Today the Gyalwang Karmapa continued his teachings under the auspices of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility as the main hall of the India International Centre filled again with people from thirty countries. He began by dispelling the misconception that Dharma could be focused on external appearances—the impressions that our speech and physical gestures make or even different kinds of rituals. Dharma means making our lives deeply meaningful, he said, and discovering the essence of why we are here. When practice comes from the depth of our being, it effects our mind, making it clearer and able to accomplish the goals we set. Bringing about this inner change is the focus of the second freedom from attachment:
If you are attached to samsara, you don’t have renunciation.
Through Dharma practice we can change our personality. “Often we think,” the Karmapa explained, “‘This is the way I am. It’s the way I’m made and it’s impossible to change.’ That is not true. We can and actually need to change. If we alter our character, our whole life will be transformed.” He cautioned, “We cannot use our set ways as an excuse to stay the same. In particular, if our mind is especially wild and unruly, that’s actually a very good reason to try and change it.”
What should we do? The Karmapa advised that we should attend to the mind first, which is not easily reshaped so we need to find a powerful remedy and to inspire ourselves so our minds will be moved. Based on a positive motivation, we can change our ignorance, desire, and hatred, the three poisons that hold us back; we can actually arrive at our life’s aim. And this aim we should keep clearly in mind when we listen to the Dharma.
To bring this to an experiential level, the Karmapa asked that while he chanted the refuge vow, people use their natural intelligence to make clear for themselves their motivation in coming to these talks. He remarked that in listening to Dharma from any genuine teacher, we need to know the reasons why we have come. If it is just because that teacher is famous and popular, it will be difficult for Dharma to benefit us. Noting that it takes time to clarify our aspiration, the Karmapa chanted slowly and melodiously the refuge vow while people contemplated.
Turning to the root verse, the Karmapa explained that the first two lines of the verse relate to the lower and then the average level of individuals and the ways they train their minds. “If you are attached to samsara, you don’t have renunciation,” means that we abandon our attachment to samsara and seek to help others. The first line encouraged us not to be attached to this life, but think of the future ones. However, this is not enough. The Karmapa commented; “Even if we achieve the happiness of humans and gods, our minds will not be at ease, because this is a temporary, not the ultimate, happiness.”
To free ourselves he advised: “We must come to know that all of samsara has the very nature of suffering.” We can develop this understanding by asking ourselves: Is the happiness found in samsara true happiness? If it were, he said, then this happiness should be one that is autonomous or independent of conditions so that it does not change. But we cannot find such a happiness in samsara because mundane experiences arise based on numerous causes and conditions that continually change. So we do not find the happiness we seek, that ultimate happiness free of alteration.
The Karmapa gave an example to illustrate samsaric happiness: “Suppose you were carrying a heavy bag on your right shoulder. After a while, it would begin to hurt, so you shift it to your left shoulder and your right shoulder would feel better. But soon the left shoulder would be uncomfortable. All the pleasures of samsara are like this; they depend on shifting causes and conditions.” The Karmapa summarized, “The label we give something depends on the degree of suffering. If the suffering is slight, it’s called pleasure. If it is great, it’s called suffering. We give different degrees of suffering the names ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain.’ Like this, we can come to see samsara as having the nature of suffering.”
“Everything that happens under the control of karma and the afflictions has nature of suffering,’ he continued. “Seeing this, we wish to liberate ourselves.” These days, however, it is not easy to be aware of the suffering, he said, because we are besieged by ads promising all sorts of comforts and leading us to focus on a life of ease.
The third line of the verse reads: If you are attached to selfish aims, you are not a bodhisattva. [The Karmapa changed the second part of the line from “you don’t have bodhicitta” because it is possible that a bodhisattva could have selfish aims, but not bodhicitta.]
Here, the Karmapa commented, we do not wish to free just ourselves from samsara but all living beings. Our focus shifts from saving ourselves to wanting everyone to be free of suffering and find happiness. He cautioned, “We may think we are practicing in the Mahayana, yet the real proof is whether or not we have true bodhicitta, the wish to free all living beings who are not free. It comes down to devoting all we do for the sake of others. Just having the name of a Mahayana practitioner has no benefit.”
In general, the Karmapa noted, one can explain something in two ways: through statements that establish something (via positiva, assertions) and through statements that negate (via negativa, negations). This line, as others in the verse, uses negation to make its points and this is actually more powerful than assertions. “As an assertion—If you are not attached to selfish aims, you are a bodhisattva—makes it seem too easy,” he said, “and it does not make as strong an impact on our minds as the negation— If you are attached to selfish aims, you are not a bodhisattva.”
The word bodhisattva was translated into Tibetan as changchup sempa, “hero of the mind of enlightenment.” Nevertheless, the Karmapa remarked, “These days many people want to practice the Dharma and not be bothered by obstacles. But if we practice Dharma we will certainly encounter obstacles, so we should look at them as a chance to improve ourselves and train our minds.” He continued, “Since we are practicing for the sake of others, no matter what happens, we need to be heroic, brave, and courageous, seeing difficulties not as obstacles but as a way to train and improve ourselves.”
One way we escape our stressful lives is to go to a spa for a massage, some yoga and a little meditation. This may help us, he stated, but it is not Dharma practice, which entails hard training: “We need to face difficulties directly. If we practice, there will be pain and suffering because it is intensive exercise. We need to go beyond ourselves—that is actual practice.”
The fourth line of the verse reads:
If there is grasping, it is not the view.
The Karmapa explained, “Usually when something appears in our mind, we grasp onto it through what are known as universal concepts or abstractions. For example, we might have a conceptual idea of emptiness or dependent arising, but this is not what they actually are. This is the way most Kagyu, Nyingma, and Sakya schools see it: When we nakedly or directly perceive something, we do not think of it in this generalized, conceptual way; direct experience cannot be expressed in thoughts or words.” What we think of as emptiness or dependent arising, he explained, are not what they truly are; actual emptiness or dependent arising is perceived nakedly, free of concepts.
“Therefore,” he concluded, “listening and reflecting on the Dharma are not enough to break through our misperceptions and allow us to see things are they are. In order to perceive directly, we need to accumulate merit and supplicate the lamas for their blessing. This will change our mind and we will be able to directly perceive the view.”
Two traditional ways of practicing are known as analytical or resting meditation. The Karmapa explained that these two methods are not contradictory: both bring the realization of emptiness and eliminate grasping onto whether something exists or not, both exists and not exists, or neither. All of these superimpositions onto what emptiness actually is have been eliminated. He summarized the meaning of this last line as eliminating grasping onto these conceptualized attributes. With this he concluded the overview of the Four Freedoms from Attachment.
As a final note, he mentioned that there are two traditions of mind training: one belonging to the treatises or the great scriptures and one belonging to the key or practical instructions to which The Four Freedoms from Attachment belong. He stated, “If we can meditate on them in the way they indicate we should, they will definitely be of great benefit and take us to the very heart of practice, to its deep and profound meaning.”
The Karmapa’s Dharma talk was then followed by some questions and answers.
One person asked: When I practice bodhicitta I should try not to cheat or to do it solely for my own benefit. But I’m studying commerce and business and every day we are learning to how to maximize profit. What should I do?
The Karmapa responded: “Business people are concerned with this life—it is the basis of their activity—and it would be hard for it to be otherwise. But some people involved in commerce have an interest in furthering only themselves and do not care about others. This kind of extremely narrow focus on oneself contradicts the Dharma. So we should have the attitude that what we do is not only for us and this life with its temporary pleasures. While working we should be devoted with full mind and heart to the Dharma and keep our long-term goal in mind. If we are preoccupied with the short-term, it will be difficult to be a real practitioner. So it would be good to divide our concerns in half: fifty percent for this life and fifty percent for the Dharma, maybe even 60 or 70 percent.”
The next questioner asked: How can we renounce sense pleasures, such as good food?
The Karmapa replied by telling the story of how he was attached to meat and then gave it up. “You have to think of the reasons why you want to renounce something,” he said. “If someone had told me, ‘You must become a vegetarian,’ I probably would not have done it. You must reflect on your own, investigate and find your own reasons for giving something up. You must make the decision.” He listed his two main reasons for becoming vegetarian: it saves the lives of many living beings and thinking of future lives, he did not want to be parted from cherishing the life of other living beings. He added, “Information is not enough. You have to actually see the reasons. We need to be motivated and inspired.”
The last questioner queried: How do we build our patience and eliminate our temper or anger?
The Karmapa responded: “In order to pacify our afflictions, we first have to recognize them, see what they are. Some are easier to recognize than others. In general all the afflictions can be condensed into three: hatred, desire, and ignorance. Of these three, hatred is the most obvious and easiest to recognize. Desire is more difficult as sometimes it seems to be a fault and at other times, not. Ignorance is the most difficult, and often we do not recognize it at all.
“It is critical to see the afflictions as faults. And not just that they are faulty, but that they are nothing other than the very nature of faults and certain to pull us down into our ruin. It is not easy to see this but we can remember times when we got angry and all the problems that caused. Our own experience can teach us how important it is to resist our afflictions. With a clear resolve, we should rouse ourselves from this sleep of delusion.” He suggested that when we wake up in the morning, we make a plan of how we are going work with the afflictions that day and then stick to it. If we just go with the flow, we won’t have a chance against them.
In closing the Karmapa thanked people for coming and spending the weekend in the world of Dharma. “Both our Indian friends and those who have come from far away took time to come here,” he noted, “and this shows how important you consider the Dharma to be and how much you respect the Dharma. For my part I am glad you have this attitude and rejoice in it greatly.” He continued to speak in particular of the relationship between Tibetan Buddhism and India: “Buddhism first arose in India and was preserved in Tibet. Tibetan translators came to India and brought the Dharma back to Tibet. To be able to return the Dharma to India is a wonderful opportunity for the Tibetans, and I think it is important to continue this tradition through mutual exchange and dialogue.”