itself. “Our teachings and pure intentions weakened, and many of us did not preserve the fine tradition of empowerments, transmissions, and instructions of our own lineage,” he continued. “We didn’t take any interest. We didn’t take care of the texts and did not study or take an interest in philosophy or other areas of knowledge.” This led to a general defamation of the Kagyu. When speaking of the Kagyu, people in other schools compared them to rodents living in the mountains. “We became an object of scorn for all the other lineages.”

At a time when the essence of the Kagyu seemed about to disappear, many Kagyus are slowly waking up from the sleep of ignorance. “If it is not too late, it is certainly not too early,” His Holiness observed. “We absolutely must search out all the lineages of empowerments, transmissions, and pith instructions that have been passed down from the Kagyu forefathers as well as the old texts, restore them, uphold their lineage and take care of them.” If we can put some effort into it now, there is a chance there may be something we can do, but not if we wait, because within a few decades, there will be nothing left to put our effort into, he warned.

The Karmapa insisted that he was not arguing from a sectarian viewpoint and illustrated his point with an example: how shameful and embarrassing it would be if a Buddhist monk was well-versed in Christianity but knew little about Buddhism. He agreed that it was necessary for life in the modern world to study other world religions and other Buddhist lineages, but our priority should be to study and practise our own tradition to a high level. Otherwise, it would be like cutting down the tree trunk and then trying to hang onto the branches. “Whatever study, practice or activity, we must do whatever we can to put effort into making our own lineage strong and powerful,” he urged. “This is the main commitment or basic responsibility for us as people who follow this dharma lineage.” His Holiness asked that all followers of the lineage think in this way and work cooperatively, with a united spirit, so that the lineage could be preserved.

As the session drew to a close, the Karmapa explained his reasons for spending so much time on the life and activities of Mikyö Dorje. Firstly, he thought it essential to show Mikyö Dorje’s character and to examine the unfounded accusations made for more than four hundred years against him, concerning the letter of objections to the Nyingma. Secondly, he was able to share his thoughts about the deep and profound historical connection between the Kagyu and Nyingma. He expressed the hope that in the future the two lineages could work together cooperatively without any breaches of samaya or controversies, in order to uphold, sustain, and spread their teachings.

In this way, the Karmapa had been able to set the record straight on both these issues.
The Karmapa recounted an incident from his own life which showed how easily misinformation or disinformation could spread.

In 2008, he went abroad for the first time to America and visited California. There, he met one of the sons of Dudjom Rinpoche, Trinley Norbu, who asked him to restore the Tsechu Ritual and Cham. His Holiness was flabbergasted. Trinley Norbu had been told that the Karmapa had stopped the Tsechu Ritual.

“I didn’t know what to say … it has been held continuously from the time of Karmapa Rigpe Dorje!” His Holiness exclaimed.” I wouldn’t even dream of saying ‘Stop doing the Tsechu Ritual.’”

Finally, he reported that in Tibet, some people had been researching Mikyö Dorje’s response to the objections about the Nyingma and had written down some thoughts. This was excellent. The Karmapa concluded that it was important for everyone to work together to establish the truth of events in Tibetan history.

Day 7: Taking Adversity as the Path in Post-Meditation

April 2nd, 2022

For the seventh day of the Arya Kshema Spring Teachings, the Karmapa spoke about the fourteenth and fifteenth of the good deeds from the Autobiographical Verses Good Deeds by Mikyö Dorje. According to the outline from the commentary by the attendant, Sangye Paldrup, there were two parts to discuss regarding the meditation on relative bodhicitta:

  • Exchanging oneself for others in meditation.
  • Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation.

The Karmapa had completed the first part so now continued to discuss the second part: taking adversity as the path in post-meditation, which contained ten sub-topics. Of the ten sub-topics he had already spoken about the first three so would now embark upon the fourth and the fifth:

4. Taking pleasing words as the path.
5. Taking suffering as the path.

The Karmapa then read the fourteenth verse from the root text:

Virtuous acts and results done with the hope of a return,
Like speaking nicely hoping for sweet words, *
Cannot be for the sake of true enlightenment.
How is it possible to cling to virtue and its result as mine?
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (14)

After reading the verse, he stated that the second line of the verse contained the following note:

* In giving up deceiving others through craft and fraud, this lord seems to have shown us a necessary example.

This note indicated that some people believed there were spelling differences in the text that could affect the meaning, and that the line could read, “Like speaking nicely because of good words.”

The Karmapa commented about this in terms of modern life:

When people say they try to engage in right livelihood and right speech, they might be speaking nicely, but their main aim is to use flattery, obsequiousness, and various other methods for personal gain. When they act this way, they do not admit they have faults, but instead, pretend the faults are qualities, even explaining them as positive qualities. If they can prevent another person from doing wrong, instead of stopping them, they do not. They will not speak honestly, not wanting to offend them. Instead, they do not speak straightforwardly or honestly but cover up the faults as positive qualities, trying to save the other person’s reputation saying, “That spiritual friend speaks in a respectable way.” These people consider pseudo-virtuous speech as being the most important.

Basically, no one likes being criticized. In order not to be criticized, people praise others, hoping they will be praised too, and in return will not be criticized. These people also think the best way to be praised is to praise others, and then their merit being widely known everywhere.

Mikyö Dorje never spoke of anyone as being high or low, powerful, or wealthy, or having no power or wealth; he did not distinguish between people in that way. He did not speak about people having qualities they did not have, did not flatter them, and never had an ulterior selfish intent or harbored evil intentions. He did not have selfish thoughts at all. He never held hopes that things would turn out well in this lifetime, nor did he hold thoughts hoping for fame and praise. Mikyö Dorje thought pseudo-virtuous actions—things that were not virtuous but seemed virtuous—were meaningless and pointless.

In general, pseudo-virtue, such as doing virtue for the sake of fame in this life alone, is meaningless. Such intentions and actions will not lead to attaining the paths to the higher realms or liberation, because the aim does not consider future lifetimes but only this lifetime. Any action done only for this lifetime will not bring benefit for future lifetimes as it will never be of benefit for reaching omniscience or liberation. That is why Mikyö Dorje never thought them to be important or significant.

Many people came to see Mikyö Dorje. Many had connections with him so they wished the Karmapa would laud and praise them, spreading their fame so they could gain respect. They thought, “Maybe the Karmapa will compliment me and praise me.” But since he would not laud and praise others or spread their fame for the sake of gain and respect, they would get angry and spread rumors that would harm Mikyö Dorje’s reputation. This happened many times, but no matter how much they did this, Mikyö Dorje never paid much attention to it.

The Karmapa then reflected:

The Dharma says that when we are doing the worldly samadhi, you can go from the lower into the higher realms. When going from the lowest realm, the Desire realm, if you practice dhyana meditation, just before shifting to a higher realm, all the māras will gather to see how they can harm you, trying to prevent you from transcending to a higher realm by acting maliciously. But no matter how hard they try, you should only respond by rousing the samadhi of loving-kindness. You should always have love and not have any malicious thoughts.

If that is so for people doing worldly samadhi, then the bodhisattvas need an even vaster vision than that. Bodhisattvas wish to reach the state that dwells in neither saṃsāra nor nirvāṇa. They want to achieve the state of omniscience. Also, since bodhisattvas strive to liberate all sentient beings throughout space from suffering, there will be sentient beings who want to harm them. The bodhisattvas must have great loving kindness and especial compassion for them.

When you think about these points, consider the people in our society these days who have fallen into suffering. They mistake fake happiness for pleasure. They believe that high status, power, and wealth will bring happiness, but instead, the longing for these worldly concerns brings suffering because of not bringing pleasure. These people think that if they can persuade others to praise them and think well of them, they might find happiness, but it is only a fake happiness. When we think about this, we should have more compassion. This behavior is not something we should feel angry about.

Mikyö Dorje understood this. Whenever Mikyö Dorje spoke to other people, or when he would praise someone, he would always speak from a deep understanding. He would always consider whether this would bring benefit and happiness to all. Even when he made jokes or engaged in ordinary conversation, the way he spoke was different than how anyone else did. He spoke with weighty words. People would think, “Maybe I should write this down.”

When he pointed out the crucial points of practicing virtue and giving up misdeeds, or when he spoke about dharma, or worldly affairs, he was always making crucial points. When thinking about the meaning of right speech—one of the eight branches of the noble path—that meaning should be measured against Mikyö Dorje’s speech.

The main points in the fourteenth good deed can be summarized as: when we accumulate virtue, we should not expect a response.

Then the Karmapa expanded upon this summary by returning to the three main points from the outline sub-topics:

1. Complimenting others in order to be praised, cared about, or have people show their affection

Although this stanza was written long ago, it still applies to the present-day. Mikyö Dorje states that the aim of virtue is not for praise, for that is not true virtue. We should not praise others so that they will praise us or so we receive compliments.

The Karmapa gave four current examples:

These days many people wear stylish clothes when they go out—although monastics would not do this—but generally, when people go out, they will want to take a selfie of themselves, then look at how they can look the best after they take it. They do all sorts of things to make themselves look beautiful and make their body look good, even using a beauty app to look unbelievably attractive. When they are satisfied, they post their photo on social media and wait, hoping they will get likes. They hope and wait, having made completely artificial images of themselves, even though in reality, the person in the photo and the actual person are completely different. They do this so other people will like them, admire them, and then they can gain praises and compliments.

However, in Tibet, when older women would go to the Jokhang in Lhasa or meet their root guru, or when they would visit a sacred site or a retreat cave on a rocky mountain, they would dress in new clothes and wear them well. They would do this because they had great faith and devotion at sites such as the Jowo statue, or their root gurus. So they went to pay their respects, and dressed well to show their reverence to their faith, and as a result were excited and happy. They did not dress up and wear new clothes to gain praise from other people.

Also, if you are invited to go to a big celebration such as a wedding, award ceremony, or some other big event, you should wear clothes that are appropriate to the occasion, and that is good, for if you do not, it is not appropriate. But if you went to an orphanage or to made donations to the needy dressed up and made up, it might seem strange. Many celebrities, singers, and movie stars do believe in doing good work and help the poor because they have kind feelings for them. But it is possible that some are doing this to look better in society and improve their reputations. Are you doing this because you are looking for a response when accumulating virtue?

In terms of Buddhism, practitioners should not do virtuous actions for the sake of receiving praise so others can say, “They have great faith and devotion. They’ve studied this many texts. They’ve stayed this long in retreat.” In general, studying and staying in retreat are things we should rejoice in, but not if we expect people to praise us, take an interest in us, and pay attention to us. Accumulating virtue in that way doesn’t have much point.

The Karmapa said that when he was little in Tibet, many older people were illiterate. They didn’t have a broad understanding of the Dharma. But whenever they found time in their lives, they would not waste time, they would recite many mani mantras. They would recite several hundred million mani mantras for the sake of all sentient beings. They did this in a way that no one else could see. The way they accumulated merit is the actual way to accumulate merit.

Then the Karmapa said, “When we are acting virtuously, we absolutely must examine our motivation. What are our initial intentions? Is it a good way that benefits others, or are we acting to receive praise from others? If we have a mistaken motivation when we accumulate virtue, everyone, including ourselves and others, has been deceived by all these fake virtues.”

Some people might think that they must never accept praise from others when doing virtuous actions, but that is not what is being said here. When people have done something good or virtuous, they should not pretend that they do not want the praises or say they cannot accept them. The Kagyu forefathers said, “What happens automatically is a siddhi, so do not give it up.”

2. We should not do virtuous acts so that others will give us good things or a good reputation.

Mikyö Dorje said that we should not do a virtuous act so that people will praise us, or do it because we are hoping for results which will bring us benefit. Nor should we hope for such good results.

So why do we do virtuous acts? We do virtuous acts to gather the accumulations. But we must learn how virtuous acts should be done. If we have a lot of attachment to a good result and have a great expectation for a good return, then we will not be able to be virtuous.
When you practice virtue, that is a quality of the internal mind.

The Karmapa explained this further:

These days, many people have become very attracted only to external things. We only look at the outside. There has been such a great development in external things that we have been fooled by their attractiveness.

We have such strong imprints of external things that we see accumulating virtue as an external quality too, when actually it is internal. As a result, we hope the good result will come from the outside.

The Karmapa compared accumulating virtue to planting an apple tree: it depends on your motivation. If it is only because we want to eat the fruit, then what happens to our mental state waiting for the fruit to ripen so we can finally eat it? We are constantly looking outside to see if it will bring us the result—eating an apple. If we plant it because we like apple trees, and we plant it not in our own yard but in a public park, then one day when the fruit ripens, we can enjoy eating it and everyone else who goes to the park can enjoy the fruit too. We should then feel satisfied that everyone going to that park can enjoy its fruits and be happy. We should not think it is only for ourselves. We should practice like this. It is also important to remember that when we practice virtue, the result does not come immediately. You must believe that someday the fruit will ripen.

We should believe in karmic cause and result by thinking, “One day the result will ripen.” We shouldn’t be waiting expectantly for the result every day. We should not have the worldly thought that “I did something good for them, so they have no choice but to do something good for me in return. I wonder when they’ll do something good for me.” That is not accumulating virtue.

The Karmapa concluded, “That is the fourteenth of the good deeds.”

***

After the break, the Karmapa spoke about the fifteenth good deed. In terms of the outline, it was the fifth of the ten sub-points: Taking suffering as the path.

He then read the fifteenth good deed:

Unreasonable, intolerable, unbearable though they were,
The more I experienced karmic results,
The more I became convinced that what the Buddha taught is true.
I gained conviction in the importance of taking adversity as the path.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (15)

As the Karmapa had explained over the past several days, there were many unfounded accusations against Mikyö Dorje. People had responded inappropriately to his good actions. Even some of those whom he had trusted and relied upon deceived him. There were times when he had physical illnesses, or obstacles to his activity. No matter what adversity he faced or bad circumstances occurred, he never said, “I am the tulku. I am the reincarnation of the Karmapa. I’ll never turn away from the Three Jewels. My only intention is to benefit others. Everything I do accords with the Dharma, so when there is bad karma it is not right for such things to happen to me.” He would never say anything like that.

What Mikyö Dorje did say was, “From saṃsāra without beginning, we have harmed many sentient beings. We have harmed them in many ways and caused them various sufferings. This is the karmic ripening of that. This is the result of the connection between cause and effect, I can’t know it in its entirety right now. But even if I can’t know it in its entirety, but if I look at the words of the Bhagavān Buddha, this is how karmic cause and effect work. So then I think, this is how it is. I have certainty in this.”

Then the Karmapa spoke in more detail:

For someone who believes in the words of the Buddha and considers and respects his word—you will respect him. If you don’t respect him, you might think, “Oh, he knows something, but he does not know what’s going on for me.”

If you are born in a good Dharma lineage or are born with a mixture of mind and Dharma and really able to practice, for that sort of person, whether it is illness or suffering or adversity for that person, it does not become adversity. For that person these are excellent circumstances that bring us to do good actions. In adversity, there is a very great benefit in practicing the Dharma and feeling renunciation, so for that person there is great benefit. He then gave three examples of renunciation:

In Tibet, the greatest of all the mahāsiddhas was Milarepa. When Milarepa was little, he did sorcery and killed people, he accumulated great misdeeds. Once he had accumulated these misdeeds, there was nothing he could do to rectify them and make them good. But because of his courage and the way he thought, he thought about how the misdeeds he had done, the bad karma he had committed could become a favorable condition for benefiting someone, and that helped him develop courage and gave him the ability to endure the innumerable hardships that would come from the misdeeds he had accumulated.

Likewise, when Gampopa was a young man, he married, had a son and daughter, and lived as a householder. But then an epidemic arrived, and his children and wife died. Because of this difficulty, he wished for liberation from saṃsāra and to enter the gate of Dharma. Then he became the founder of the Dagpo Kagyu lineages.

When the glorious Dusum Khyenpa was around fifteen, there was a girl he loved but who left him. He got very angry and cast a spell that killed the person she loved. Because of that, he developed the wish for liberation and entered the gate of Dharma and practiced the Dharma.
The Karmapa then summarized:

Although there is no difference in experiencing suffering or adversity, the difference between great beings and ourselves is that great beings can turn adversity into a beneficial situation. They have the wisdom and courage to turn the adverse situation into something that will bring benefit to us.

When they experience suffering or adversity, ordinary people worry about losing their status, wealth, power, and renown in this lifetime. They have an attachment or aversion to the good things in this life and worry about losing them.

When someone thinks, “Oh I’m a Dharma practitioner,” does that person have an actual belief in karmic cause and effect? Probably not. Do they consider the subtle aspects of what should be done or refrained from? Do they refrain from the coarse actions they should refrain from?
Often people might exaggerate their abilities, but if someone says something slightly bad about them, or if there is suffering or illness, if a trusted person deceives them, or wealth is lost or stolen, or they must leave their home and all their belongings, their friends, and relatives, when that happens—some might say, “I’m really a Dharma practitioner and because of that people say terrible things about me. They’re staining my good name; I think I’d better leave.”

Their fear is that they will lose status in this lifetime. They have so much attachment to this life. The Karmapa compared them to Mikyö Dorje. His thinking was completely different. When Mikyö Dorje talked about sentient beings, he thought that because sentient beings were always under the control of their karma and afflictions, they were weak. They were weak because they were always harming each other in many ways to bring themselves happiness.

Sentient beings are like a cancer patient who has been diagnosed as a terminal case where no medicine, no remedy can be offered as a cure, and there is nothing more to be done. They are going to suffer. In the same way, sentient beings from the very beginning have experienced suffering, so they are similar to the patient the doctor has given up on.

Despite this, Mikyö Dorje looked upon these weak and sick sentient beings and felt an unbearable compassion for them. What were the signs for this unbearable compassion and what were the reasons for this?

Mikyö Dorje only lived to 48 years of age. He had many illnesses, many were very painful illnesses, yet he thought about his suffering like this, “All the suffering I have experienced is because of the ripening of the harm I caused many others in samsara without beginning.” No matter how much he suffered in his body, he became that much more careful about his actions of karmic cause and effect. Looking at the way he acted, considering what had happened for this person of the right capacity, the imprint still revealed he would have suffering.

What is important to consider here, what is the basis for suffering? What is the antidote? What are the best ways for ending this suffering? We can see all of this in the life of Mikyö Dorje.

Those who do not have this capacity would think, “If such suffering could happen to such a great being as Mikyö Dorje, all these physical problems he had, and the bad karma he had, it seems impossible it could happen. If he had such a hard time physically, then we need to do rituals taught in the sūtras and engage in repulsing bad circumstances.” They really did not understand Mikyö Dorje’s thought or actions. That is because the activity of the buddhas and bodhisattvas depends primarily on the students.

People have different levels of obscurations and misdeeds. When they see the activities of the guru, some people see them as good, or not so good, because people see things in different ways. This depends on their own karmic obscurations and attachments.

The Karmapa told the story of Maudgalyayana, a great śrāvaka disciple of the Buddha:
During the time of the Buddha, there were eight great disciples, the two most well-known were Śāriputra and Maudgalyayana. Śāriputra was the greatest in terms of prajña. Maudgalyayana was greatest with miracles and was the most powerful and strongest. But how did Maudgalyayana die? Some non-Buddhist Jain students beat Maudgalyayana and killed him. Although Maudgalyayana was the greatest with miracles, he was beaten to death. Why didn’t he show a miracle at that point? The Buddhist explanation is that in the past, Maudgalyayana had accumulated the karma of being beaten by others, so that the karma would ripen and have to be experienced. No one could stop it, not even the Buddha. When he was beaten, he completely forgot his miraculous powers, he forgot to do samadhi meditation, he forgot to show a miracle, because he could not even think about it. So even the śrāvaka Maudgalyayana could not stop the power of ripening karma.

Many things also happened with the Buddha. He suffered headaches and had thorns in his foot, he had troubles with his half-brother Devadatta. When we look at the examples of buddhas and bodhisattvas, the liberation stories of great beings, we see that there are different degrees of observation so that sentient beings would see great beings in different ways. When the Buddha appeared in India, not all people saw the Buddha as a good person. Some saw him as good, and some saw him as bad. The non-Buddhists did not see the Buddha as being good.

If even the Buddha was not seen as good by everyone, then if we want everyone to see us as well, that is asking too much. Everyone has their own karmic obscurations, their own imprints. Some have very thick imprints and some very thin imprints, so the way people see things are different.

Then the Karmapa summarized the meaning of the fifteenth good deed with the following five points.

1. Adversity and suffering are the results of bad karma accumulated from beginningless samsara, so we must believe in karmic cause and effect.

The essence of Buddhism is karmic cause and effect. We always talk about karmic cause and effect. Why do we experience adversity and sufferings in this life? They are the results of bad actions accumulated in the past. Not only the adversity and sufferings but even the pleasures, happiness, and reputation, the suffering and problems are all the results of our karma. Our karmic results are the effect of the actions we have done in the past.

2. This life has been suffering from the outset, and there is no fairness. Not only is this life not fair; it is the same situation in all lifetimes.

We normally think, “What’s the reason I have to suffer like this? Why am I being treated so scornfully? Why did my lover leave me? Why did my relative die? Why did I have to get such a horrible illness? Why did it happen to me and not to someone else? Why did I lose my job? Why do I have such great difficulty.…?”

We have these questions because we think that this life is not fair so we conclude, “Life is not right, life is not fair.Some people become rich and some become beggars. I have only done good things, yet all this is happening to me…” This means we do not understand the nature of saṃsāra; we do not have a deep belief in karmic cause and effect.

Where do suffering and unhappiness come from? The experiences of suffering and unhappiness are results of the bad karma we have accumulated in the past— this could be yesterday, or a previous lifetime, anything from before. Most of our karma was accumulated in previous lifetimes. We have had many previous lives. We can’t even calculate which was the first. If we have had innumerable previous lifetimes, the karmas we have accumulated in those previous lifetimes must also be immeasurable. When we think that life is not fair, if we thought about the situations from our many previous lifetimes, it might be possible to think, “there is nothing fairer than this.” This is what we mean by karmic cause and effect. There is nothing truer than karmic cause and effect.

3. Suffering and obstacles occur even for beings such as the Buddha and the Karmapa.

What are the limits of the fairness and rightness of karmic cause and effect? The various incarnations of the Karmapa and even the Bhagavān Buddha also experienced suffering. The foundational vehicle said that the Buddha’s body was the aggregate of suffering. The Theravada said the Buddha’s body was the truth of suffering, meaning that these beings could experience suffering, and encounter unhappiness, obstacles, and adversity.

With the various Karmapas, the amount of adversity and hardship they experienced was more frequent and greater than most ordinary people had. They were caught in the middle of innumerable conflicts, obstacles, and political, environmental, and sectarian pressures that ordinary people could not comprehend.

Yet the Karmapas never felt unable to continue taking steps forward or wanted to give up. They had courage and prajña unlike anyone else, so they were able to keep moving forward. They did not see this life as being unfair. They never doubted karmic cause and effect—that all the difficulties and suffering they experienced now were the result of bad karma from the past. They were certain that karmic cause and effect was fair, right, and true. With that courage, no matter what bad event occurred, from deep within, they were able to accept it and forbear it. They never gave up on the path ahead or even wavered the slightest in their loving kindness toward others and their faith and belief in the Three Jewels.

The previous Karmapas viewed adversity and difficulty differently. They never blamed, accused, or held grudges against anyone even if people threatened their lives, because these people did not understand the bad karma they are committing and did not know the terrifying karma awaiting them in the future. The Karmapas had even more love and compassion for these people who were controlled by their karma and afflictions. When people harmed or blamed the Karmapas, the Karmapas never even got annoyed. The adversity created by these people became a cause for love the other and increasing their bodhicitta.

Among the different incarnations of the Karmapa, some appeared rather wrathful and short-tempered. Looking from the outside, they seemed to have strict or untamed characters. But in actuality, they were like a loving mother with a bit of a temper. Their external appearance was like a mother worried about their children going down a mistaken path, so she would get angry and scold them.

The Karmapa extended the analogy further by describing how the bodhisattvas like Subhuti and Mañjuśrī, were called “youthful” because they had childlike characters that were uncontrived and clean and could not be as complicated as adults, so the Karmapas who appeared rather angry were like these children on the inside.

There were also Karmapas with peaceful characters. They were all like mothers with loving and gentle characters who, no matter how many mistakes their children made, loved them all the more. Wrathful or peaceful, the Karmapas had the same aims.

There is no one who has not encountered suffering and difficulties.

If we do not believe in karmic cause and effect, we will see this life as unfair. But if we think in detail, if we don’t believe in karmic cause and effect at all, then how would we accomplish anything at all? We all have a certain degree of belief in karmic cause and effect. Why do farmers plant fields? If they did not believe it would bring a crop, they would not plant. Will the effort we make now produce a result? We do things with expectations and hopes. If we did not, is it possible that we would work for anything? Without karmic cause and effect, there would be no hope or reward from anything we do. However, sometimes “past and future lives” stretches into such a long time, and since we do not remember the events of past lives, we wonder why things happen to us now.

When we teach the presentation of suffering in the Four Noble Truths, it says that while we are in saṃsāra, there is only suffering, and not even an instant of pleasure. The Buddhist texts talk about many different types of suffering, coarse and subtle, but in our lives the sufferings we experience, such as the eight types of suffering, occur simply because we are in saṃsāra. They will happen to us. No matter how much we try to avoid them, we cannot stop them. That is why we practice the Dharma. That is why we try to reach liberation. If there were no suffering in saṃsāra and there were happiness, why would we have to practice Dharma? Why would we seek liberation? Human life and saṃsāra are suffering from the beginning; it is not only when we experience pain and adversity that we experience suffering.

4. Whenever we have bad or good situations, it depends on the mind.

When difficulties, sufferings, and adversities occur in our lives, the most crucial point is that they depend on how we look at them. When we analyze a hardship or suffering, it depends on how the mind thinks about the situation.

When adversity and obstacles arise, the pessimist will say, “Why is this happening to me? Why am I being blamed?” and feel unfairly treated. The optimist will say, “This life is the karmic result of the previous lives. This is a test in this life. It’s giving me real training. It’s an opportunity for me to purify my karma from the past.”

There are many situations where, if we only think about them for this lifetime, they seem huge, but when we think about them in terms of many lifetimes, the situations may seem tiny among all the previous situations faced.

Whether the situation is good or bad primarily depends on the way you think, and the way you view it. For that reason, you have to take care of your mind. You have to gain control over your mind. You must take interest in paying attention to how you think about things. The root of everything comes down to mind.

5. When adversity occurs, we can accumulate vast merit.

When adversity occurs or we are in the hardest point of our lives, we need to understand that it is like being at the bottom of a ravine, and this is the best time to accumulate merit. “Merit” is like water rushing down a ravine that needs to flow to lower ground, so that is the best point to gather the accumulation of merit.

We need to carefully consider how we accumulate merit and not miss that opportunity:
When we have adversity, we need to recognize that it is the best opportunity to gather the accumulations to purify obscurations.

When someone causes us harm, we must not harbor malicious thoughts toward the other but keep a benevolent motivation. This will multiply our merit exponentially.

When we have adversity, it is an incredible opportunity to train our minds. As the Kadampa Geshe Langri Tangpa said, “Adversity is a spiritual friend.” An authentic spiritual friend or lama means someone who can change or improve your mind.

If you’re a soldier, the best training is having had actual experience in battle. If you have only experienced mock exercises in training, it’s completely different from fighting in battle with experience. If we are always having good times, anyone can look like a good dharma practitioner.

Hardships let you know if you have faith in the Three Jewels and the gurus. When we encounter adversity, we know whether we believe in karmic cause and effect and that is when we know we have faith in the Three Jewels and the gurus.

The crucial point is when we are on our deathbeds breathing our last. We need to remember that this is the time when there is nothing else to do but to entrust ourselves to the Three Jewels and the gurus. At that time, faith and belief will make us able to face up to all the terrors and suffering, so we need to do the preparations for that now.

The times when adversity occur are the best times for us to improve our practice. It is important not to let the adversity pass us by. We do not have to go look for it, because the day will come, and when it arrives, we should not miss the opportunity. It is better if we do not have adversity and suffer, but we should be prepared and not immediately panic or lose courage. We need to have more courage, and counsel ourselves and not miss that opportunity. This is very important.

The difference between the great beings and us is whenever they have suffering and problems. The great beings often have greater adversities because they have vaster greater activities. The biggest difference is that when difficulties come, they rise to the difficulty, and they move forward. When we have adversity, we need to learn how to stand up and move forward too. That is why we need to study the great beings and look at their liberation stories.

The Gyalwang Karmapa then said the teaching itself had come to an end. But now, he had a transmission he wanted to give to everyone.

He then mused about how all the great beings had great dreams and signs and he thought he had never had these signs, but that this never happened to him. Then one night in 2019, he had a dream where he met Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche. In the dream, the Karmapa was making a long-life offering to Rinpoche and was reciting a long-life prayer he had written. Since this was a connection that didn’t usually happen, he felt great amazement. He remembered a good deal of the long-life prayer and wrote it down. He said, “Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche is one of the greatest lamas who, through his kindness, has always done whatever he can for the teachings of the Kagyu monasteries.”

The Karmapa recalled that many lamas had already passed away: Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche passed away at a young age; Tengyur Rinpoche passed away; many of the other old lamas have passed away; Khenpo Tsultrim Rinpoche was not in good health. However, Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche was still performing his activities and giving teachings. Everyone should rejoice in such a good situation, since Rinpoche is very elderly, a great being, and like a great treasure. The Karmapa asked that we make the aspiration, “Please stay as long as there are sentient beings.”

He also said he included this long-life prayer with all the prayers for sentient beings he made, and among them, he made long-life prayers for the Dalai Lama daily, long-life prayers for the heart sons, and all the great beings of the Karma Kagyu. He recited these daily because, “If these great beings can stay, there will be good times, and that would be very good. If they do not live, we will experience suffering. For this reason we should recite this long-life prayer for Thrangu Rinpoche.”

The Gyalwang Karmapa recited the long-life prayer for Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche, and the translations were recited by the translators. The teaching concluded with the closing prayers.

A Prayer for the Long Life of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

ཟག་མེད་ཡེ་ཤེས་དམ་པའི་བདུད་རྩི་ནི། །
sak me ye she dam pay dü tsi ni
Between your hands united in equipoise,

འཆི་མེད་ཚེ་ཡི་བུམ་པར་འཁྱིལ་བའི་མཛོད། །
chi me tse yi bum par khyil way dzö
You hold the vase of deathlessness that collects

མཉམ་ཉིད་ཟུང་འཇུག་ཕྱག་གིས་ལེགས་འཛིན་པ། །
nyam nyi sung juk chak gi lek dzin pa
The nectar of the highest undefiled wisdom.

ཚེ་དབང་འོད་དཔག་མེད་པས་དགེ་ལེགས་སྩོལ། །
tse wang ö pak me pé ge lek tsöl
Lord of life Amitayus, grant auspiciousness.

འཇིགས་མེད་ལྟ་བའི་གད་རྒྱངས་ཆེར་སྒྲོགས་ཤིང་། །
jik me ta way ge gyang cher drok shing
Far and wide you sound the roar of fearless view.

ལུང་རྟོགས་ཆོས་ཀྱི་གཡུ་རལ་སྲིད་རྩེར་འབར། །
lung tok chö kyi yu ral si tser bar
Up to the Peak of Existence blazes your turquoise mane
Of the dharma of scripture and realization.

མཁས་བཙུན་གྲུབ་པའི་ལུས་སྟོབས་ཡོངས་རྫོགས་པ། །
khe tsün drup pay lü top yong dzok pa
You have perfected the physical strength
Of being learned, venerable, and accomplished.

སྨྲ་བའི་སེང་གེ་ཁྱེད་ཉིད་འཚོ་གཞེས་གསོལ། །
ma way seng ge khye nyi tso she söl
Lion of Speech, I ask you to live long.

རྒྱལ་དང་རྒྱལ་སྲས་ཐུ་བོ་ཆེ་རྣམས་དང་། །
gyal dang gyal se tu wo che nam dang
By the power of the victors, of their foremost offspring,

ལྷ་དང་དྲང་སྲོང་གྲུབ་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་མཐུ། །
lha dang drang song drup pa nam kyi tu
Of gods and sages and siddhas, and by the strength

བདག་གི་ལྷག་བསམ་དགེ་བའི་བདེན་སྟོབས་ཀྱིས། །
dak gi lhak sam ge way den top kyi
Of the truth of my pure intentions, may my prayer

ཇི་བཞིན་སྨོན་པ་གེགས་མེད་འགྲུབ་གྱུར་ཅིག །
ji shin mön pa gek me drup gyur chik
Be accomplished without any obstacles.

བསྟན་པ་ཡོངས་རྫོགས་ཀྱི་དགེ་བའི་བཤེས་གཉེན་བཀའ་དྲིན་མཉམ་མེད་སྐྱབས་རྗེ་ཁྲ་འགུ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་སྐུ་ཚེ་ཡུན་བརྟན་གྱི་སྨོན་ལམ་འདི་ཉིན་ཤས་གོང་གཉིད་ཀྱི་འཁྲུལ་སྣང་དུ་སྐྱབས་རྗེ་རིན་པོ་ཆེར་བརྟན་བཞུགས་ཕུལ་བ་དང་། ཞབས་བརྟན་འདི་ལྟར་བྱས་པ་རྨིས། གཉིད་སད་ཚེ་ད་དུང་ཚིག་འགའ་དྲན་བཞིན་འདུག་པས། སྙིགས་མའི་དུས་འདིར་སྐྱབས་གནས་འདི་ལྟ་བུ་ཡུན་དུ་བཞུགས་ན་བསྟན་འགྲོར་སྨན་ཡོན་ཆེ་བར་བསམ་ནས། ཨོ་རྒྱན་ཕྲིན་ལས་སུ་འབོད་པའི་སློབ་འབངས་བདག་གིས་སྨོན་པའོ། །2019 8 29

This prayer for the long life Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche, the incomparably kind spiritual master of the teachings in their entirety, came a few days ago in the confused appearances of sleep. I dreamt that I was making a long life offering to Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche and praying like this for his long life. When I woke up, still I remembered a few words. Thinking that in this degenerate time, a source of refuge like him living long would be beneficial for the teachings and beings, I, his student and servant Ogyen Trinley, wrote this prayer. August 29, 2019. English translation by David Karma Choephel, September, 2019.

Day 8: The Path is Paved with Good Intentions

April 4th, 2022

On the eighth day of the Arya Kshema Spring Teachings, His Holiness began with the sixteenth of the good deeds from Mikyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds.” Continuing under the sub-section “Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation”, according to the commentary by Sangye Paldrup, this stanza addresses the sixth of ten topics: “Taking the benefit and happiness of good intentions as the path”.

How could I bring all beings throughout space
The inferior and provisional benefits
And pleasures of existence and peace instead
Of the benefit of true enlightenment?
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

His Holiness noted discrepancies in both the root verse and the commentary between the versions obtained from the Drepung library (published by Vajra Vidya Institute, Varanasi) and the Potala palace, which may be examined and compared in the future.

Our actions need to have a good intention – the pure, altruistic intention of Buddhahood
His Holiness explained: “If we are unable to dredge the depths of samsara and bring all sentient beings to the level of unexcelled buddhahood, even if we bring them to achieve the temporary pleasures of gods and humans or, even better than that, the levels of listener arhats and pratyekabuddhas, even that alone does not fulfill the intent of bodhisattvas, who have extremely great courage…” Karmapa Mikyö Dorje had the equivalent resolve of bodhicitta and courage as Avalokiteshvara and thus his greatest quality was his vast pure intentions.

The Kadampa Geshe Tömpa said of his lama Atisha, “Atisha did not praise the listeners and pratyekabuddhas that highly”. Similarly, Mikyö Dorje didn’t see much point in sentient beings achieving temporary happiness. Instead, he saw these beings as deserving compassion. People may view the short-term gain of resources, wealth, and pleasures as good in their own minds, but from the perspective of one who sees the nature of samsara, their situation is still suffering by nature. They are still under the control of karma and afflictions and hence deserve compassion and genuine affection.

In Tibetan society during Mikyö Dorje’s lifetime, many people may have considered themselves benevolent, thinking about helping others. Some might consider preventing the loss of people’s physical well-being, health, possessions, and power to be very important, and would give as much aid as they could in those areas. Meanwhile, some might consider benefiting the Sangha to be important, but would focus on the short-term needs of food and clothing, using their lives to look for sponsors for monks and nuns within monasteries. Others might consider avoiding the sufferings of the lower realms in future lives to be important, and would devote themselves to protecting the lives of sentient beings, particularly animals through life releases, criticizing those who work for the sake of the teachings as lacking love and affection, “They eat meat; they drink their blood”.

And yet other people might consider the longer-term liberation of sentient beings to be important. “Samsara is just suffering by nature. The sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death are extremely terrifying and their cause comes from our minds. If we can stop the stream of conceptions and thoughts, then we can stop the accumulation of karma and its subsequent ripening. So if we can stop thoughts, we can stop the continuum of birth”, they thought. “What we need to do to stop thoughts would be to realize some pitch-black emptiness and meditate on that”. They’d go to some unpopulated empty valley and meditate on some limited blank nothingness, like the emptiness of pillars or jugs. Then they’d get others to meditate on limited emptiness too, and would say they were transmitting dharma, ripening and liberating others, bringing them to omniscience. At that time in Tibet, there were many such people who said they had pure intentions for the teachings and sentient beings in the long-term, acting in such ways.

However, Mikyö Dorje believed all sentient beings must be brought to complete liberation and omniscience and would do whatever needed to be done, would sacrifice whatever needed to be sacrificed, to achieve this. He was not satisfied with only the partial pleasures and riches of samsara and nirvana, nor was he satisfied with the partial liberation of a limited nirvana. If we are attached to mere temporary pleasures and wealth, and consider these to be important, it impedes us from attaining great enlightenment. There is also the danger that we could do unvirtuous things for the sake of this temporary human life, and then be cast back down into samsara and the lower realms. For these reasons, if Mikyö Dorje saw a situation that could bring beings to omniscience and liberation, he would take the opportunity. Yet seemingly good actions that only look virtuous on the outside, he would not do.

Some people criticized Mikyö Dorje, “Your ideas are too limited. If embraced by the Mahayana resolve of bodhicitta and dedications, whatever virtue you do becomes a cause of great enlightenment. So you should consider the temporary benefit of giving food, clothing, and so forth to be important and a possible cause of great enlightenment and omniscience”. In one aspect it’s true: There are distant causes and direct, substantial causes of omniscience, His Holiness commented. However there is no certainly that actions that are distant causes will lead to enlightenment and they can actually obstruct working at the direct causes. If you are a bodhisattva who is not skilled in means, focussing on the distant causes may adversely affect the activity of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. For example, a skilled doctor with experience and intelligence will not give a patient alcohol, no matter how thirsty they may be. Instead, a skilled doctor who understands causes and conditions will give something genuinely beneficial.

His Holiness summarized the main point of this stanza: “In our lives, whatever action or task we are doing, we need to have a good intention – the pure altruistic intention of achieving the level of buddhahood”. Within that we need to understand three points: (1) what is meant by benefiting others, or altruism, (2) what is meant by a pure intention, and (3) what is a quality or standard of a virtue, as opposed to a pseudo-virtue.

Altruism is practicing the dharma, so others achieve liberation and Buddhahood

Altruism is the aspiration to help things turn out well for other people. Firstly, we need to understand what is good and not good for others. However, people employ their own criteria according to their own ideas. For example, money, a long and healthy life, fame, self-actualized empowerment, becoming a god or sage, or any combination of these may be alternatively valued as good by different people. Moreover, what one person considers ‘good’, others do not necessarily view likewise, creating potential discord. In addition, our own ideas may change over our lives; what we deem important when we are young may differ as we grow older, and this may further change when we are elderly. Once we achieve our wishes, they may again shift in turn. We cannot identify ultimate good.

In Buddhist terms, is it best to liberate beings from the lower realms? Or to liberate them from samsara? To help we must know what is best for others, before we can bring about that good. Our own opinions are not necessarily correct. Thus we need to take a humble approach and consult those who have greater prajna and experience than we do. His Holiness stressed that we can look to the Bhagavan Buddha and the dharma he taught. The instructions on what to do and what not to do have been passed down from the Bhagavan Buddha to our guru or our spiritual friend, from whom we can take advice.

The Buddha had the prajna of realizing the nature of the world. He said that what is most beneficial for ourselves and others is the dharma, and therefore we need to practice it. The Buddha explained that the reason for practicing dharma is to achieve liberation or the level of Buddhahood. Therefore, if we believe in the Buddha, the greatest benefit for ourselves and others is to follow this advice and develop certainty about this within ourselves. If achieving liberation and omniscience is the ultimate aim and greatest benefit, then implicitly what this teaches is that ways of helping and doing good that do not have this aim are not the best ways to help others, nor are they the ultimate benefit and happiness. Altruism is practicing the dharma, so others achieve liberation and Buddhahood. This is not a case of ordinary people discussing and debating what’s best; it is what the Buddha taught.

A pure, excellent intention should focus 100% on benefiting others

When we say “a pure, excellent intention,” whatever action we may be doing should not be for our own self-interest and should focus 100% on benefiting others. We should think “what can I do to help this sentient being”? If we do not understand the importance of a pure, excellent intention, something might seem virtuous from the outside, but in actuality may not become a virtuous or beneficial activity.

For example, if we perform a life release for an ox, is this task virtuous or not? Outwardly, it appears to be a virtuous action, but action alone does not indicate virtue. When we release the ox, in addition to the external manifestations of the action, there is the internal motivation and intention. Although others can bear witness to the external manifestations of our body and speech, we alone are privy to our own motivation, so there is a great danger of ignoring this aspect. Motivation and intention are actually more important than physical and verbal actions.

Why do we want to release the ox? This can only be answered by our motivation and intention. Body and speech are merely the tools we use to accomplish our intentions, which are in charge. Similarly, if you are struck by a car, you’re not going to ask the car (a tool) why it hit you; you ask the driver who is in charge. So examine your motivation. What is the purpose of saving the ox’s life? Are you thinking about this particular ox? Is it out of love? Are you thinking “It wouldn’t be right if this ox dies”? If instead you are trying to show off, so that others perceive you as a good person and a good dharma practitioner, your virtuous action becomes a “pseudo-virtue” due to the motivation.

We need to accomplish virtues that are quality and meet a standard

Although the actions of our body and speech may be identical, whether the result is a virtue or a pseudo-virtue depends on our motivation and the level of the action. Motivation includes the causal motivation and the immediate motivation. The causal motivation is our aim when we first think about doing the action, while the immediate motivation is our thinking while we do the action. In contemporary language, the level of the action is the quality and the quantity of the action.

The quality, or authenticity, will depend upon our motivation and aim. Pure, excellent intentions relate to clear, stable, causal motivations. Are we performing the action to make someone else rich and powerful, or to bring them to higher states and true excellence? Or to bring them to buddhahood? The aim must be unequivocal in our minds to achieve results.

As dharma practitioners, there are many different things that we need to do. But there is just one ultimate aim: achieving the state of Buddhahood. When you die, you exchange your body for the next life, but you don’t exchange your consciousness – it continues. Therefore, you need to make your consciousness meaningful. The essential purpose for your consciousness is to transcend birth and death and reach liberation and achieve the level of buddhahood.

Stable aims lead to perfect results

His Holiness told a story of a Chinese Zen master and his students, who in the olden days had independent lives and lived off their own means, growing their own food. One day, the master brought his students to plant rice. Each rice seedling must be planted individually in the paddy, in straight rows. After planting, the students’ rice was crooked: some seedlings were in front, others behind, and the rows went this way and that. Meanwhile the master’s rice was planted in a perfectly straight line.

The students wondered about this, and asked the master, “How could you plant rice in such an incredibly straight line? Our rice doesn’t look like that”.

The master started to laugh, “It’s really easy! When you’re planting the rice seedlings, you need to pick a reference point, and focus unwaveringly on that one thing as a target, drawing a path from there. Plant the rice seedlings along that path toward the target”.

The students thought “OK!” and continued planting. After more rows were planted the students noticed another problem: now their rows of rice seedlings curved in arcs and meandered.
The master noticed and asked the students, “How did this happen?”

The students replied, “Oh master! You said to focus on a reference point. There was an ox in the distance, so we used that as the target for planting the rice.”

The master scolded, “You students do not understand! The ox is going to move here and there. When the ox moved, your target moved and consequently the rows of rice arced. The target reference point wasn’t stable. You need to focus on something unmoving and stable.”

The students noticed a big tree and focused on that for their measure, once again planting the seedlings. Finally, their rows of rice became perfectly straight, like the master’s.

Similarly, our own aims need to be not only clear, but also stable and unwavering. If we don’t have a stable aim then sometimes we may be performing virtue, sometimes non-virtue, sometimes pseudovirtue.

We also need pure, excellent intentions. We should have the clear intention of devoting ourselves 100% to the benefit of others in a way that is unconnected with our own individual needs and self-interest. If the deed is connected with our own benefit, even a little, it is not pure. We also need to ask ourselves whether this is really and truly beneficial to that other being. Of course, this is very difficult to achieve, so we do as much as we can. Even if we can’t have a pure, altruistic intention, we should go more than half-way to benefit others, thinking that others’ needs are more important than our own. That’s the causal motivation. Then we need to evaluate our assiduousness, precision, and interest while performing the action. This indicates our immediate motivation.

Thus the crucial point determining the level of quality in our actions comes down to motivation. When great masters of the past taught, studied dharma, recited prayers and texts, or performed other activities, they would fix the intention to have a high-quality, virtuous motivation – and we need to do likewise.

The quantity of the action depends upon our minds, not external things

The quantity of action refers to the extensiveness or vastness or frequency of the actions that we do. Does this mean that a person should do a life release every day for their entire lives? Not necessarily so. The reason is that the extent or quantity of the virtue does not solely refer to the external appearance. It also refers to the level of the action’s quality, the extent of the interest and assiduousness while you do the action, and how much you are thinking about the action. There is also the effect of the action, the results to which the action leads, and so forth. Merely doing as many life releases as you can is not necessarily a great and vast virtuous action.

These days, the economic situation has improved to a certain degree in Tibet. People have money, so they are spending it on beautiful offerings and rituals, smoke offerings, prayer flags and so forth in vast quantities. They put up so many prayer flags that, in the end, they befoul the earth and water and pollute the environment. This can even cause animals to get caught in prayer flags and die. His Holiness expressed that he doesn’t think that our ancestors were unable to make such huge offerings because they did not have as much money as we do today. Rather, our ancestors had a level of pure faith, outlook and belief which we don’t possess. Today, the external quantity of offerings may be huge in terms of numbers. But is it virtuous? We need to examine our minds. Is our motivation empty inside? It’s not how much money we may have spent; it’s how much sacrifice we are making mentally, and how much generosity we have that matters when gathering the accumulations. When the Buddha spent six years practicing austerities and then sat beneath the bodhi tree, what did he possess? Nothing at all, not even food or drink. It’s important to consider how the Buddha gathered the accumulations. The quantity of the action therefore does not depend on external things; it primarily depends upon our own minds.

Likewise, there are various ways of acting virtuously for different kinds of beings in accordance with the time and place. We should not cling to a single virtuous action or type of virtue due to tradition, then disregard or belittle other types of virtue. It is important for us to use various methods to benefit beings and to work from all directions to increase our virtue.

We can use nutrition as an example: it is important to balance the quantities and combinations of different types of nutrients. Legumes and tofu are a good source of protein and are helpful for providing calcium and vitamins. But, even though beneficial, if we only eat legumes, there is the danger of worsening rheumatism and aggravating gout. Thus we need to eat various types of foods, and not eat too much of any one kind. Similarly, when we work to do virtuous things that benefit others, we should not be too attached to only one method or only one class of virtuous actions. We need to do what is most beneficial and has the greatest effect, using our intelligence to be creative and examine before relaxing our mind and performing the action. Thus when we perform virtuous actions, we must examine things well with our prajna.

Taking actions from good intentions as the path

According to the commentary, the next stanza of the root text addresses the seventh of ten topics, taking actions from good intentions as the path:

To gain enlightenment to benefit oneself and others,
One must leave self-disparagement, despair,
Anxiety, and weariness far behind
And strengthen one’s unstoppable diligence.
How could I, in this life, let my practice fluctuate?
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (17)

During Mikyö Dorje’s time, most people who professed to have love and unbearable compassion would first study the scriptures from the sutra tradition. They’d spend a few decades studying basic logic and debate. Then they’d study the tantric tradition and spend a few years on rituals for the deceased, such as the wrathful and peaceful deities and Amitabha, and not the profound meaning of the tantras – merely rituals for offerings that would support their food. At some point, they’d say, “I’ve done some dharma practice and have internalized the meaning” and then go off to spend a few years in mountain retreat. They would forget their earlier debate logic and most of the rituals, becoming cocky, believing themselves to have a certain degree of experience, with prajna welling forth, and begin to teach dharma. That which we should do and not do is clearly taught in the scriptures on the stages of the path for the three types of individuals. However, instead, they would downplay the Buddha’s words as expedient and not definitive meaning, teaching whatever they want as the guru’s pith instructions for achieving realization. To gain fame, reputation, and pleasure they would engage in teaching and debating.

Or some might think, “I can’t do work like teaching, debating or writing. Either someone will kill me or I’ll die naturally before I finish all that work! There’s no point in doing it”. So instead of doing all that work, they would go someplace where they could get all the food, clothing and conversation they might want. They would go where a few women would sponsor them, believing “I’m doing great things for the vast benefit of others”, while generally doing neutral or even unvirtuous activities. Others would think they had a nice life, “This lama has a way of doing good deeds. Maybe it would be great if I were like that?” And so, more people would be attracted, and a large gathering of students would be assembled.

Mikyö Dorje didn’t think such people were important, didn’t aspire to be like them, nor was he swayed nor influenced by them. Mikyö Dorje performed his activity so that if something might cause harm instead of benefiting others, he would stop such actions, as they are not virtue. Consequently, the people had faith in him. As indicated in Mikyö Dorje’s own One Hundred Short Instructions, he didn’t consider pseudo-virtues to be important and significant:

At root, it is best to benefit sentient beings directly. If you cannot, then focus on the benefit of sentient beings indirectly. Begin by not harming sentient beings, and do whatever you can to teach dharma, contemplate dharma, meditate on dharma, gather monks, sustain monasteries, and build stupas and statues. All your intentions and actions to increase merit will become causes of great enlightenment. If you do not have intentions that focus on the benefit of sentient beings or if you do but in your actions harm sentient beings, all your listening, contemplating and meditating on the dharma and seeming accumulation of merit will not be causes of buddhahood, and they would be brought there by mere luck.

We must examine ourselves to evaluate whether we are practicing the dharma in a true way or not. This reminded His Holiness of a story about Jetsun Milarepa, deferring the remaining discussion of the 17th good deed to the future.

The example of Milarepa

Before his passing, Jetsun Milarepa left a will and testament with his students. He didn’t have important or sacred things, merely a staff of aurura wood, a hat, and a cotton robe which he sent to Gampopa as mementos. There was another staff and another cotton robe which he sent to Rechungpa. He only had these few things which he left to his important students. He didn’t have a computer, or an iPhone, or many things as we do today.

However, Milarepa said something strange, “I’ve kept a little bit of gold. Behind my retreat hut there’s a little spot in the wall – I’ve hidden it there. After I’ve died, get that gold and divide it amongst yourselves”.

When he said this, his students thought, “Milarepa said he had gold! We never thought Milarepa had gold. He must have some gold… maybe his sponsors gave him some”. Others thought, “How can a lama like Milarepa have gold? Don’t say such ridiculous things”.

After Milarepa passed away, his students got together and did what Milarepa said – they went to look for the gold behind the retreat hut. When they went behind the hut, there really was something hidden there. There was a bundle of tied-up cloth. And so the students took it out. They opened it up where everyone could see.

When they opened up the bundle, there was no gold.

There were three lumps of jaggery, a letter, and a knife in a square of white cloth.

When students saw this, they exclaimed, “Milarepa said he had gold! Where’s the gold? We’d better look at the letter…”

The letter read, “Take these cubes of sugar, cut them with this knife into little pieces, and give a piece to everyone who is here. Then cut this square of cloth into little pieces, until the cloth is all used up, and give a piece to everyone present.

“I think there’re a few people who said that Milarepa has gold,” the letter continued.
“Tell them to eat shit”.

This was a few days after Milarepa had passed and everyone was grief-stricken. When they heard “Eat shit”, they burst into laughter.

We think of Milarepa as a great master who practiced the dharma purely, undergoing many hardships. He’s a better person than we are, so we think he’s probably very serious. But actually Milarepa was very relaxed. He enjoyed himself. Even after he had been poisoned and was in physical pain, he was still enjoying himself – right up until the time that he died. He still played jokes, to lighten things up for the people left behind.

Another aspect to consider: Milarepa was testing his students. Usually, Milarepa had absolutely no attachment or desire for worldly things. However, some of his students heard “Gold!” and became suspicious. However there was no gold.

Mila was completely fine if there was gold or no gold. This is an example that we should think about. What are the most important things in our lives? We really need to consider this.

Day 9: Taking Acting Upon Good Intentions as the Path

April 8th, 2022

His Holiness began the ninth day of the Arya Kshema Spring teachings with an explanation on the seventeenth good deed from Mikyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds.”

According to the outline from the commentary by the attendant Sangye Paldrup, the passage on meditating on relative bodhicitta has two parts:

(a) Exchanging oneself for others in meditation
(b) Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation

The second part has ten different sub-topics, and we have arrived at the seventh—taking acting upon good intentions as the path.

The stanza reads:

To gain enlightenment to benefit oneself and others,
One must leave self-disparagement, despair,
Anxiety, and weariness far behind
And strengthen one’s unstoppable diligence.
How could I, in this life, let my practice fluctuate?
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

Returning to Milarepa

Before explaining this stanza, His Holiness elaborated on the story of Milarepa from the previous teaching. He explained that although there are many liberation stories of Milarepa, the most well-known one written by Tsangnyön Heruka, the oldest and one of the best sources is The Twelve Great Students, prepared by twelve of his great disciples. He added that there was also one called the Black Treasury, compiled by the third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje.

When Milarepa passed away, he told his students, “I don’t have many important possessions to give away. Please give this black aloeswood staff, cloth hat, and piece of cloth to the Physician from Dakpo (Gampopa). If Rechungpa arrives on time, please give him these, and if he does not arrive, send him this walking stick and piece of cloth.” The flint and steel that Milarepa had used to light fires was reserved for Drigom Repa, and his tattered pandita hat was for Seben Repa. He also instructed his students to cut the cotton robe that he wore himself into pieces, and to give a bit to each of the repa.

Milarepa then explained, “These are not of great monetary value, but they will bring each of you siddhis (accomplishments). Now, I do have a little bit of gold that I have saved up. I’ve hidden it in the back wall of my retreat hut, so after I’ve passed away, you should take it out and distribute the gold amongst all of the students.”

There were various opinions regarding this, Karmapa elaborated. Some suspected that Milarepa must have had a lot of gold. Others exclaimed, “How could Milarepa have gold? He didn’t even have clothes that covered his entire body. Don’t listen to what others say; doing so will just end up in committing misdeeds.” Later on, when the disciples gathered together to look for the gold, they found something wrapped up in cotton fabric. They opened it up and instead of gold, there were three pieces of jaggery [unrefined cane sugar], a letter from Milarepa himself, and a special multipurpose flint that could also be used as a knife, spoon, fork, and awl.

Karmapa then showed us pictures of a flint and jaggery. He explained that a flint was necessary while traveling, but later became used as an ornament. The lumps of jaggery were of a hemispherical shape, as depicted in the image shown.

When the students read the letter, it said, “Cut the jaggery with the knife and there will be enough for everyone. Cut this square cloth with the knife and distribute it; the cloth will not run out until there are no more people. There may have been people who said that I, Milarepa, had gold; so stuff their mouths with shit.”

Everyone had been grieving and sorrowful after Milarepa’s passing, but at that moment everyone laughed at the funny joke and felt lighter, pointed out Karmapa. After they finished the rituals for his passing away, all the students and sponsors gathered and divided the jaggery and cloth as instructed.

“It was really miraculous,” explained Karmapa. “When they cut the pieces of jaggery in half, the two pieces did not get any smaller. They were further split into four, and then into eight, the eight into sixteen, and the sixteen into thirty-two, but they never ran out. There was no end to the sugar. Likewise, when they cut the square of cloth with the knife, the pieces of fabric didn’t get any smaller. Each of them was like a full square of fabric.”

Everyone there got a piece of jaggery and a piece of the fabric. They immediately started to eat the jaggery, as they felt it must have great blessings from Milarepa. No matter how long they ate it, the piece of jaggery never ran out. People took them back to their homes for their family members, but the pieces never got any smaller. Everyone in Dring and Nyanam, the region where Milarepa passed away, was able to eat the jaggery for a whole year. This became renowned and people exclaimed, “There’s nothing more amazing than these pieces of jaggery!”

There are many other events related to that. Karmapa said, “For a year after Milarepa’s passing, there were always beautiful melodies and rains of flowers coming from the sky on auspicious days at the cremation site. The little boys and girls ran off to catch the flowers, and the ones who caught flowers were chased by those who did not.”

Even though Milarepa, worse off than most beggars, did not have any possessions of value, he gave the jaggery and fabric as gifts to everyone with whom he was connected. It was like a souvenir, a support for them to remember him by. His Holiness remarked that from this, we can tell how Milarepa was kind and always thinking of other people. “This shows that being a practitioner does not mean having a rigid, inflexible character. Some practitioners are like that, but Milarepa was not,” he explained.

According to old liberation stories, Milarepa said, “After I pass away, don’t disturb my body for seven days. I will have something to say after that.” His students followed instructions and waited. When it came to the fifth day, some people could not wait and wondered what might have happened, but the disciples would not permit them to take a look. Eventually, they went in on the sixth day, and discovered that Milarepa’s remains had become very tiny, around one cubit in size.

At that time, many people had different visions; some saw it as Chenrezig, some felt it was a vase. Afterwards, they all thought, “If we leave him alone, there won’t even be any remains left, and we won’t have any relics or other supports for faith to worship.” So everyone decided to cremate the remains. Karmapa expressed that usually relics appear during cremation, but there was nothing left at all—the remains had disappeared, like rainbows. Neither was there the normal smell of burning flesh during the cremation. It seemed like Milarepa intended to not leave any remains or relics, and left the jaggery and fabric as a support for faith. His Holiness believed this is one reason for his leaving those objects.

When Milarepa said “I have gold,” it showed that he was no different on the outside or the inside. “He did not have any attachment to sensory pleasures, and that was the type of practice he did. After he had passed away, there was nothing to be found. Saying he had gold was a test to see how much belief his students had in him,” explained Karmapa.

Mikyö Dorje’s Genuine Practice

Returning to the seventeenth of the good deeds, Karmapa explained that the way Mikyö Dorje performed his activities was to give up doing things that were called “practice and study of sutra and tantra” but that in actuality harmed oneself and others. Leading by example, he became a cause for his receptive students to also stop doing non-virtuous or neutral things that outwardly appeared to be virtuous.

Mikyö Dorje himself also stated very clearly:

It is best to benefit sentient beings directly. If you cannot, then focus on benefiting sentient beings indirectly, beginning with not harming them. Do whatever you can to teach dharma, contemplate dharma, meditate on dharma, gather monks, sustain monasteries, and build stupas and statues. If you do all that you can, all your intentions and actions will become causes of achieving great enlightenment. If you do not have the thought to focus on the benefit of sentient beings from the beginning, or even if you do but your actions begin to harm sentient beings during the engagement, all your listening, contemplating and meditating on the dharma and seeming accumulation of merit will not be causes of buddhahood. It will not bring you liberation and omniscience, so you need to stop doing them.

Karmapa emphasized that Mikyö Dorje was not attached to things called by the name of dharma and virtue. “He was interested in genuine dharma and practice. When he was listening to and contemplating the sutras and tantras, his meditation practice on those points improved. When he was being assiduous about meditation practice on their meaning, the extent of his knowledge from listening and contemplation also increased. Basically, whatever he was doing worked together to increase his virtue,” he explained. These days, we have a separate monastic college for studying, and a separate section for doing pujas. Karmapa remarked that from another perspective, it is as if one person cannot do both well, so we had to separate the two.

Mikyö Dorje’s time was, in Tibet, a degenerate era; people were very difficult to tame or subdue. When he was keeping discipline, the virtue of generosity increased, and when being generous, the virtue of discipline increased. “They each benefit and contribute to each other; it’s not like you emphasize one and forget about the other,” explained Karmapa. Likewise, when Mikyö Dorje was practicing listening, contemplation, and meditation; giving pratimoksha or bodhisattva vows, empowerments, instructions, reading transmissions; reciting the seven branch prayer or other aspirations—no matter what he was doing, he would not procrastinate. He never felt discouraged and thought “I can’t do this physically or mentally,” but had the confidence and enthusiasm to accomplish them.

His Holiness explained that regardless of how many adversities had occurred, Mikyö Dorje had the patience and equanimity to face and overcome them. He dedicated all he did to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment; these were dedications free of the three spheres, imbued with the realization of emptiness. “Even when he was doing regular things like walking around and lying down, he was never free of the view, meditation, and conduct of great enlightenment. All his actions were focused on the sake of the teachings and sentient beings,” said Karmapa.
No matter what Mikyö Dorje did, whether giving teachings, writing, conversing and joking, drinking tea and eating meals, giving advice, or reciting prayers and meditating in the evenings, he performed them well without letting any of these actions interfere with one another. He made people understand the right and wrong ways to benefit others, and he himself never mixed them up in his practice. With writings alone numbering over one hundred volumes, Mikyö Dorje was incredibly diligent, working night and day to benefit sentient beings.

A Song of Mikyö Dorje

Returning from the intermission, Karmapa shared with us a song written by Mikyö Dorje:

If you look from outside, there’s nothing I do not do.
If you look from inside, I am free of doing anything.
If you ponder it, it’s not the object of mind.
Who can fathom the nature of Yangchen Sarma?

“The main point is that looking at the external appearance, there is nothing at all that Mikyö Dorje would not do,” His Holiness explained. “If you examine the inside, the actual meaning, he was free of doing anything. He was able to act without any thought at all. This was his realization, that he was always resting in equipoise. The way he performed his activities was amazing and unfathomable.”

Yangchen Sarma is one of the many different names of Mikyö Dorje. His own intent and thought is something other people would not be able to understand or conceive of.

Next, His Holiness gave an introduction on the two main points to summarize the seventeenth good deed:

Practice is a twenty-four hour job
We must be able to combine various types of practice

Practice is a Twenty-Four Hour Job

Karmapa introduced this by emphasizing, “Practicing dharma is something we need to do both day and night. At any time, we need to use our mindfulness, awareness, and carefulness.”

What do we mean when we say dharma practice? Practice should be understood as a system to habituate your mind, to make your mind familiar with something. What are we practicing? It is changing the way we act with body and speech and training our mind.

“We have to correct and edit our mind, that’s what we mean,” Karmapa explained. “Only doing it one time isn’t enough; we have to repeat it over and over again. That training or habituation of our mind must be continuous. Only then can you effect any change.”

If we look at a year, there are three hundred and sixty-five days, and there are twenty-four hours in a day. The mind never stops during this whole time; it is always working. As long as it is working, we cannot let go of the work of changing our mind. There is no time to rest. “Since our mind works for twenty-four hours, we need to train our mind in those twenty-four hours. We need to make our human life our practice, and make our practice our human life,” Karmapa instructed.

He clarified this with an analogy: “If we get really fat and the doctors tell us to lose weight, we need to put effort into it. We need to train our body, so we go to a gym and do a lot of exercise. We need to walk around as much as we can, for example, walking ten or twenty thousand steps in a day. In addition, we must limit and control what we eat. If we work hard at the gym for an hour, but for the rest of the time we sit without moving at all while eating fatty food, we will neither lose weight nor become healthy.”

Practice is similar. “Some of us sit on a square cushion practicing for a few hours, but when we get up from the cushion, we lose all feeling of the practice. Practicing like that is akin to doing an ordinary job or obligation. What we need to do is to fully involve our whole body, speech, and mind, and bring all that power into the practice.” Furthermore, His Holiness stressed that we need to be excited about and have the enthusiasm for practice. We need to have an aim and impetus, a strong desire to quickly accomplish the reason for our practice.

Karmapa elucidated with another example: “We often make New Year’s resolutions. If our plan is to not tell any lies this year, we need to always remember that and encourage ourselves repeatedly to keep that resolution. For example, if we are buying something in a store and the cashier miscounts the money, we need to remind ourselves of that aim. This includes times when we are drinking tea and having a conversation with a friend, or having a work meeting and so forth.”

Likewise when we practice, we should have that kind of thinking and feeling. “The example I just gave is only one aim, but when we say practicing the dharma, it is not that easy. It is much more complicated and vast than that,” he explained. When we practice, we need all three—listening, contemplating, and meditating—without separating them.

While we are practicing, we must have a special way of feeling and enthusiasm. Without this, there is no way we can practice the dharma, Karmapa emphasized. What is this attitude? We need to have the feeling that we want to improve ourselves, making ourselves better people. We always need to have the thought, “I’m going to work at this; I’m going to do all I can to improve myself.”

Improving does not mean increasing our knowledge or skills. “It means bringing our mind closer to the dharma and practicing continuously. We say the current of the river never ceases; just as the earlier water goes by, the later water flows. We need to practice similarly with continuous effort,” said Karmapa. We need to improve day by day, month by month, year by year. If we do that, we can become someone different than before. There can be a difference from the person last week and next week, last year and next year; there can be a change in the way we think.

But no matter who we are, sometimes we feel bored and lethargic, and want to relax and have some fun. Karmapa explained that it is important and necessary to give our body and mind some rest, when we have been working too hard and are exhausted either from work or practice. But he cautioned that we must be careful about this. “That rest can become strong lazy habits. We should never forget the thought that we are dharma practitioners. We should remember the things we should and should not do, and we need someone to teach and remind us of these.”

The teachings often emphasize that we need to have carefulness, mindfulness and awareness. Karmapa explained that even while we are resting, we cannot stop practicing. When we look at the liberation stories of past masters, they were able to continue their practice while sleeping. Even sleep can be divided into virtuous and non-virtuous. If we have carefulness and awareness, we can continue with our dharma practice during sleep, he pointed out.

As a dharma practitioner, we need to always have a watchman over our mind to see what is happening. The responsibility is that at all times, we need to recognize and pay attention to what are the virtues to be accomplished and misdeeds to be avoided, and differentiate between self-interest or altruism. “No matter what we do—whether we are eating, lying down, chatting on WeChat or looking at a post on Facebook, or sending others pictures and messages—we need to have that feeling that we are taking responsibility as a dharma practitioner,” His Holiness explained.

In addition to not harming others, we must also think about helping others as much as we can, doing dharma practices, working for harmony in Buddhism, and putting effort into spreading the teachings. “Once we have that,” he added, “we can put effort into these activities.”

Combine Various Types of Practice

Speaking on the second point of the seventeenth stanza, Karmapa began by mentioning there are numerous different types of practice including listening, contemplation, and meditation, along with teaching, explaining and debating. He stressed that it is important to unify them all into one.

“If we were to spend all our time listening to many teachings and taking one empowerment or transmission after another, it is possible that eventually we would get bored and feel like there’s no point. That alone makes it difficult to improve our practice,” Karmapa pointed out.

He explained with an example of education in schools: If the teacher only talks and the students only listen without any thought or attempt to understand it for themselves, later the teacher will ask, “What did I just say, please repeat it,” and the student will be unable to answer. The teacher’s words will go in one ear and out the other. Furthermore, if the questions on an exam are slightly different and have changed a little bit, the students will not be able to answer.

“Similarly, when the guru teaches us the dharma, if we only hear with our ears and do not think about it at all, it is like teaching a parrot to recite mani mantras. The parrot can recite the words, but the meaning is beyond their level of understanding,” explained Karmapa. Thus, it is very important that we combine all practices of listening, contemplation, and meditation.

So what do we mean by listening, contemplating, and meditating and the three types of prajna that arise from them? Hearing the sound of the words spoken by the guru can be considered listening, but listening alone does not produce prajna. “In order to develop the prajna of listening, not only do we have to hear the words, we have to think a little bit about the meaning. Even if you do not get a good understanding, you must be able to at least get a general understanding. Only by doing so, will you have developed the prajna born of listening,” Karmapa explained.

Merely gaining an understanding of what the lama said is not enough. “If you leave it as something you just heard and understood, it is actually very dangerous,” he warned. When we think that we have read and studied so much, there is a danger of becoming proud. “It does not help to tame us, so we need to take whatever understanding we have gained, and continue to study. Ask the teacher questions, and use both scripture and logic to investigate it. What is it like? What is it not like? This is called contemplation,” said Karmapa.

After we have contemplated and developed some certainty in our mind that it is as our guru had taught, that is the prajna of contemplation. That stable certainty is very important. It helps us to not merely follow whatever other people or society says. We need to have this definite certainty that if we do this practice, we will give up these faults and develop these qualities, and that if we do not do practice, there will be no chance to develop these qualities. Having this certainty will allow us to develop the prajna of contemplation, he explained.

His Holiness then continued with the explanation on meditation. When we have developed certainty, in addition to having examined what the guru taught, we have the decisive feeling that “this is really it.” This decisiveness is not something that we leave as it is. Day and night, we need to mix our mind with the dharma so they become unified. Doing this over and over again is meditation.

Meditation is not thinking about something, but is actually habituation. There are two types, analytic and resting meditation. “When you have repeatedly tried to make your mind and dharma the same, then one day, you don’t really need to try too hard. Naturally, your mind and the dharma will be mixed into one. That is called the prajna born of meditation,” said Karmapa.

Thus among these three, listening, contemplation, and meditation, the first requires us to rely on someone else. But the other two are both something we must do ourselves. He pointed out that in terms of our practice going well or not, one-third depends upon the guru, and the rest upon ourselves. “Listening depends on the guru, but whether or not we contemplate or meditate is up to you. If the lama does the meditation in your place, it doesn’t help at all, right?”

Listening, Contemplation, and Meditation in Daily Life

“Generally,” said Karmapa, “these three words may seem like dharma jargon, but we can think about them in terms of daily situations.” For example, when many people first hear about America, and how wealthy, powerful, and developed it is, they think about the opportunities there and how they could earn a lot of money. Hearing this from our friends and acquaintances, that is listening.

Then, we get interested and read books or watch videos and Hollywood movies in order to gain a certain degree of knowledge about America. But can we actually experience what America is like just from that? It is unlikely.

“To really know what America is like, you first must go to America and spend a few years there working; then you’ll understand. But even that is not certain. I have acquaintances who have spent several decades in America who still can’t speak English and do not have much contact with society. Having your body there does not mean you have the experience of it,” explained Karmapa.

First, we hear about there being a country called America. Then, we think about it and take interest in it. Finally, we go there and experience it. This is the same as listening, contemplation, and meditation, he pointed out.

His Holiness gave another analogy: Many people have never eaten tofu. They hear about it and become interested, so they look it up. Only when they go to a Chinese restaurant and order a tofu dish can they have the experience of what tofu tastes like.

No matter what we do or how we gain experience in life, it is exactly the same as listening, contemplation, and meditation. “Listening basically means you have made a connection between yourself and dharma. Contemplating is thinking in your head about what dharma is like. In the end, whether the dharma is incorporated into our mind depends upon our meditation. We need to actually instill the dharma into our heart and mind and gain experience,” Karmapa highlighted. Meditation does not only mean sitting on a cushion and breathing in and out. It is the system for developing the experience of incorporating the dharma into our mind.

Therefore, once we have listened to the dharma, we must think about it. If we do not do so, we can listen to the dharma for the rest of our life, but without benefit. His Holiness reminded us that after thinking about it, we need to practice and gain experience. There is no benefit to doing one while not doing another. He emphasized that we need to be able to combine these into a single whole, and only then is there hope we can become someone different.

The Buddhas and the Karmapas

Not only must listening, contemplation, and meditation not be divorced from each other, we also need to have all the practices, including the six transcendences. “This is in order to achieve buddhahood, where benefiting others is effortless and spontaneous. Bodhisattvas can only benefit others if they put in effort, but the buddhas have the complete qualities of abandonment and realization. If we want to come to that level, then we need to improve in all aspects,” Karmapa explained.

In the Jataka tales, when the Buddha appeared as a bodhisattva, he practiced generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, dhyana, prajna, and so forth. Even in the life when he awoke to Buddhahood, he studied at a high level. He left the luxurious royal lifestyle for the life of a monastic. Then, he spent six years practicing austerities and then practiced dhyana meditation to awaken. He was generous in giving the dharma widely to others. He was also patient with the harm caused by Devadatta and so forth. This demonstrated that the Buddha practiced all six paramitas within that lifetime.

His Holiness then compared the similarities between the Buddha and the various incarnations of the Gyalwang Karmapa. He said, “Mikyö Dorje himself only lived to the age of 48, but he was able to do many things that amaze and inspire us. For example, when we read his liberation story, if we look at how he listened to the dharma from others, it seems as if he must have spent his entire life only listening to dharma teachings. If we look at his writings, it seems as if he must have spent all day writing. If we look at his travels to different areas, it seems as if he must have had little time to do anything else.”

In any case, Karmapa added, we cannot know exactly how many people he met every day, how many meetings there were, or how much time he spent writing, but looking at his activities generally, what we see when we read his liberation stories is amazing.

With pure and excellent intentions, Mikyö Dorje disregarded many hardships and obstacles to work for the sake of the teachings and beings. Without any resentment or complaining, without resting, he continued doing many activities, and this was not only teaching dharma; it also included teaching, debate, and writing; listening, contemplation, and meditation. He maintained innumerable large and vast activities. Karmapa expressed the need for us to look up to him as a model.

As it is said, “The liberation stories of the past masters is the practice of their followers.” We get a little courage for ourselves when we see these stories, explained Karmapa. Seeing their hard work and sacrifice, we should do what we can to open our minds a bit. It would be really disappointing if we let their efforts go to waste.

“We need to purify our intentions, come up with new ideas, and contemplate how we can do even more for the teachings and sentient beings. We haven’t really begun to look at that. At least we need to see what we are like, so as not to waste the kindness and efforts of the great masters of the past. Striving for this is very important,” His Holiness emphasized at the end of Day Nine’s teaching.

Day 10: Authentic Dharma Practice

April 9th, 2022

The Karmapa continued his discussion of the second part of the passage about meditating on relative bodhichitta according to Sangye Paldrup’s commentary: Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation. This section has ten sub-topics and today’s teaching began with the eighth sub-topic: Taking things going well or badly as the path.

Infinite are the kinds of barbaric beings.
When things go well, since things are going well,
They’re ignorant of the means for liberation.
When things go badly, since things are going badly,
They’re ignorant of the means for liberation.
I could not bear the thought of their deluded acts.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (18)

During Mikyö Dorje’s lifetime, the Karmapa explained, most people were uneducated. They hadn’t been trained how to think. Their mindstreams were untamed and they were rough and often incorrigible, so it was difficult to change them. They included some “people who upheld, protected, and spread the teachings”, people in whom others placed their hopes, some of whom “were given lofty names”. When things went well for them and their group, they had everything they needed and weren’t concerned that there were few monks in the monasteries. Their work for their monasteries kept them busy day and night and acted as a distraction. Consequently, their characters became intractable and rigid, so it was extremely difficult for them to mix their mindstreams with the dharma.

When things went badly for them and their group, they did everything they could to restore what they had lost. They were so distracted by their thoughts and busyness that they had no time to think about the means to achieve liberation and omniscience, nor were there many people who knew the path to liberation. When people had leisure time, they would relax and enjoy the pleasures of food, drink, sleep, and lolling about—very few thought about practising the dharma.

When people came to see him, Mikyö Dorje would invariably ask questions in great detail about how old they were and what they had been doing. He grew immensely concerned when it seemed from their replies that they were wasting their lives. He would speak to them very directly with words that hit the mark. The Karmapa gave an example. Mikyö Dorje would ask, “Do you smell the scent of rot in your nose or mouth?” The students would be surprised and reply that they did not. Mikyö Dorje would say, “That’s really amazing! Everything inside you has rotted, and you don’t even smell it. That’s really strange.” He was pointing out to them very clearly that they had wasted the facilities of their human life.

Many people would come to ask for dharma teachings. He would admonish them:

Years, months, and days have gone by already. You are getting closer and closer to death. Likewise, this body, composed of the four elements, is changing. You used to be youthful, but now you are getting old and bent. Your close friends haven’t been of much help, other than fooling you, and up until now, you’ve only been focused on this lifetime. You haven’t thought about your future lives. You have come under the control of these negative friends who won’t bring you to the way of virtue. You have been distracted and deceived by temporary needs. Even if you only have a little wealth, you become really attached to it, and this prevents you from working for the benefit of others. Even when you’re practising dharma, you’re unable to stand; it’s as if you have lost all your control to the Maras.

It was as if these people were trapped in quicksand; their dharma practice was questionable and they were under the control of their sponsors, the Karmapa commented. They might have accumulated some merit previously, but now they were losing it, and though they might be called “dharma practitioners” or “renunciates”, this was actually not true.

There are three main aspects to the eighteenth good deed:

1. The understanding and way of thinking necessary for practice.
2. What practising dharma really means.
3. The best opportunities for practice are when things are going well or badly.

1. The understanding and way of thinking necessary for practice.

Many people continue to think that practice means reciting prayers, offering pujas, reciting mantras, life releases, and so forth. Moreover, people often believe that practice only happens in the shrine room or sitting in front of the household shrine. Of course, the Karmapa clarified, reciting prayers, pujas and life release are part of dharma practice, but if you think that they are the sum of dharma practice, you have misunderstood. Practising the dharma goes much deeper and should not be confused with the external appearances of practice. While you are reciting prayers, your mind can be elsewhere and you might be harbouring a myriad of thoughts. Truly practising dharma is far more profound.

Some people think of dharma practice as a high-level activity and approach it as if it were similar to work, demanding application and meticulousness. Others believe that dharma practice is boring and have little interest in it. Some see practising dharma as very complicated and difficult activity that can be both challenging and boring, like having to read an old, historical document, so it’s difficult to be enthusiastic. Alternatively, they think it’s like studying mathematics which can be extremely demanding, so you have to work really hard and think hard—you have to meditate and focus on complicated visualisations. All these misconceptions put many people off practising dharma.

Then there are some people who say they want to practice the dharma but they need perfect conditions in order to practice. They need to feel comfortable; it mustn’t be too hot, like in India sometimes, or too cold. However, before they can begin, there’s a lot of work to be done. They need to check all their WhatsApp or WeChat messages, and their Facebook, count the number of ‘likes’, and write replies. Then, they must also eat because their stomachs have to be full. Basically, after everything that needs to be done has been done, when they have a little bit of free time, only then do they sit down on their meditation cushion and try to do a little dharma practice. It seems as if they lead really busy lives, when, in fact, they are not doing much of value. Yet, they never have time to practice the dharma.

There are several faults to seeing dharma practice in this way, the Karmapa warned, and illustrated his point with two stories.

During the later spread of the teachings in Tibet, the one with the greatest activity on behalf of the Buddhadharma and the broadest influence was Jowo Atisha. He had many students, but one in particular was known as Naljorpa Chenpo [Great Yogi]. He was a fully ordained monk and served as Atisha’s attendant.

Shortly before Atisha died, Naljorpa Chenpo said to him, “After you have passed away, I’m going to practice the dharma just as you have taught. I’m going to dedicate the rest of my life to meditation.”

Usually, if someone told a lama that they would spend the rest of their life in meditation, you would expect the lama to be happy and commend them, but Atisha didn’t praise him. Instead, Atisha posed this question: “Can your meditating actually become dharma?”

Naljorpa Chenpo reflected on this: ”If meditation cannot become dharma, then perhaps I should teach others dharma. How would that be?”

Atisha replied, “It’s fine to teach dharma, but will teaching dharma really become dharma?”
Confused, Naljorpa Chenpo asked, “So what is the best thing for me to do? What can I do that would actually become dharma?”

Atisha told him, “All of you should follow Geshe Tӧnpa as your teacher.”

This was an extraordinary command because Geshe Tӧnpa [Dromtӧnpa] was a layperson and only held the lay vows, whereas Naljorpa Chenpo and many of the other students were bhikshus.

Atisha gave him a second piece of advice, “You have to give up on this life.”
This is the crux of whether what you are doing is dharma practice or not: if you haven’t given up on this life, nothing you do will become dharma. If you put this life out of your mind, whatever you do becomes dharma.

The second story concerned Dromtӧnpa.

After Atisha died, Dromtӧnpa went to the Reting Tsampo Valley north of Lhasa, where he founded Reting monastery, the monastery which became the seat of the Kadampa tradition.

A certain monk came to stay at Reting. Each day this monk would perform the longer more-demanding outer circumambulation of the monastery. One day, while he was performing his circumambulations, Dromtӧnpa came outside and met the monk.

“It’s very good that you are circumambulating,” said Dromtӧnpa, “but would it not be better if you actually practised the dharma?” This seems a very strange thing to say, because many people view circumambulation around a sacred place as dharma practice.

The monk pondered Dromtӧnpa’s comment and decided that prostration must be better and more beneficial than circumambulation. So, he found a spot within the monastery and began prostrating all day long. “Like we do when we complete the 100,000 prostrations in the ngӧndro,” the Karmapa added. Then, one day, Dromtӧnpa came by while the monk was prostrating. “It’s very good that you are prostrating,” said Dromtӧnpa, “but would it not be better if you actually practised the dharma?”

The monk was very puzzled. If prostration wasn’t dharma practice, what should he do instead that was dharma practice? He decided that it must be better to study the great sacred texts, so he went to the monastery library and began reading the Kangyur and Tengyur. Then, one day, Dromtӧnpa came by and saw the monk sitting there reading. “It’s very good that you are reading the sacred texts, said Dromtӧnpa, ”but would it not be better if you actually practised the dharma?”

By now, the monk was totally confused. Circumambulation wasn’t dharma practice. Prostrating wasn’t dharma practice. Reading the sacred texts wasn’t dharma practice. He decided that the best dharma practice must be meditation, so he began to meditate, hoping that Dromtӧnpa would now commend his dharma practice.

And finally, one day, Dromtӧnpa passed by while the monk was meditating.

“It’s very good that you are meditating,” he said, “but would it not be better to actually practise the dharma?”

By this point, the monk had no idea what he was supposed to do. He had done everything he considered to be dharma practice, yet Dromtӧnpa had said categorically that they weren’t dharma practice. The monk begged Dromtӧnpa, “Please tell me what dharma practice I should do.” And Dromtӧnpa replied, “You need to put this life out of your mind. Put this life out of your mind. Put this life out of your mind.” He repeated it three times.

External forms are not dharma practice. The important thing is your state of mind. If your way of thinking is correct, no matter what you do, everything can become dharma practice. If your state of mind is not correct, though there might be the external appearance of dharma practice, it is not dharma. The question is whether your practice is transformative, whether it can transform your mind, and whether it can benefit your mind or not. Judging by the external appearance can be misleading. Someone chanting manis seemingly with devotion could be wishing harm on others in their minds.

A significant fault arising from a mistaken view of dharma practice is that it minimalises dharma practice. When your life is going well, when you are enjoying life, you won’t have much wish to practice. The converse is also true. When things are going badly, when you have great physical or mental suffering or great sorrow, you do not want to practice dharma, and you may seek out other ways to alleviate your pain such as drugs and alcohol. It’s difficult to remember to practise dharma or even to find the energy to practise dharma in these situations.

Sometimes, people finding themselves in a hopeless or desperate situation, when there is nothing they can do, remember that they should pray to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. As the Chinese saying goes, “When there’s nothing to be done, you cling to the Buddha’s feet.”

Normally they don’t remember the buddhas but now they recite mantras, pray, and hope that the buddhas will grant their power and blessing to remove their difficulties. When their backs are up against the wall, they will resort to anything —divinations, astrology, or the like. They search the Internet or look for books that might help, and they read what the Buddha said, looking for comfort in his words. It’s as if they are using the Buddha’s words as “chicken soup for the soul”: something that will give them relief in times of suffering.

Then, one day, life gets a little better and they are no longer suffering so much. Now they have a little time and leisure to practise dharma but it’s not certain that they will. If they do decide to start practising dharma, they will often find excuses to delay: “It’s best to begin on an astrologically auspicious day”, or “Today I’m a little tired; I’ll rest a bit; I can start tomorrow.” They find so many excuses for postponing that in the end they never practise.

There is a famous ancient Chinese poem that says:

There’s a tomorrow after tomorrow:
There’s never an end to tomorrows.
If you say “tomorrow” and wait,
All your actions will fail.

If you postpone things until tomorrow, you will never accomplish anything.

2. What “practising dharma” really means.

Having explored what genuine dharma practice is not, the Karmapa now discussed what dharma practice actually should be.

The first thing we have to understand is that dharma practice is not just a cure-all to make yourself feel better, he explained. The buddhas and bodhisattvas are not like first responders or paramedics giving treatment in a medical emergency. Nor does practising dharma mean performing rituals and traditions. Nor is it a duty that you are obliged to do without any choice. And it’s not like travellers in old Tibet who would happily sing folk songs along the road on the plains until they reached a dangerous route over a pass. They would immediately begin to chant prayers to Guru Rinpoche for protection.

If you really and truly want to practice dharma, you first have to understand what we actually mean by “practising dharma” —what the way is to practise dharma.

His Holiness said that he had already spoken about this at length previously so there was no need to say much more.

The main point you need to know is that practising dharma is not something you do in the shrine room or sitting on a meditation cushion. That’s not how you should think. Practice should be understood as something to be done all the time, day and night, twenty-four hours a day. It should be something which is able to change and improve your mind. That’s what we mean by practice.

The first step is to identify the reasons we need to go for refuge and become a dharma practitioner. Across the Himalayas, many people grow up in a Buddhist cultural environment, so they never ask such questions; they simply follow the family tradition, but we need to consider the reason for ourselves. Although everyone has their own particular reasons why they need to enter the gate of dharma and go for refuge, we should all share a primary aim—to take Lord Shakyamuni Buddha as an example and have the intention, “Someday may I become someone like him who has realised the true nature.” That should be the greatest hope for all of us. In order to accomplish this aim, we need to become an even better person than we were before, and then, gradually, become a good dharma practitioner. Then we need to become a bodhisattva and finally a buddha.

The true dharma is the method by which we can become someone who can better help ourselves and others. That is why we need to study the true dharma and then put it into practice. If we do this, we will naturally become a better person and we won’t be so foolish either. We will know how to think and use our intelligence. Why? Because the Bhagawan Buddha possessed the prajna that realised the true nature and he taught the true dharma on that basis. Because he had that experience, he was able to teach the true dharma. If we are able to study the dharma and put it into practice correctly and assiduously, we will definitely achieve a good result, without any doubt. We can become happier and more content.

The main point, however, is that everything depends upon mind. We have to be in control of our minds; we have to take ownership of our minds. There’s no point just going through the external appearances of dharma practice. Nor should dharma practice be rigid and intractable. It should be flexible and open to change according to the time and situation. Similarly, it should be connected to our daily life and the nature of the world in which we live. The dharma can bring us infinite benefits, like a treasure chest that is never empty no matter how many jewels you take.

3. The best opportunities for practice are when things are going well or badly

No matter who we are, life sometimes goes well and sometimes goes badly. It is constantly changing. Within a single day even, we might feel depressed in the morning, but by the evening we are happy.

At times such as when someone wins the lottery or gains promotion to a powerful position, they might become arrogant, as the Tibetan saying goes—”The sky is their scarf and the clouds are their headband”. They become very proud and look down on everyone. Or else their greed increases, or they lose any caution and self-control. Many such problems can occur. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you want to test a person’s character, give them power.” When a person’s power increases, their true character is revealed and their faults begin to show.

But from the perspective of someone who practices dharma, it is said that when things are going well, it is an excellent opportunity to practise the dharma. The more external wealth and connections you have, the more opportunities you have to be generous. You can also be generous with the dharma. For example, during Ashoka’s reign in ancient India, he used the power of being a great emperor to spread the dharma throughout all of India, neighbouring countries, and even as far away as Greece. He used his position, power, and fame to be very generous with the dharma. We are not like Ashoka, but we can use our power, wealth and influence in our monasteries and communities to prepare plans and methods for helping people and creating benefit.

To think about it in terms of the mind, when we gain status, wealth, and so forth, we need to turn our attention inwards and examine ourselves even more closely than we did before because of the danger that we might develop new faults. Are we getting prouder? More arrogant?
Careless? Do we want even higher status or more power? Is our greed for wealth increasing? In brief, the time when everything is going well also affords the best opportunity for close scrutiny of ourselves.

Here, “Things going well” does not only mean becoming powerful or wealthy. Ordinary people never have much power or wealth. However, when our lives are going well and we feel happy and are enjoying ourselves, we should not neglect our dharma practice out of carelessness or laziness.

How then should we practice dharma? His Holiness advised that it is critical at such times to contemplate impermanence. We should not be deceived by our happiness and excitement, because one day the situation will change and we may lose that happiness. If we are not mentally prepared for such a time, it will be as if heaven and earth are turned upside down and we won’t know what to do.

The coronavirus pandemic is a good example of this. Because of the pandemic, many people in the developed Western world, who were leading very comfortable lives, were faced with previously inconceivable difficulties. How hard has it been even to get them to wear a mask? In the Asian world, the habit of wearing masks was already established, but in the West some people became quite upset about it. We were completely unprepared mentally for the coronavirus pandemic because we had not taken on board the dharma teaching that everything is impermanent and subject to change.

The Karmapa clarified he was not saying that we shouldn’t have happiness or enjoyment. Rather, it is essential to maintain mindfulness and awareness at all times. We must not let ourselves think that these times of pleasure and happiness will continue permanently and unchanged; otherwise, if they change suddenly and we encounter unforeseen difficulties, we will not be prepared and it will be a great shock.

In his concluding remarks, the Karmapa briefly mentioned that there were other difficult incidents in the life of the Eighth Karmapa that he hoped to cover. One was a little-known part of Kamtsang history. It concerned the controversy over which of two candidates was the true reincarnation of Mikyӧ Dorje’s principal tutor, the Fourth Shamar Rinpoche, and how Karmapa Mikyӧ Dorje was able to reinstate Kunchok Yenlak as the rightful Fifth Shamar Rinpoche.

Day 11: Taking Hostility as the Path

April 11th, 2022

On the eleventh day of the Arya Kshema Spring Teachings, the Karmapa said he would speak about the nineteenth good deed from Mikyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds.”

According to the outline from the commentary on Good Deeds by the attendant Sangye Paldrup, there were the two parts regarding the meditation on relative bodhicitta:

a) Exchanging oneself for others in meditation.
b) Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation.

In terms of the second, the Karmapa would continue to discuss the ten sub-topics, explaining the conclusion to the third point to the eighth sub-topic:

8. Taking things going well or badly as the path.

After that he would discuss the ninth: taking hostility as the path.

9. Taking hostility as the path.

The best opportunities for practice are when things are going well or badly

The Karmapa had already spoken about the first two points that were part of the eighth sub-topic: when things are going well or badly, they are the best opportunities to practice. These two were: (a) how to take things going well or badly as the path; and (b) how to take things going well as the path. He would now explain the third point: (c) when things are going badly, how to take bad situations as the path.

Even when we are in the worst time in our lives, we need to think of these times as the best opportunity to gather the accumulation of merit. Water flows downhill and not uphill, and similarly with merit. When you are in a low place or a bad situation, you have more opportunities to gather merit.

The Karmapa then gave analogies:

When you make an investment, later the value will grow exponentially. These days you have bitcoin and other electronic currencies. It used to be cheap but now a single unit of bitcoin is worth tens of thousands of dollars. Likewise, during the worst times of our lives, we experience terrible physical and mental suffering, but through that suffering we can enhance or improve our practice.

Think about the mani mantras we recite when we meditate on Chenrezig during the normal times when we are healthy, and then think about the manis we recite when we have illness and suffering. The manis recited are the same, but the feelings behind them are different. In a crisis, your state of mind is different, your focus brings especially intense prayers and wishes. You supplicate more fervently: your state of mind is not like your ordinary state of mind. The manis are the same, but your state of mind is different. The beneficial power and results are also different and not the same. When we experience suffering, we should not be oppressed by it. If we continue our practice, we can improve, like a bird taking flight.

When we have headaches, stomach aches, and body pains, we cannot focus well, are unable to recite mantras, and unable to recite prayers and aspirations. But if we compare this to the time of death, the terrifying, pitch-black darkness that awaits us, the pain and fear of dying, then we see our present sufferings can hardly be considered suffering. When we encounter suffering or misfortune, or when things do not go as we wish, these situations are like preparations and training for facing the suffering of death.

When we recognize that all hardship and suffering are opportunities to practice and to train our mind, then our practice improves amidst our torments and sufferings. If you can endure hardships, you can move forward. These events are like the hurricanes and tornadoes in our lives that can make our thinking broader, clearer, and more focused in the long term. Only then can we improve ourselves and become wiser. When we think like this, it is good.

One of Jamgön Lodro Thaye Rinpoche’s writings, probably a quotation from Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, says: “The most significant events of our lives are birth and death, and everything else is not important.”

And just as he said, when we experience misfortune, defeats, and highs and lows, the amount of difficulty we have in that situation depends on the level of our own mind, our state of thinking. If you build a stone wall, if an ant sees it and wants to cross it, it will see it as high as a mountain, the same as us climbing a mountain. But a dog will see the wall as something to jump over with a bit of effort.

When there are ups and downs in our lives, some people lose hope, they give up, seeing them as insurmountable hardships. But other people see those hardships like the dog sees the wall. They do not see hardships as great difficulties. They put effort into overcoming the obstacles. These people do not see difficulties as obstacles or as bad, but like a stone staircase that might allow their lives to be better. If you can get on top of the wall, you can look around and see things in perspective. The hardships seem like methods for improving themselves or are the circumstances that allow them to improve themselves. The hardships are an opportunity for us to increase the breadth of our mind and the level of our abilities.

When you use a good knife, it becomes sharper, but left unused, there is the danger it will corrode. Similarly, the previous great beings did not achieve accomplishments because they had some ability that we do not. They did not have some special power. The great beings of the past disregarded hardship. No matter how difficult the hardship, they were able to surpass them, gain victory over the māras, and achieve realization. The greatest difference between us and the great masters of the past is whether we have the courage and confidence. The great masters had the courage and confidence to overcome the difficulties.

When we hear stories of the great masters of the past, heroes like Ling Gesar, they seem to have had great power, courage, and persistence. No matter how many battles they fought, they always won. We think, if only I could be like that.

This shows the difference in their thinking from ours when faced with difficulties and enemies: if there were no difficulties, there would be no persistence; if there were no enemies, there would be no victory in battle. We think of the great beings and heroes as being incredible. They triumphed over hardships, enemies, and māras. They were never discouraged or hung their heads or tried to appease anyone. There were no words like “procrastination” and “depression,” let alone avoidance and appeasement. No matter what hardship or danger occurred, they were able to transform it into achieving results and improving themselves. That is what distinguishes ordinary and great people and is very important to understand.

When you think about the previous incarnations of the Karmapa, some people might think it was impossible that a Karmapa could have misfortune and suffering, but the actual situation was the opposite. Other than in a pure realm like Sukhavati, there is no place in the world where there is no suffering and hardship. Especially in this world, in such a time when the five degenerations are rampant, someone who thinks they might spread the Dharma will have innumerable obstacles from the māras and attackers. A quotation by the Buddha says, “The obstacles are much more plentiful than the Dharma that is so rare.” The attackers and obstacles are like rain, so you must face up to many hundreds of dangers and sufferings. It is like being in a battlefield surrounded by thousands of enemy soldiers. There is no escape; you need to do what you can to get out, even if it means taking a path that sheds blood to escape. You are surrounded by the māras and the obstacles. That is the reason bodhisattvas are called heroes, the word sattva can be understood to mean a hero or warrior. If there were no hardships or obstacles, there would be no need for courage, there would be no reason for bodhisattvas to have heroic minds.

Likewise, the hardships that each of the Karmapas encountered were different in degree and form and in the way they appeared. In the future, if I have an opportunity, I would like to speak about that.

During their entire lifetimes, the Karmapas endured hardship and loss, but they have left us a treasury filled with light and jewels, taking the suffering onto themselves. There is a saying in the world, “The greater your skills, the greater your responsibility. The greater the responsibility, the greater the pressure.” The various incarnations of the Karmapa knew how much pressure they were under, and how great a responsibility they bore.

Since we do not carry the same responsibility, we do not know the difficulties they had and the pressure they were under. What we can know is that they had such great responsibility and were under great pressure, yet they were never afraid or discouraged, never tried to avoid hardship. They transformed all the hardships and difficulties into conditions to improve themselves and grow, and with great courage they faced these hardships, gathered the accumulations, and brought benefit to others.

It is important for us to learn from them. There is no point in complaining about our suffering. For most of our lives, things will not go as we want, because the nature of life is suffering. In the future when something goes wrong, we should immediately think, “I have had this difficulty, the difficulty did happen, if there was some way to prevent it but it did happen, so I just got an opportunity to practice and accumulate merit.” In the very least, even if we face great dangers every day of our life, we can use them as conditions for improving and advancing ourselves. The degree to which we can face hardship and keep moving forward and not give up no matter how much loss we have in life, this is the amount that will make us grow stronger and more courageous. As a result, we will not get discouraged or lazy, much less give up. We need to see how we can transform difficulties and hardships into circumstances as aids to the Dharma and to improve ourselves. Here the Karmapa concluded the discussion of the third point.

The Nineteenth Good Deed: Taking hostility as the path (v. 19)

Although I couldn’t bear it, I did not scorn
Suffering sentient beings for being vile.
The faults and obscurations are their nature.
Knowing this made it even less tolerable.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (19)

There is a saying in the Fine Explanations of the Sakya by Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen:

Exalted beings are brought more harm
By their retinues than their enemies.
Aside from the parasites in its body,
What other beast could eat a lion?

The main point here is that when you talk about a great being, a great person, or a great lama, more of the harm comes not from their enemies, but from their retinues, their students, and their attendants. The people who harm them the most are those who serve them. The line, “Aside from the parasites in its body,” means no other living being would dare harm a lion, but all the parasites living on its body can harm the lion. This is what it is like. It also says in the sūtras of the Buddha:

The Buddhadharma cannot be harmed
by any outside people or any outside religions,
but who can harm the Buddha’s teachings?
They are the people who say they uphold
the Buddha’s teachings and that they are Buddhist,
these are the people who can harm the Buddha’s teachings.

For that reason, when you think, how will the Buddha’s teachings be destroyed? The Buddha prophesied, “In the future, my teachings will be destroyed when the people who uphold the teachings, the people who say they are Buddhists, the monks and nuns argue and dispute each other and say, ‘I’m in accord with the Dharma and they’re not.’ They will always be disputing each other, and disagreements cause a schism and will destroy the teachings.” The main point is that the teachings of the Buddha Śākyamuni are weakened by internal disputes. The teachings of Buddha Kaśyapa were destroyed by the laziness of the bhikṣus and brought the teachings of Kaśyapa to disappear. The greatest harm came not from outside but from the inside, from the students who said they held the Buddha’s teachings.

When thinking about Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, he treated people with unbounded kindness and love, but many people did not appreciate his kindness and began to harm him. Not only did Mikyö Dorje not respond to harm by causing harm, but he continued to treat them with great love. He cared for these people greatly both with dharma and materially, but in the end, they would say, “He wasn’t kind to us at all.” They would not say anything good about him. But for ordinary people that was understandable.

But some people, geshes or scholars, would come to Mikyö Dorje giving material gifts without reserve. In terms of the Dharma, he fulfilled all the wishes they had, but later he taught something that didn’t quite satisfy their hopes and wishes, so they would criticize, scold, and abuse him, thinking, “The Karmapa did not treat me compassionately, he didn’t think I was important, so I’m going back to my homeland to do a scholar’s work, one day I’ll become a well-known scholar, he’ll see.” Not only did they not repay his kindness, but they behaved badly and thought of him as even worse.

But Mikyö Dorje did not get angry. He did not have the slightest wavering or change in the way he thought about them, he was still relaxed, spoke in a carefree way, and looked upon them kindly. He still gave them whatever things were appropriate. By acting in this way, he was able to tame the mind streams of those who had a bit of merit, and they became more receptive to the Dharma. For some people though, no matter how much he tried—he saw that nothing he did would be of any benefit—still, even for those with no fortune and no merit, he never gave up on them, protecting them compassionately. He always prayed for them; he still brought them benefit. He never gave up on them.

The Karmapa announced the break and after reconvening he continued:

Karmapa Mikyö Dorje always responded to harm by bringing benefit, he saw enemies as friends, and never had bias toward another school. He was never stingy and always he gave away things without reserve. He never had attachment to friends or aversion to enemies. He never kept things, giving them away without any reserve, and was never attached or averse to help or harm. Some people said he was mercurial—that he was without stability, easily swayed, and gullible—that he had a limited way of thinking, no matter what he did, he was always too extreme, he did not know how to practice for the proper occasion or time. They would say, yes, he was a lama but, in worldly terms, he was shunned in society. But even with the people who disparaged him this way, Mikyö Dorje never blamed them and never looked open them badly. He said, it was one way of looking at him. The reason why Mikyö Dorje was never ruffled with others’ bad behavior was probably because he did not have such high hopes for ordinary individuals, so he never felt really offended by them. How do we know this? His attendant, Sangye Paldrup, witnessed this himself.

Sometimes when students came to see Mikyö Dorje, they were not able to say things the way they wanted to, fearing they would offend him or cause him to worry. Mikyö Dorje always said to those people, “There’s no need to worry about me getting embarrassed. I don’t get embarrassed. I don’t get upset. I don’t feel problems about it. These are ordinary individuals, so they cannot transcend that nature of being ordinary individuals. It is as said in the Way of the Bodhisattva, ‘Unruly beings are as vast as the sky’.”

He understood why sentient were untamed, uncouth, and bad people, so Mikyö Dorje never could see sentient beings badly. In the Maitreya Aspiration, Maitreya said, “The Buddha never vilifies beings whose minds are stained.”

When buddhas and bodhisattvas saw beings do terrible things, obscured and controlled by their karma and obscurations, even when these beings did terrible things, the buddhas and bodhisattvas never got embarrassed or thought these beings were bad. Mikyö Dorje felt the same way. Until people could abandon their natures and continued to harm him, or repaid his kindness inappropriately, he did not feel particularly upset. Sangye Paldrup heard him say this.

Then the Karmapa returned to summarizing the main point of the nineteenth stanza:

Taking Hostility as the Path: When people harm you or have a grudge or resent you, how should we see them and what methods should we use?

This main point contains the following:

1. Think about it in terms of the eight worldly concerns:

a) There are people who harm and threaten us. When we think about them, even if we had no connection to them before, or they are people whom we have treated kindly but then they harm us pointlessly, or intentionally harm us, at that point what should we do?

b) When other people insult and criticize us, what should we do?

The Karmapa explained (a):

When someone intentionally tries to harm us, the way we need to think is that we can probably guess what type of karmic ripening they will experience in the future. If we think in terms of karmic cause and effect, if they return our kindness with harm, they will experience a bad result. If we have that understanding—they will experience an unbearable and terrible result because they are controlled by their strong afflictions—when they fall into that state, we should feel great compassion.

From another angle, when someone causes us harm, most people get angry or have mental suffering. Most people think, they insulted me, blamed me, mentally injured me, so we get angry and get upset. But how is it that we are harmed, how are we injured?

There are basically four types of injuries. (1) Losing something or someone we treasure; (2) Someone lists our faults and criticizes us; (3) Causing physical or mental pain or discomfort; and (4) Giving scorn and insult.

When we look at the eight worldly concerns, these four injuries fit in exactly. There are the four positive dharmas and the four negative dharmas. The injuries are basically the same as the four negative dharmas and can be included in these four concerns.

These concerns ultimately come down to our own attachment. If we do not get delighted or upset about things, it immediately affects our mind.

Taking the first of the four dharmas: losing or not getting what you want in terms of something or someone; and second one: losing what you already possess—these bring mental suffering and consist of two different parts.

In terms of losing or not getting things, or being separated from someone you love, we have mental suffering. What do you do during these times?

If we lose our wallet and money or possessions or suffer a financial loss, consider this as the practice of generosity. If you can think in that way, it is good. This is because generosity is when we give someone something we would not ordinarily be able to give, something that is precious to us and that we are reluctant to give. We should think, “If I don’t have this, I will miss it, but this poor person has nothing so I will give it away.”

Giving someone something we do not need or have no use for is like getting rid of old things—it cannot really be called generosity. We should give others whatever things we treasure and cherish. If we give up something we will miss, that is the practice of generosity. As said in the Way of the Bodhisattva, “Generosity is the wish to give.” Generosity is the antidote to stinginess. Also, if we are able, we should not think about the person who took it, we should have a benevolent attitude—may they receive some benefit and may they never have any bad result—that is extremely beneficial. That is the practice of the bodhisattvas.

Your initial thought that you have lost something dissolves, and it becomes the thought that you have made a gift. This becomes a cause for gathering merit. It is like the saying: the stone that kills two birds, one method accomplishes two great purposes.

Second, if there are people you love or who are close to you, and they harm you by leaving or betraying you, how should you think? We have to think about this carefully.

The Karmapa said to consider this in terms of yourself. If the person you love has discovered that you left or betrayed them, the person who really believes in you would still believe in you, even when the situation occurred. No matter how much someone else would try to split you from your beloved or slander you, the person who loves you would still believe in you and would not leave you. It is like a loving mother: there are only a few people who will be behind you in your life. Many people might say they are your friends, but if you are in a bad situation, only a few people will back you up. When you are in difficult situations, only a few people will believe in you.

We can look at the stories of the great beings, who were slandered or set up for people to suspect them. Devadatta made false accusations and even tried to kill the Buddha Bhagavān. Also, many non-Buddhists became jealous, slandering and creating suspicions to make others doubt the Buddha, even trying to kill the Buddha. But great beings do not get unhappy, have resentment, or think of revenge against those who have betrayed them. In place of that, they meditate on sympathy and compassion for the person wanting to cause harm.

For example, a loving mother whose child becomes a teenager. The child stops listening to the parents, then stops coming home. The mother still loves her child regardless of what the child does. She does not feel distanced from her child but rather feels more responsibility for them. There is no reason to feel upset or grieve over someone who has abandoned us. That person will gradually change over time, and one day that person may possibly understand and think about what happened.

First, as a dharma practitioner, it is not correct to expect those we treat well to return that respect. If you have been treating someone well thinking there will be a beneficial outcome, when it does not happen, it will cause a lot of pain.

Second, bodhisattvas need to work for the sake of sentient beings. They need to benefit sentient beings: both good and bad. They have to work for the sake of bad people too. It would be unrealistic to expect a good return from someone of bad character. If you did, you might feel discouraged when they treated you badly.

There is a story from the Mahāyana—not the foundation vehicle—where during one lifetime Śāriputra did rouse bodhicitta to achieve buddhahood. He made the resolve to bring all sentient beings to buddhahood and practiced in tis way. But one day a māra came and thought, “I need to make an obstacle and change into a brahman to cause a problem.”

Then the māra said, “Please give me your hand.”

Śāriputra immediately cut off his right hand and gave the hand with his left hand.
When he did this, the māra said, “You just gave this to me with your left hand! This is disrespectful!” It was considered disrespectful because in India, the left hand is used for cleaning when going to the toilet.

It was at that point that Śāriputra said, “If it’s this difficult to benefit a single sentient being, there is no way I can benefit all sentient beings!” This was how Śāriputra gave up on sentient beings and lost his bodhicitta.

This is the general idea of this story. When a bodhisattva is working for all sentient beings, the biggest obstacle is expecting something in return. Expectation becomes an obstacle to enlightenment. From the perspective of a dharma practitioner, especially one practicing bodhicitta, you need to accept all sentient beings with loving kindness and compassion, and treat them all with equanimity. You must understand that includes not only the ones who treat you well, but also the ones who oppose and harm you.

Think about and understand what causes beings to behave the way they do, and do not have calculating thoughts about them. Treasure and love them, just as a loving mother will care for her children with love. That shows we have loving kindness and compassion. If we do not, if something does not quite match our wishes, does the person become a hostile enemy? Is that how it is? When something does not happen as you like and you get upset, if someone does not do what you want, do you treat them as an enemy? That is the loving kindness that is attached to your own selfish interest, only to your own needs. It is not the loving kindness of only thinking of other sentient beings’ needs.

Then the Karmapa discussed: (b) when other people insult and criticize us, what should we do?
In the Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshe Langri Thangpa, the great Kadampa master said:

When others out of jealousy, scold, insult,
and treat me in other unreasonable ways,
may I take such defeat upon myself
and offer the victory to others.

When someone else, out of jealousy, criticizes, scolds, or insults you, and does other inappropriate wrongs, you take the defeat upon yourself and give the victory and benefit to others. When other people are verbally insulting and criticizing us, what we need to think is: the person who insults us has the fires of hatred and winds of jealousy blowing in their minds, because they have less merit or such strong afflictions or because they say various harmful things verbally.

If we think carefully, it is because they do not have any control over themselves; the afflictions are stronger than they are. They are controlled by the afflictions. It is like someone who beats us with a stick. We don’t get angry at the stick —someone uses it to beat us, but the stick doesn’t beat us on its own. When others disparage, criticize, or insult us, from one angle, it happens because of a fault of our own, the other person turns up the volume and makes it big. Ultimately, it is our attachment that makes the fault become very big.

We need to use that opportunity to turn our attention inward and examine ourselves well. Ordinarily people cannot see clearly what their own thoughts are. Although you see others with your eyes, you can only see yourself with a mirror. We have two eyes to see other people but to see our own face, we don’t have eyes to see our own face, we need a mirror. Such is the case with our own faults. Otherwise, we only see other people’s faults. We are always looking outward, and because of that, it seems that all the mistakes are made by other people, and we don’t see our own mistakes.

The great beings think the opposite of that. They say, “All the faults are my own, all the qualities are someone else’s.” Geshe Langri Thangpa said, “No matter how many texts I read, I only see one point, and that point is, ‘All the faults are mine, and all the qualities are sentient beings. No matter what book, I don’t see any other critical point but that.”

The old Kagyu forefathers said, “Whether we know how to take up good deeds and give up bad deeds in karmic cause and effect, it comes from seeing your own qualities and others’ qualities. Only when we can see our own faults will we able to properly do what we should do. If you are not able to see that, when you are mistaken you can’t give something up, this is an important point to understand.

When others criticize us, we should think that it is through others’ kindness that I am able to see my faults. I can find a way to correct and improve myself. If we think we are completely innocent when we have received accusations—at this point, we may think we have done nothing—but in the past lifetime, we did something wrong. By looking at karmic cause and effect, when we think we are getting wrong accusations, we should think of the accusations as karma from the past lives.

When other people criticize us, we should know fix these faults and not to let them happen. We should be peaceful, measured, relaxed, and examine ourselves well. If we can correct ourselves, we can become a new person.

At this point the Karmapa said he would tell a story. He had not been able to discuss every the four dharmas, he had only been able to describe two, but said he would talk about the remaining two the following day.

He began to tell a story of Milarepa:

In Tibet, everyone recognized Milarepa as an example of a Dharma practitioner. All dharma legends accept this. But even for a practitioner like Milarepa, people tried to harm him. When he passed away, he was given poison and died. But who gave it to him?

There are different explanations. As taught in the Liberation Story of Milarepa by Tsangnyon Heruka, he said that there was a Kadampa Geshe Tsagpuwa who poisoned him.

The oldest stories were by Milarepa’s closest eight disciples.

In the liberation story by Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, in his Black Treasury, it said that Geshe Tsagpuwa was not the poisoner.

In the area of Nyanga and Ting, there was a bönpo, or shaman, named Tingtön Jangbar. His income depended on his work as a shaman, giving treatments to the locals for illness and warding off famines. When Milarepa stayed in that region, the blessings of Milarepa resulted in very few famines and epidemics. The bönpo then lost his income, no one invited him to come, and he had nothing to do. Milarepa was the cause, so the bönpo tried to murder Milarepa by offering him poison. Although he tried repeatedly, Milarepa would not accept the poison.

One day Tingtön Jangbar met a leper woman. She had a very difficult life, so he said he would give her a turquoise if she would offer yogurt to Milarepa. At that time in Tibet, turquoise was very valuable as Tibetans traded turquoise for gold when they went to India, so she agreed.

The bönpo said, “I will give you this turquoise, but beforehand you must give this yogurt to Milarepa.” Without her knowing this, the shaman put poison into the yogurt. The woman took the yogurt and went to Milarepa. Milarepa looked at her, opened his eyes wide, and said, “Oh… I will eat this so you can get the turquoise.” and he ate the yogurt.

After eating it, he said, “Poor thing, you are in such a terrible state. I am a yogi who has abandoned ego-clinging, so you will have no misdeed or ripening. But it is not right for you to use this cup.” He washed the bowl before giving it back to her.

Milarepa got very sick and all his students, the repas, wept. But Milarepa looked in the sky and sang a song. The main point of the song was, “May all illness, spirits, misdeeds and obscurations be like jewelry for a yogi, may they be more valuable for us, and may they be the situation for us to improve.” He prayed for the bönpo to be freed from his evil intentions and the woman to be freed from all her problems. None of the repas knew he had been poisoned. They did not know the bönpo had poisoned him and Milarepa did not tell them.

That night, the bönpo was punished by the dakinis and died. To purify the bönpo’s misdeeds, Milarepa sang a song:

The poor bönpo! He died before me. He thought I would kill him, but he died first, a very bad situation. May all my virtue and happiness and the virtue in the three times purify the bönpo’s misdeeds. May I take on all his suffering and purify him of it. In all times and all situations, may he meet virtuous friends, and may he always be parted from negative friends, may he always meet virtuous beings. May he rouse bodhichitta for all beings.

Then one of his students, Drigom Repa, asked Milarepa why he had made the prayer for the bönpo. Milarepa replied, “That bönpo killed a lama in the past and so is going to hell. He also poisoned me.”

Whether this was about the killing of a lama in the past or Milarepa himself, Drigom Rinpoche asked, “If you knew he was giving poison, why did you take it?”

Milarepa said, “I took it and prayed, thinking maybe it would liberate him.”

Drigom Rinpoche asked, “Is it possible it would liberate him?”

Milarepa said, “It probably is.”

From Milarepa’s own perspective, whether he had been poisoned or not, when it came to the time of passing away, it made no difference, so he drank the poison knowingly.
The Karmapa concluded:

When I think about this, even when other people have an evil intention towards you and harm you, Milarepa would do whatever he could to help, not only to bring temporary benefit but the ultimate benefit. This is the kind of great good deed that Milarepa did. These are things we all need to study and learn for ourselves. So that is enough for today. Now we will have the dedication prayers.

Dedication prayers were made.

Day 12: Living the Dharma

April 15th, 2022

There are many examples of taking on the suffering of others, said the Karmapa on Day 12 of Mikyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses. Although we think they’re all in the past there are still great lamas in these times. His Holiness then described in detail the extraordinary example of Tenga Rinpoche’s final days and his inspiring capacity to practice tonglen in the most excruciating circumstances.

Tenga Rinpoche had a rare form of diabetes. If there is a cut the wound won’t heal and gradually the flesh rots. When he cut his foot, eventually they had to amputate it. In hospital he was aware the foot was being amputated and did the practice of tonglen – exchanging self and others – to make it meaningful.

Normally he did a lot of writing. When I was in Tibet he wrote me letters by hand. Then they amputated his index finger. After they amputated his finger he had to hold the pen between his middle finger and thumb but he kept on writing.

Rinpoche came to the 900th Karmapa celebration. We were reciting the Dusum Khyenpa Guru Sadhana and he was writing notes in the text while reciting. He had a lot of enthusiasm even though he had lost a finger, a foot and his eyes were bad. He was still active, He had the inspiration to do it. An ordinary person would just get depressed.

How to act when you are disrespected and scorned

There is another type of harm which comes from feeling you have been disrespected and looked down upon. We feel scorned. Many people don’t like admitting that they have been scorned. Still, such situations happen all the time in our society. Many feelings of sadness, anguish, the suffering of loss, or anger come from the thought that we have been looked down on.

For example, in our lives, we might think that our parents treated our other siblings better than they treated us. When we are at work, we feel like our boss pays more attention to other co-workers. In romantic relationships, we think that our partner does not consider us the most important. When practicing dharma, we think the guru treats other students better and considers them more important. We feel disrespected or ignored. In brief, our lives are filled with episodes when we think, “No one thinks well of me. No one pays me any respect.”

How we use social media to confirm self-importance

These days there are more and more people who want to become well-known, to be the center of attention, and to be praised as good people. When we look on the internet at social media, people put a lot of effort into this. From one perspective, it shows that they have a great attachment to being well-known; from another, it shows that their idea that “I exist” is growing stronger and they are seeking more attention.

You can post your videos and pictures on WeChat or Facebook, Fundamentally, it is a way to get people to pay more attention to you, a way to confirm the idea that “I exist,” and a way to gain acceptance form others. That’s why we put effort into it. Sometimes people do not hope for others to praise them but think that it is acceptable if people insult them, point out their faults, or criticize them. What they need is to think, “I’ve caught on. More people are paying attention. I’ve become someone many people pay attention to.” As long as they go viral, they’re worthy. Notoriety is also being famous. It’s cool.

There’s a story about this though it’s just an allegory. Once there was a man who wanted to show off and make a spectacle. So he led an elephant strutting and swaggering through the streets. It wasn’t often that you saw an elephant in that town, so a lot of people were eager to see the spectacle and flocked in great crowds, with the elephant following behind. Suddenly a tiny Apso dog popped out from nowhere. As soon as it saw the elephant, the dog jumped and thought, would it be better to bite the elephant, or to yelp, or to face it down? It acted as if it could fight the elephant.

A shaggy stray dog said to the Apso, “My Friend, don’t embarrass yourself. How can you take down an elephant? Wait and see. Your barking will stop. The elephant just keeps coming straight at you. No matter how much you bark, the elephant isn’t even glancing at you.”

The Apso said, “Aha!’’ I got what I wanted. Look at this. Without fighting at all, I’ve become the most courageous dog. This alone will make tomorrow a good day. Now all the dogs will say, ‘That Apso, he’s really something. Look at how strong he is. He even dared to bite an elephant.’ “

That is how we function to get attention. Rather than being embarrassed when others try to chasten us, we think of it as something to boast about. We become so incredibly attached to attention-seeking, that we think maybe it will help people everywhere to believe in our importance. Why do we act like this? It comes down to certifying that “I exist.” To gain acceptance from others we have to believe, I am special, because deep down we do not really have self-confidence. Deep down we think why was I born? We think there is no clear reason that I exist. Many people don’t believe in themselves. This creates a lot of problems; depression is one. For example, many young girls feel they are too fat so they stop eating and get anorexia; some even commit suicide. It all comes from not believing in oneself, not giving any space, and not seeing oneself as being important enough.

The Karmapa then related a true story about Milarepa to illustrate that outer appearances are deceptive and worldly people’s views are not reliable.

Milarepa subsisted only by eating nettles and as the years went on, his body grew weak; eventually becoming decayed and emaciated. He turned so green no one could look at him. He pushed himself so close to the breaking point, that people could hardly believe he was alive. When he walked he would fall over. When people came and saw Milarepa in the cave, they thought they had seen a ghost and ran away. Milarepa said, ‘’Don’t be afraid, I’m human.’’ A few days later, an older man named Shendorma, offered him some tsampa. Milarepa added it to his nettle soup and his body became very healthy. So he sang the “Song of Interdependence.”

At a beer festival, Shendorma spread the word about the yogi Mila Töpaga (Joy to Hear). ‘’It would be good for everyone to gather the accumulations. We should make offerings to him.’’ Among the guests was Milarepa’s aunt who was encouraged to bring provisions to her nephew. The aunt took a hunk of meat and a lump of butter and went, accompanied by a servant. Milarepa was so absorbed in his practice he could not be interrupted. His aunt got annoyed and left the provisions on the ground. Milarepa did not even see it, and the foxes and wolves ate it.

His aunt reported her story to Milarepa’s younger sister. She gave the sister directions and the sister set out to see Milarepa. When she got there she called out to her brother from the opening of the cave. When she saw him, she was so shocked at the skeletal frame, she could hardly recognize him, but when he said, “Come in,” she recognized his voice. She looked carefully. All his body hair was green. His nose had fallen in and his eyes had sunk into their sockets. He didn’t have enough energy to speak. His face and tongue had also become shriveled. “There’s no one in this world more miserable than us, brother and sister,” she said, collapsing her head between his knees, and sobbing profusely.

He had her cook some nettles. She said, “We need meat and fat for the nettles,” and he replied, “If there were meat and fat in the nettles, it would be food. For meat and fat, add nettles.” Feeling sad, she added nettles three times and served it. Milarepa ate it as if it were delicious. Even though she was a beggar, she found it revolting. She shed many more tears and said, “If we brother and sister stay like this, we’ll never live like humans. You should beg for some alms.”

His sister went begging and on the way saw Bari Lotsawa teaching dharma, surrounded by horses, robes, and parasols, “A dharma practitioner should be like that. What will become of my brother whose dharma won’t allow him to live a life?” She continued begging up and down the valley and gathered enough fabric out of woolen rags from old bedding, dog hair, and goat wool to make a blanket. She gave it to Milarepa to cover his naked body.

“A dharma practitioner should be like Bari Lotsawa. Nothing will come of your dharma. Make some clothes out of this fabric, and be an attendant to Lama Bari Lotsawa,” she said. Milarepa responded by singing a song about giving up the eight worldly concerns, and she said, “It would be nice if it were like that, but is it?” She went begging again and came back with a bit of tsampa and beer to offer a ganachakra.

How good and bad we are cannot be decided by others alone, the Karmapa concluded. Of the two judges we are the principal one. It’s not others’ opinions. The belief in ourselves comes from bodhicitta. We recognize that. Our own intentions are what we look at. The way society sees things is not true dharma. It’s nothing to do with the clothes we wear or the food we eat.
Here is the song Milarepa composed on the fulfillment of his wishes:

I supplicate my lord guru.
Bless this beggar to stay in mountain retreat.

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
My joys unknown to my enemies
And woes unknown to my family,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled.

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
My cold unknown by my father
And hunger unknown to my mother,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled.

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
My aging unknown to my friends
And sickness unknown to my sister,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled.

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
Ants sucking on my flesh and guts
Bugs eating my muscles and tendons,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled.

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
My death unknown to any people
And rotting corpse unseen by birds,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled.

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
No trace of humans at my door,
No sign of blood inside,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled.

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
No pallbearers to carry my corpse,
No one to weep upon my death,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled.

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
With no one to ask where I have gone
And nowhere to point that I have come,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled.

May this beggar’s prayer to die
In a cave in an uninhabited valley
Be made for the sake of wanderers.

Be Your Own Judge

From the perspective of a dharma practitioner, we cannot live only by the way others see us. Our own level and how skilled we are cannot be decided merely by whether people think we are important or not, whether they pay attention to us or not, or whether they accept us or not. As it says in the Seven Points of Mind Training: “Of the two judges, hold the principal one.” Our belief in ourselves, our self-confidence must come from the true dharma and our practice.

In terms of a dharma practitioner, the main project for this life is to examine our intentions and actions carefully and see whether they are in accord with dharma or not. Looking to others to see whether they like us is not the main thing. This is crucially important,” the Karmapa emphasized.

Taking greed as the path, or the 20th good deed

Since time without beginning, samsaric birth and death
Have, with their agonies, wearied my body and mind.
Therefore, I strove in order that I might have
A strong body and mind forever until enlightenment.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (20)

Generally, most people have cycled through the three realms time after time, experiencing every kind of suffering. They have not faced the fact that the unbearable suffering of birth, aging, sickness, and death will certainly come but continue to cherish their own body. They are unable to sever the ties of food and clothing and the craving for pleasure. Even when practicing dharma, they say that one mustn’t destroy the body and busy themselves only with obtaining food and clothing.

Mikyö Dorje was easy to serve in every respect—clothing, food, or shelter. He was easier to follow than other gurus, so he personified the teaching: “A spiritual friend should be easy to nourish and fill.” In particular, he was fine with whatever food was served. Without regard for whether the sponsor was a high or low person or whether the cooking was good or not. When some strange food he had never seen before appeared, he would look at it and take it in his hands, like a baby taking bread. Generally, he had very poor food. In any case, he never accepted or rejected food because it was good or bad.

In fact, his face was full and his complexion good. He looked healthy. Even if he did not have tea for an entire day, his health would not be affected. He was never seen to lie down in the daytime. Regarding clothing, aside from not wearing rags, he would wear anything. Sometimes he would wear a cotton outer robe, wool zen, and any old hat. He would keep offerings for a short time to show respect for the faith of the devotees, but he had no attachment or craving. He would encourage those who sought liberation to cut through attachment to the body, to food and clothing. He was truly pleased by people who lacked craving for sensory pleasures, stomped on the eight concerns, and gave up on this life.

The Karmapas were never short of wealth because they had received offerings from the emperors of Mongolia, China and Tibet. But Mikyo Dorje wasn’t interested in the sensory pleasures of wealth at all.

In conclusion His Holiness Karmapa announced three days of prayer recitation.

There’s the war in Ukraine which is still going on. This war could lead to an even larger war. It’s not impossible. Recently, there was also an airplane that crashed in Tibet. [Flight MU5735 from Kunming to Guangzhou.] It was a very unusual crash. All of a sudden, the plane fell out of the sky and everyone was smashed to smithereens. For the sake of pacifying the war and for all the people who have passed away, we will recite prayers. It would be good to do the Amitabha puja.

The puja was later changed to the Akshobhya Ritual scheduled to be held for three days immediately after the teachings concluded.

Day 13: Karmapa Mikyö Dorje and the Bhikshuni Vows

April 19th, 2022

His Holiness began the thirteenth day, which was also the last day, of the Arya Kshema Spring Teaching, by expressing his intention to teach the twenty-first stanza, which is on ultimate bodhicitta, and the rest of the autobiographical verses Good Deeds and The Praise ‘He Searched Thoroughly’ next year.

In relation to Mikyö Dorje’s deeds and liberation, Karmapa expressed that he would like to speak particularly about something connected with the nuns, since we were having the Spring Teaching for the nuns.

His Holiness related that a few years ago, there were several conferences in Dharamsala on the topic of bhikshunis. At that time, he received a document by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol that was surprising—it described how Mikyö Dorje gave bhikshuni vows. It was titled A History of How the Teachings were Established at the Three Tsele Monasteries, and it read:

Lady Jetsunma Könchok Tsomo received full ordination from Lord Mikyö Dorje and became a bhikshuni. She observed all the rules meticulously and without any fault. She taught over one hundred nuns at Shokhang Nunnery, living a long life and perfecting her practice. She became venerated by everyone in the region of Taklung.

“So here, when it says Lord Mikyö Dorje, of course there were many Mikyö Dorjes in Tibet, but the one at this time, we should understand as Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, since the three Tsele monasteries were all related to him,” His Holiness clarified. The other surprising fact was that no text other than this one mentioned the topic of giving bhikshuni ordination—not in Mikyö Dorje autobiographies or in writings by other authors.

The Karmapa expressed his surprise at the time, because he had never seen or heard of this text before. “When we saw this text from Tsele, we began to consider what the connection between Mikyö Dorje and the bhikshuni ordination was, and we began new research into it. If we look more closely, there are many points—both major and minor—related to bhikshuni ordination in Mikyö Dorje’s collected work. He spoke about the precepts for bhikshus and bhikshunis as well as the precepts of novice monks and nuns, but this is not all. It is also important how he put this into practice in his lifetime.”

Karmapa recollected that in 2004, when he was reforming the codes of conduct for the Kagyu Monlam, he saw a text by Mikyö Dorje on the Vinaya rituals, which detailed the manners of making offerings, wearing dharma robes, and so forth. That was the time when he began to take more interest in bhikshunis. As a result, a special seating area was prepared for bhikshunis at the Kagyu Monlam, and both bhikshus and bhikshunis participated in the Kangyur and alms processions. The main cause of this was this particular text on the Vinaya rituals, he stated.

His Holiness then introduced the title of the text A Presentation of the Motions of the Sangha, Motions for Individuals Related to the Sangha, and Motions for Individuals. The meaning was that:

The practice of the rituals is accomplished as is seen. The rituals for women cannot be practiced in Tibet these days, so if a woman wishes to take full ordination, it is appropriate to give full ordination according to the ritual for men. The bhikshuni vows primarily arise on the basis of the male bhikshu sangha, and when there is the ritual for women, the gathering of the dual sanghas is merely the proper and appropriate way according to tradition. As the Sutra says, “Bhikshunis are fully ordained by the bhikshus and are granted the vows of bhikshus.”

This is because the long commentary says, “The gathering of the bhikshuni sangha is merely according to tradition…” and “Actions performed by bhikshus and bhikshunis, when done by others, are not unaccomplished.” Therefore rituals for bringing women forth and giving them full ordination on the basis of rituals for men are mostly similar as for men, and the few differences may be filled in and stated.

The main point of this passage was that since there was no bhikshuni sangha in Tibet, if women wanted to become bhikshunis, the male bhikshu sangha would be allowed to give the women’s vows, explained Karmapa. The ritual was to be based on the ritual for men, and the passages required altering, for example, saying novice nun instead of novice monk. “When I first saw this text, since I had yet to see the text by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, I had not thought that Mikyö Dorje had given the bhikshuni vows. It occurred to me that he must have given some thought to this matter. Later, after I saw how he had given bhikshuni vows, it seemed to me that perhaps he had given the bhikshuni ordination with that very same ritual he had altered for ordaining women,” Karmapa shared.

Other than this passage by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, there were very few other sources about Mikyö Dorje giving bhikshuni vows, he explained. Thus, we cannot determine definitively that he gave the bhikshuni ordination. Karmapa then pointed out that if we took some interest and looked more closely at the matter, it would be very clear that there were students of Karmapa Mikyö Dorje who were bhikshunis.

He continued by explaining that the Ma dak ma, translated as “the impure prayer,” is a Mahakala text that we recite daily. In Tibetan, there is a tradition to take the first few words to give a text its name. The colophon of the text reads:

Written by Mikyö Dorje at the request of Rinchen Palmo.

Likewise, the colophon to the Selected Prayers in Mikyö Dorje’s collected works reads:

Composed by Karmapa Mikyö Sangpo Dorje Away Yang at the request of Rinchen Palmo, who is rich with faith.

Karmapa explained that Rinchen Palmo’s name appeared here twice, on two occasions. The name “Rinchen Palmo” on its own only indicates a female student and does not mean anything else in particular. But when we look at the colophons of other texts that she requested, we can see that “Rinchen Palmo” was not just anyone. In a text titled, The Light of Profound Suchness: An Uncommon Meditation on Guru Vajrasattva, the colophon reads:

Thus this uncommon meditation on the guru Vajrasattva from the oral tradition of the Gyalwang Karmapa was written as a few notes as a reminder about meditation for the Shakya Bhikshuni with a faithful and devoted mind, Rinchen Palmo.

This clearly proved that Rinchen Palmo was not just anyone; she was a bhikshuni. Unfortunately, at this point we do not have a detailed account of Bhikshuni Rinchen Palmo’s life, but in the collected songs of Pawo Tsuklag Trengwa called The Garland of Secret Words: A Treasury of Vajra Songs, there is a song that reads:

Meditate on the main practice of the Mahayana,
Aspirational and engaged bodhicitta.
Get to the main points of devotion, guru yoga.
Gain clear appearances of the deity in the creation phase.
Rest uncontrived and loose in the essence of meditation.
Whatever appears, purify it into deity, mantra and great bliss.
Do not be attached to body or any possessions,
Eject your consciousness, the letter a, into the sky.
The essence of dharma teachings is contained in these.

Though I was asked to write notes on instructional advice I had given to Lady Rinchen Palmo, I did not have time and only wrote these seeds.

“Looking at this, it seems that Rinchen Palmo was first a noblewoman who later became a bhikshuni. I think she was connected with Taklung, but not definitively. In any case, we must examine whether she is the same as the Könchok Palmo mentioned above,” Karmapa pondered.
Generally, when we translate the Sanskrit word ratna, it would be ‘rinchen’ in Tibetan if translated literally, but it would be ‘könchok’ if translated based on its meaning. Thus, it seemed that there was a choice between Rinchen and Könchok, so it was possible that she was named ‘Rinchen Palmo’ here and was known as ‘Könchok Palmo’ in other places. However, Karmapa added that it was hard to determine definitively that it was her.

If Karmapa Mikyö Dorje had given the bhikshuni ordination, was it appropriate and according to the vinaya rituals? Historically, there were two ways to become a bhikshuni, either through a dual sangha or through a single sangha; in Tibet, it seemed that bhikshunis were ordained by a single sangha. To help us understand this issue better, Karmapa went on to provide some historical background.

The Historical Background

I. There are differing accounts of the initial spread of Buddhism in Tibet, but according to the most reliable sources, it seemed to have been during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo, explained Karmapa. This can be known from the edicts of Sena Lek and Trisong Detsen, the inscriptions on the pillars from Karchung and Samye temples. The inscriptions in Samye about the development of a monastic community read:

Representations of the three jewels were built, and people from Tibet also were brought to liberation.

This was during the time of Trisong Detsen. Here, “brought to liberation” meant allowing them to go forth (take ordination), and “people from Tibet also…” seemed to indicate that Tibetans must also have gone forth.

Likewise, within the Tengyur’s section on letters, the colophon to the Letter Summarizing What to Cherish Sent by Ba Palyang reads:

In Tibet, there was not even a word for bhikshu, and then the lord bodhisattva Trisong Detsen found the true dharma. The glorious emperor roused faith and said, “the one with the monastic name Palyang is a perfect monastic.”

This stated that prior to Ba Palyang, there were no bhikshus. He was the first Tibetan monastic, explained Karmapa.

In addition, an old manuscript of the Chronicles of Ba found in Drepung said:

Some histories say that at that time of Songtsen Gampo, the translator Sambhota, Chökyi Dzö, and others went forth, but this is nonsense from people who do not know when the Seven Men for Testing [the first seven people to take monastic vows] lived.

This refuted those who said that there were monastics during the time of emperor Songtsen Gampo. Prior to Trisong Detsen, there were no monastics in Tibet. If there were, they were Chinese monks or monastics from other regions; it seemed that no sangha community of Tibetans had developed at that time.

Karmapa stated, “It is generally accepted that the first Tibetan monastics were during the time of Trisong Detsen. The khenpo who gave them the vows was Śāntarakṣita, and the people who took the vows were the six or seven men for testing.” This was clearly found in the old manuscript of the Chronicles of Ba:

On the full moon of the first month of spring of the Year of the Sheep, the seven of Chim Shakyaprabha, Tsang Lekdrup, Pa Or Bhairotsana, Shang Lhabu, Shöbu Khonglen, and Wa Yeshe Wangpo went forth with master Śāntarakṣita.

This text also mentioned something previously unknown:

Some explain that Śāntarakṣita was from the Tāmraśāṭiyā school, but those who say that the seven men for testing acted as translators and Dānaśila ordained Palgyi Yeshe, saying he was the earliest Tibetan monk, do not understand the meaning of the seven men for testing.

It seemed that there were people who asserted that Śāntarakṣita was not the abbot who ordained them. Karmapa then indicated that we can tell when the first monastic community was founded by knowing when they were ordained.

He continued by pointing out that in the Chronicles of Ba, there was record of not only men who went forth but also women:

Then Kharchen Sa and Jangchup Je went forth with three hundred subjects…

In some documents, after Samye was built but before it was consecrated, Wa Salnang went forth and was given the name Yeshe Wangpo. In the Year of the Sheep (the year 767), during the great consecration rituals, Wa Ratna was the abbot when Lady Chen Trigyal and one hundred subjects went forth.

“It gives different situations on how women went forth, but later it became well-accepted that the abbot who first ordained women in Tibet was Wa Ratna,” explained Karmapa.

From an ancient Chinese manuscript found at Dunhuang called Ascertaining The Logic of the Mahayana Sudden Enlightenment:

Queen Tri Jemo Tsen had great faith and devotion from the very beginning and awakened to realization in an instant. She therefore cut off her deep black hair and wore the saffron-colored banner. The jewel of stainless discipline illuminated the mandala in her heart, and through the clear water of samadhi she realized the nature of zen. This deed cannot be exemplified even by a lotus unstained by the mire. The Master was skilled in means for taming beings, so he always taught the emperor’s sister Trina Namsa and over three hundred wives of ministers the Mahayana dharma. They all went forth on one occasion. What difference is there between her and Mahaprajapati?

Karmapa said this explained that Queen Tri Jemo Tsen, the king’s sister Trina Namsa, and over three hundred wives of ministers went forth. The abbot who ordained them was not clearly stated to have been Abbot Mahayana. However, His Holiness speculated, Abbot Mahayana and their ordination were most likely closely connected because they went forth due to his teaching the dharma.

By comparing the Chronicles of Ba and the Ascertainment, we can learn that the first Tibetan bhikshuni was the queen of emperor Trisong Detsen—Tri Gyalmo Tsen. There were two other pieces of evidence related to her story: the inscriptions on the bells of the Samye Gegye Temple and the Tradruk Temple. The former was probably built before she went forth, and the latter after.
Showing us a picture of the bell from Samye Gegye Temple, Karmapa read the inscriptions on it:

The Lady Queen and the Prince, as an offering to the three jewels in the ten directions, erected this bell. By the power of this merit, may Emperor Trisong Detsen, his princes, and their wives have voices with the sixty qualities and achieve unexcelled enlightenment.

The inscription on the Tradruk Temple bell read:

This large bell is very well known in the time of Emperor Tride Songtsen. In order to inspire all sentient beings to virtue, like the sound of the drums of the gods that is heard in the sky, this bell was sponsored by Jomo Jangchup and cast by Khenpo Gya Bhikshu Rinchen.

The latter inscription stated the sponsor of the bell was Jomo Jangchup, the name given to Tri Gyalmo Tsen after she became a bhikshuni. These two bells were evidence that she was a very important historical figure, Karmapa pointed out.

In any case, whether the khenpo who ordained them was Wa Ratna or Khenpo Mahayana, the source for the ordination was the male sangha—it was clearly not a dual sangha. Another source that indicated that there were both male and female bhikshus at that time was the Letter Summarizing What to Cherish Sent by Ba Palyang which wrote:

Now give instructions to the bhikshus, novices, and bhikshunis who have gone forth.

It instructed that advice should be particularly given to the bhikshus and bhikshunis, making it clear that there were bhikshunis in Tibet during the ancient spread of the teachings.

Returning from the intermission, His Holiness continued his overview of the historical background regarding Karmapa Mikyö Dorje giving bhikshuni ordination.

II. In the tenth century, as the later spread of the teachings to Tibet began, there was also an ancient inscription by Lha Lama Yeshe Ö, which said that if ladies were able to become bhikshunis, instead of stopping them, they should be sent to liberation and a dharma house should be built for them.

Karmapa elaborated, “This means that all the wives of ministers and people of high status who were able to become bhikshunis should not be prevented; they should be allowed, and temples and nunneries should be built for them. There is this inscription giving this edict.”

Likewise, the liberation story of Rinchen Sangpo by Jñāna Śrī also supported the presence of bhikshunis. Rinchen Sangpo had three siblings, among whom the youngest was his little sister Sherap Tsomo who became a bhikshuni. She studied tantric dharma and attained siddhis through her practice, becoming known as Naljorma Chökyi Drönma. This account clearly shows there were bhikshunis at that time.

III. In the thirteenth century, the third wife of Drogön Chöpak’s father Sangtsa Sönam Gyaltsen, the oldest daughter of a king, was ordained by the female master Sönam Bum. She founded a nunnery called Chomo Ling. It was said that she had taken bhikshuni vows, and Drogön Chöpak himself said:

I was the abbot for 4425 bhikshus, bhikshunis, novice monks, novice nuns, and people who went forth from Nepal, India, China, Western Xia, Mongolia, Kaule [Korea], Jangu, Uighur, Shusen, and other places.

This was found in Taktsang Paljor Sangpo’s Treasury of Documents to Please Scholars, compiled in 1434. “In any case,” Karmapa emphasized, “this proves that there were bhikshunis in the thirteenth century.”

IV. In the thirteenth century, Kashipa Rigpe Senge, one of the five scholars from Minyak, followed the vinaya master Sönam Drak, from the same lineage of Butön Rinpoche’s guru, Jamkya Namkha Pal, and Tsi Dulzin. He helped to spread the dharma widely, in central Tibet and in Western Xia [Tangut Empire 1038 to 1227]. According to the liberation story by his direct disciple Seng Sang, his students included one hundred bhikshunis.

V. The vinaya master Namkha Sönam, born in the latter part of the fifteenth century, was very well-known at that time. He was the khenpo who ordained Chuwar Rangjung Wönmo as a bhikshuni, according to Gorampa’s dialogs The Blossoming Lotus.

VI. Toward the end of the fourteenth century, according to a letter in the Collected Works of Redawa Shonnu Lodrö called Advice to the Lady of Yardrok, Chöpal Sangmo, it was written:
“Geshe Yeshe Pal brought the letter of the Lady Bhikshuni along with the cape, and I rejoice.” At the end it also said, “This is advice from the child of snow Le to Bhikshuni Pal Sangmo.” Thus it was clear there were bhikshunis at that time, indicated Karmapa.

VII. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the first Samding Vajra Varahi Chökyi Dronme, or Shelkar Dzommo, first took novice ordination from Bodong Panchen Choke Namgyal and was named Adrol Chökyi Dronma. Later, she took bhikshuni ordination from Bodong Panchen, who acted as the abbot, and the complete sangha of bhikshus. This topic was described in detail in Jetsunma Chökyi Dronme’s liberation story.

Karmapa related that the next day after she had taken the bhikshuni vows, she was invited to lunch by Bodong Rinpoche. She brought her alms bowl and brought along her attendant who was a novice nun. Bodong Panchen was inspired by her and said, “A female arhat has come down to Earth from the heavens.” This was described very clearly in her liberation story.

VIII. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, a woman named Sangdawa Shakya Budrenma went forth under the vinaya master Lobsang Pukpa and was named Shakya Die. Later, she took bhikshuni ordination from Goyap Khenpo Sangye Sangpo and was given the name Shakya Sangmo.
When she took dharma teachings from the Khenpo, she experienced a crystal made of light appearing repeatedly inside her body, so she asked the Khenpo about it. Karmapa remarked that the Khenpo was probably a practitioner of pacification. The Khenpo rested in meditation and replied, “You will bear or give birth to a great being who will uphold, preserve, and spread the teachings of the Buddha. It will be just as how in the past in India, the Brahmin lady Salway Tsultrim, who was first a nun and became a laywoman, bore Asanga with someone from a Kshatriya class and Vasubandhu with a Brahmin. So do not stay here; return to your homeland.”
Later, she returned her vows and became the mother of Panchen Shakya Chokden. Karmapa added that this was explained in two liberation stories of Shakya Chokden, the Precise Account and The Illuminator of the Buddha’s Teachings.

IX. In the middle of the fifteenth century, when Panchen Shakya Chokden was sixty-two, it was said in his liberation story The Illuminator of the Buddha’s Teachings:

Gyama Chödrup Palmo was ordained a bhikshuni with Shakya Chokden as khenpo, Chennga Drupgyal as the ritual master, Kungyal as the private questioner, Je Drakmar as the master assisting the private questioner, Drung Palsangwa as timekeeper, Chöje Samten as the assistant, and four masters to fill out the ceremony.

These historical documents support the case that Mikyö Dorje did give bhikshuni vows. Karmapa emphasized the importance of this, “When we research the above accounts, we see that most people who took bhikshuni ordination in Tibet in the past were of high status, from the families of lamas or the noble. That is primarily the type of woman it was. Thus, it could be that the lineage was later broken since there were few commoners who took bhikshuni vows, or it could have been due to other circumstances. We cannot say definitively, so we need to continue to research this topic.”

Not only were there bhikshunis in Tibet prior to the sixteenth century, it seemed that at one point during that period, there were an equal number of monasteries and nunneries in Ütsang. Karma Chakme said in his text Important Dharma Teachings for Nuns to Be Self-Sufficient in Dharma:

In the pure land of Ütsang,
The monasteries and nunneries
Are neither more nor less.
In some nunneries, the nuns
Are three or four hundred in number.
There are many nun gurus and discipline masters.
They established strong discipline,
And the nunneries were good. Thus most
Were able to become self-sufficient in the dharma.
I have not heard of such happening
Here in Kham and Ngomshi.
Protectors of dharma are like stars in the daytime.

At that time, there were equal numbers of monasteries and nunneries. In particular, Karmapa mentioned that there were many lamas and discipline masters who were nuns in these nunneries and had rules to keep men from outside coming in. Many of the early Kadampa monasteries in Penyul were later converted to nunneries. On the other hand, in Kham where Karma Chakme was from,; nunneries were rare. “However, later there were political changes in Ütsang and there began to be hostility toward nuns; people started to look poorly on the nuns and there was a decline in the nunneries. But up until the seventeenth century, the nunneries were flourishing,” exclaimed Karmapa.

He added, “Looking at the situations I have already mentioned, from the introduction of bhikshuni vows in Tibet, probably about ninety-eight percent of the bhikshuni ordinations were performed by the bhikshu sangha.” The vows of a laywoman, vows of going forth, and novice nun vows may be taken from individuals. The first and last of these are taken from a female master, and the vows of going forth from an abbess. The nun in training, celibate upavastha, and bhikshuni vows are taken from the sangha; the nun in training vows are taken from a sangha with the female master, and the celibate upavastha vows must be taken from sangha with an abbess.

Karmapa explained that in the vinaya, among the ten ways to be fully ordained, there are primarily three for women:

1. Gaining full ordination by accepting the eight heavy dharmas
2. Full ordination by messenger
3. Full ordination by the dual sangha

In places where there is a male bhikshu sangha but no female sangha, there is a way to have a faultless and complete ordination. The Minor Topics of the Vinaya said:

Know that the woman named this went forth with the bhikshus and was fully ordained and became a bhikshuni.

Regarding the meaning of this, the extensive commentary by Master Gelek Shenyen explained:

Saying “bhikshus” excludes bhikshuni… The full ordination of bhikshunis depends solely upon the sangha of bhikshus.

Likewise, the auto-commentary on the Vinaya Sutras stated:

If a nun in training is fully ordained with the ritual for bhikshus, because the bhikshu sangha is the primary sangha, the gathering of the bhikshuni sangha is merely in accord with tradition.

In Tibet, the most well known vinaya commentary by Tso Ngawa said:

If there are not four, it will not arise here, because the motion is not passed. If the bhikshunis are not found, it is permissible for the male bhikshu sangha to give the precepts of a nun-in-training.

Karmapa explained that it is commonly accepted in all four schools of Tibetan buddhism for men to act as the abbot for going forth and the master for novice nuns and give vows. If there were no way for women to receive vows from male bhikshus, or if they could receive the ordination but it would not be faultless and perfect, there would be no way to ordain women in Tibet; thus there would be the danger of saying that there were no nuns in Tibet. He reminded us this was another point to keep in mind.

In the Chapter on the Rains Retreat, it was mentioned that bhikshus would go out to ordain nuns in training and the celibate upavastha.

Similarly, the Sutra of Mahaprajapati translated into Chinese in the fifth century wrote:
After the Buddha passes to nirvana, if there were a woman who seeks the spiritual way, is it appropriate for bhikshunis to be the abbess and master?

The Buddha said to Ananda, “If she is an elder bhikshuni with the qualities of discipline, it is appropriate. Even so, it depends upon the bhikshu sangha. If the assembly is complete, it is appropriate, but if it is short one bhikshu, she should not be ordained.”

Again, Ananda asked the Buddha, “In that case, is it logical for bhikshus to be the abbot and master?” The Buddha replied, “It is not. Great bhikshunis are allowed to act as the abbess and master. If there are no bhikshunis, then it is logical for the bhikshu sangha to do so.”

This practice seemed to have been present with early Tibetan vinaya masters. Karmapa pointed out that we can know this from the scholar Sherap Gyatso, from the great Kadampa monastery of Narthang, who wrote in his commentary on the vinaya that, “If there are no bhikshunis, the bhikshus may give all the vows.”

In brief, he summarized that if one had not previously taken the nun in training vows and was ordaining as a bhikshuni, the vow would still arise. Butön Rinpoche also said, “The actual vow arises from the male sangha.” Most scholars agree that the bhikshuni vows actually arise from the bhikshu sangha. Therefore, the lineage of the vows was thus transmitted from the male sangha, not from the female, explained Karmapa.

Likewise, in China in the fourth century, the earliest bhikshuni was Jing Jian. She was probably ordained by a male sangha alone, he remarked. It was difficult to find examples of such during the time when buddhism flourished in India, since there were both bhikshus and bhikshunis in India.

“These days, we could say that the world has shrunk, or that travel has become easier,” Karmapa observed. “Even though bhikshuni vows can be given by the male sangha, that does not always necessarily mean it is best to do so. If we invite bhikshunis from other regions to give ordination, I think there is less basis for dispute and there are great benefits to doing so. A few years ago, I invited a sangha of bhikshunis from Taiwan to the sacred site of Bodhgaya to give the novice nun vows, and it turned out well.”

His Holiness expressed that in the future, when the epidemic has ended and we can once again travel easily, he would like to invite the bhikshuni sangha from another country again to give the novices the nun-in-training vows and then later the bhikshuni ordination. Within the practice lineage of Karma Kamtsang, this topic of bhikshuni ordination was not something he had decided alone, Karmapa clarified. It was a result of several conferences held during the Kagyu Gunchö among the khenpos, geshes, and students. At that time, the khenpos and geshes told him, “You should institute bhikshuni ordination in the Kamtsang Kagyu,” and he heeded the requests.

His Holiness then mentioned that some people argued that ordaining women would shorten the Buddha’s teachings by five hundred years, but a response was given in the second century in the Great Exposition. From the one hundred and eighty-third fascicle of the Great Exposition:

From the vinaya: “My teachings should remain over one thousand years, but it will be shortened by five hundred years because of women going forth.” As this says, the Bhagavan taught the true dharma in many places but did not define what true dharma is. Thus, that sutra is the basis for treatize, and this treatize has been written to explain what was not taught there…

The Buddha said to Ananda, “If women do not go forth in the dharma vinaya I have taught well, my dharma will remain one thousand years or even longer. Because women are going forth, my true dharma will be shortened by five hundred years.” As this says, if the teachings are to remain one thousand years, why would the Bhagavan have said that?

The treatize appeared after the first period of five hundred years, yet the teachings remained. Thus, why did the Buddha say this, and why are the teachings still here? His Holiness elucidated that there were two different explanations.

The teachings referred to the dharma intending stable liberation, of achieving the result of arhatship; it did not refer to the duration of teachings shortening.

Others explained that this was said in terms of not accomplishing the eight respectful dharmas, and Karmapa favored this explanation. If women did not accept the eight respectful dharmas, then the teachings would be shortened by five hundred years. But since they did accept them, the true dharma will remain in the world for a full thousand years.

If we did not understand the basis of this saying, then it would not be in accord with the teachings of the scriptures. “In the future, we need to be able to respond that it is inappropriate to say that women going forth will harm the teachings,” reminded Karmapa. “At that time in Indian society, women were looked down on and in a very low position. If the Buddha were to put women in a high place in society, it would have changed and decreased the level of respect people had. By taking the eight respectful dharmas, it does not reduce the teachings by five hundred years.”

Words of Advice

His Holiness emphasized that it was important for all our nuns to both study and practice. He said that even though traditionally monasteries were separated into different sections [shedra and tsokdra], for someone who is seeking liberation, study and practice have to be unified. This could be understood through the analogy: A bird which uses only one wing cannot fly.

Likewise, we need to unite both study and practice to attain liberation. “Studying the texts is extremely important; if we do not know what we should and should not do, we will not know how to do the practice,” explained Karmapa. All nuns need to study, regardless if they are in the centers of study or practice.

Karmapa reminded us that in the past in Tibet, nuns did not have many opportunities. One reason was because many of them did not take much interest in studying. He explained, “They stayed in the form of nuns, and did not look for opportunities. It is important that we study the texts and philosophy. The aim for this is to practice, to tame your mental continuum and bring benefit to others.” Karmapa specified that this benefit does not refer to helping with food or clothing, but with the dharma. This is the responsibility of all dharma practitioners, he urged.

“When we think of studying philosophy in the shedra, we think it is like going to school. We think we are staying in a dharma community, and we are listening and contemplating the dharma, but we don’t really feel that, do we? I do not think that is good at all. It is extremely important for us to have study and practice together. In this way, our nunneries can be like great ornaments for the teachings of buddhism, and a great fertile field for the happiness of sentient beings,” he concluded.

After the usual dedication prayers, various monasteries and nunneries made mandala offerings to His Holiness, and a representative from the nunneries expressed gratitude towards His Holiness and the teachings in a short speech. The last session of this year’s Arya Kshema Spring Teaching ended with a recitation of The Aspiration of Mahamudra.