Eight Verses of Mind Training, Session 1
January 11, 2014
Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
After a night of continuous rain across Bodhgaya, the first, brief rays of sunlight finally emerged just as the Gyalwang Karmapa prepared to begin his first teaching of the 31st Kagyu Monlam Chenmo.
In the lead up to the program, he had earlier explained his choice of texts for this year’s activities. During the pre-Monlam teachings the week before, he had taught for three days on Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye’s text, The Torch of Certainty. And, for the teachings during the actual Kagyu Monlam itself, he chose to teach on the Eight Verses of Mind Training by the great Kadampa master, Geshe Langri Tangpa.
The reason for this particular combination of texts, the Gyalwang Karmapa explained, goes back to the Kagyu founding luminary Gampopa, who skilfully combined both the Kadampa and Mahamudra traditions. This year, the Karmapa explained, he wanted to also combine texts from these two traditions during his Bodhgaya activities as a conscious reflection of Gampopa’s accomplishment, in modern practice.
The Gyalwang Karmapa began the teaching by explaining how the text’s author, Geshe Langri Tangpa, was nicknamed ‘The Sombre One’ because he was almost never known to laugh. The reason he was always so serious, the Gyalwang Karmapa said, was because of his single-pointed focus on the suffering of sentient beings.
“The expression on Geshe Langri Tangpa’s face was not a sign that he was depressed or overcome by misery or obsessed with his own sufferings. It was, rather, a sign of his compassionate courage and concern for others,” he explained.
He then turned to the text, commenting that since it was so short—just eight verses long—he felt confident he would be able to get through it all in the two days of teachings.
Moving to the first verse, he explained that sentient beings are more valuable or more important than ourselves. In fact, he said, a practitioner of Mahayana mind training must think that all beings throughout space—all beings who experience sensations of pleasure and pain—are more precious than a wishfulfilling jewel.
“In Indian legend there is said to have been something called a wishfulfilling jewel that was extremely rare,” he explained. “It was extremely hard to find, found only in the depths of the ocean. If you managed to get hold of one, it would fulfill any prayer you made. But in spite of this, all the wishfulfilling jewel could give you was temporary, unlimited wealth and resources. It could not give you omniscient Buddhahood.”
The Gyalwang Karmapa then skillfully adapted the analogy to the modern world.
“If a wishfulfilling jewel doesn’t mean anything to you, then the statement that all beings are more valuable than a wishfulfilling jewel is not going to strike you. So how about saying, all sentient beings are more valuable than money. In fact, sentient beings are a hundred, a thousand, a million, a billion times more valuable than any amount of money.”
“Why are sentient beings so valuable? Because in order to achieve awakening we need bodhicitta, and in order to generate bodhicitta we need compassion. And because compassion must be generated with respect to sentient beings, sentient beings are infinitely precious and necessary for our awakening.”
Without other beings, the Gyalwang Karmapa explained, we would not be able to generate the bodhicitta that is the root of the path to awakening. Therefore, without other beings, we could in fact not achieve awakening ourselves.
The Gyalwang Karmapa next described his vision of the close, interconnected world we inhabit today.
“In this 21st century, within the society of this world as a whole, or within the individual societies that make it up, we are even more closely connected to other beings than at any time in the past. In a sense the world is getting smaller, because we now live in an information era. Our connection to others is much closer, much more immediate.”
As a direct and immediate demonstration of this closeness, even as he spoke about 1500 viewers were tuning into the live webcast simultaneously from all corners of the world, while his words were translated and broadcast in 11 different languages within moments of his uttering them.
“This means that we are more able than in the past to both help—and harm—others,” he continued. “Our happiness and suffering and their happiness and suffering are now so closely connected that they’re really inseparable, and this connection cannot be severed.”
“In the past it was possible for us to maintain the illusion of separation between self and others….But it is becoming much clearer in the present day that there is no separation between self and others.”
As the teaching session wound to a close, the Gyalwang Karmapa led the assembly in five minutes of meditation on the equality of self and others. The vast hall fell silent as 9000 people guided by the Gyalwang Karmapa, simultaneously directed their minds towards a state of equanimity.