Riverside Church, New York, New York // May 30, 2018
After the lunch break on Wednesday, the Gyalwang Karmapa summarized the morning’s teaching. “Today we looked at the cultivation of absolute bodhichitta and began the third section of the main body of the text concerning how to cultivate the various aspects of a bodhisattva’s training. This section has many parts, the first being the practice of the six Perfections. Among them, we’ve gone through generosity, moral discipline, patience, and diligence. We will now turn to the fifth, meditative stability.
“Stanza 29 describes this practice:
Knowing that deep insight fully endowed with calm abiding
Completely conquers all afflictions,
To cultivate a concentration that transcends
The four formless states is the practice of a bodhisattva.
“If we look at the words of this stanza, we see that it refers to two aspects: the first is an excellent state of calm abiding, and the second is insight. Calm abiding or tranquility is defined as the ability to rest our minds one-pointedly on a chosen virtuous object. And once we achieve tranquility, we use it as the basis for the cultivation of insight, which in this case refers to insight into or realization of emptiness. The combination of tranquility and insight eradicates the kleshas, the cause of samsara. This supramundane meditative stability or absorption is the practice of the perfection of meditation by bodhisattvas.
We define it as the mind resting one-pointedly in a state of goodness, without wandering from its chosen virtuous object.
“If we cannot rest our mind one-pointedly on a virtuous object and keep it from wandering, we cannot cultivate the insight that brings the realization of selflessness, and we will not achieve the aim of liberation, whether that of the common vehicle or the state of buddhahood, sought by bodhisattvas.
“The great Kadampa teacher Geshe Gombawa said that the development of meditative stability depends primarily upon solitude. And that without such isolation, true meditative stability cannot arise, because for our minds to remain at rest one-pointedly, we need to be free from external distractions. Nowadays, we have so many external distractions, especially those connected with technological development, that cultivating meditative stability is very difficult. The instruction from the past to remain in isolation had two benefits: one was freedom from distraction, and the other was that isolation is very conducive to developing sadness or discontent with samsara. It seems that nowadays this type of development in meditation is very difficult to achieve, but we must still do our best.
“There are different types of solitude. There is the solitude which is literally isolation from the dwellings of others and also solitude to be found in simply being alone in a room that is somewhat separated from the doings of others. Or we can practice in a dwelling free from any kind of interference. The point is that as beginners, we must try to avoid distraction because we are not yet at the point where we can face distraction and overcome it. Although this is hard for the reasons I mentioned, we still need to cultivate some state of independence or isolation of mind and live in contentment. At the very least, while we are meditating, we must learn to rest our minds in the fresh mind of the present moment and not think about the past or the future. Without at least that much isolation, no progress in meditation can be made.
“Stanza 30 speaks of wisdom, the sixth Perfection:
Without wisdom the five perfections
Cannot bring forth full awakening.
To cultivate wisdom endowed with skillful means
And free of concepts about the three aspects is the practice of a bodhisattva.
“Without this sixth Perfection the five prior Perfections are like sightless people: they cannot reach the citadel of perfect awakening without the guidance of the perfection of wisdom. This means that in order to reach the state of omniscience, we need to possess the aspect of means in the form of great compassion, bodhichitta, and so forth, and the aspect of emptiness, which means being free of the three types of reification—the meditator, the object of meditation, and the practice of meditation itself.
“Wisdom can be divided into three types: the wisdom that comes from hearing, the wisdom that comes from thinking or reflection, and the wisdom that arises from meditation. If we want to develop wisdom, we must practice all three. I mention this because many people say to me, ‘Grant me your blessing so that I may gain wisdom,’ as though wisdom were something that I could bestow upon them. If I had such a siddhi of wisdom, wouldn’t I bestow it upon myself, too? I suppose it is possible that in the case of an extraordinarily realized master and a very devoted disciple, wisdom could be transmitted merely through blessings. But basically if you want to develop wisdom, you must practice hearing, contemplation, and meditation.
“With regards to the practice of these three, sometimes people engage mainly in the first two: they hear a great deal of Dharma and then think about it a lot. But hearing and contemplating without meditating can sometimes generate an artificial, outward-directed understanding. Such people understand a great deal, but this is not mixed with their mind streams because they have not actually applied it. It’s as though the information is present in their brains but does not penetrate their hearts. So in the cultivation of wisdom, we need to remember that the primary intention is the examination of our own minds.
“It is also said that the greatest wisdom is the absence of fixation or the freedom from attachment, which means among other things, that the ultimate wisdom is the direct realization of the selflessness of all dharmas. And this is where our development of wisdom has to head. If on the other hand, our fixation increases and we become more and more arrogant, then something has gone terribly wrong.
“This is something of a digression, but I want to say it. Among all of you here, there are many longtime students and also many new students. You all share an interest in Tibetan Buddhism, and especially the vajrayana. Most people think of the vajrayana simply as the practice of the yidam sadhanas and the repetition of mantras. People generally haven’t heard about the ground, path, and fruition aspects of tantra. And when I say people I don’t just mean you here. I mean monks in monasteries, and even scholarly monks in our Karma Kagyu monastic colleges. They study the sutras assiduously but they do not learn that much about the vajrayana. It wasn’t always this way. Up until the time of the 10th Gyalwang Karmapa, Choying Dorje, we had colleges for the study of vajrayana as well as colleges for the study of sutra, but because the teachings were threatened during that time, some of the assiduous instruction in both sutra and tantra diminished.
“For several years I have wanted to add a vajrayana program to the curriculum of our monastic colleges. One difficulty is that some of the necessary source texts composed by eminent masters of the past are no longer available. This is partly because the study of tantra in the monastic colleges had diminished, but also because of the destruction brought about by the Cultural Revolution. But now I want to create a vajrayana curriculum for Tibetans and also for foreign students from the West and from Asia. This will include some kind of graduated study of the vajrayana, including the stages of the vajrayana path, the ground, path, and fruition tantra, the differences between the four levels of tantra, and so on. By creating this, no doubt many teachers greater than I will come along and continue this with you.
“So now we have completed the first section of the training of a bodhisattva, the cultivation of the six perfections. We now turn to the second aspect, the practice of the four dharmas taught in the sutras.
“Stanza 31 concerns the first of the four dharmas taught in the sutras, the practice of examining and subsequently abandoning delusion:
Not examining our confusion, we could masquerade
As a practitioner while not in harmony with the Dharma.
Therefore, to continually examine our confusion
And discard it is the practice of a bodhisattva.
“This means that if we do not scrutinize our own delusion, we might become someone who is antithetical to dharma, yet still carries the appearance of a dharma practitioner. It is therefore the practice of bodhisattvas to continually monitor their own delusion and abandonment.
“Mahayana practitioners must repeatedly examine their delusion. Why do we need to do this? If we don’t examine our delusion, we might assume that we possess qualities that we lack and be unaware of our very real defects. This could lead to a situation where we heedlessly assume we possess the virtues of the mahayana simply because of our association with it; meanwhile we are becoming entirely antithetical to the Dharma by merely adopting the guise and appearance of a practitioner.
“Nagarjuna wrote that although our physical eyes only see others, nevertheless, the way we look at others could become a mirror unto ourselves. We see faults in others very easily and clearly, but often these are simply projections of our own defects. For example, if someone is very angry, they will perceive others that way because they project their anger onto others. So our perception of others can be a mirror we use to see our own mind. This is especially relevant in describing the relationship between guru and disciple: when the student projects their faults onto the guru, they become the student’s mirror. The main point here is our practice is not going well if we are unaware of even our greatest flaws but very aware of the slightest imperfection in others.
“We may identify with the Dharma thinking, “I am a Buddhist, a Dharma practitioner, and a practitioner of the mahayana.” Due to this blind identification with the Dharma, we can deceive ourselves about our true state. If I take myself as an example,” the Karmapa said, “I was recognized as the Karmapa when I was seven and soon after went to Tsurphu where I studied the Dharma under many lamas. From that time, of course, I regarded myself as a Buddhist practitioner. Why should I doubt this? After all, no one else doubts it, asking ‘Is the Karmapa a Buddhist or not?’ Of course I am. But then, if you were to ask me, ‘Am I a good human being?’ I would have a harder time answering that. Sometimes I am a good human being, especially when things are going my way. But sometimes, especially when things are not going my way, I think I am not a good human being.
“So think about it, if we consider ourselves to be practitioners of the Mahayana, doesn’t that mean that we should not only be good human beings all the time, but even better than ordinary good human beings? I think sometimes we take it for granted that we have these attributes of goodness. We must go back and reexamine our mental state, becoming aware of the degree of our own delusion.
“Stanza 32 describes the second of the four dharmas taught in the sutras, abstaining from criticizing bodhisattvas, which in this context means other mahayana practitioners:
If afflictions compel us to fault other bodhisattvas,
We ourselves will be diminished.
Therefore, not to mention the faults of those
Who have entered the Mahayana path is the practice of a bodhisattva.
“This stanza describes a situation where one Mahayana practitioner recounts the wrongdoing or downfalls of another mahayana practitioner. If the first person is motivated by a klesha, and in this case it is usually jealousy, the person automatically becomes stained and diminished, and their discipline is violated due to a wrong motivation. They are not acting out of benevolence. In addition, if a mahayana practitioner points out a downfall of another practitioner who is wholly innocent, then it’s doubly wrong. But even if the other person does possess the fault recounted, since your motivation is jealousy, it is a great flaw on your part. It is not enough to be right.
“A mahayana practitioner should be both right and helpful, wanting to assist the other person and having some confidence that speaking to them will help them. In that situation it is fine to speak. But if your motivation is driven by a klesha, such as jealousy, it doesn’t matter whether the downfall occurred or not. It is still wrong to speak of it.
“I’ll give you an example. After the parinirvana of the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, our tradition of Karma Kagyu split into two factions. Each faction said that they were right and the other wrong. And each faction at times exhibited a great deal of attachment and aversion even though both adhered to the Karma Kagyu tradition. This went on for years and I remember it well. To the extent that it was motivated by attachment and aversion, then simply being right was not enough. We cannot divide a lineage like this. We cannot have a Vajradhara faction versus a Tilopa faction, or anything like that.
Questions and Answers
My parents are involved in some kind of strange cult that is not a religious tradition. What can I do?
The Karmapa replied, “The Buddhist approach to this is that since beings have diverse interests and dispositions some are going to be involved in authentic spiritual paths and others, temporarily at least, will be involved in inauthentic ones. But even in the latter case, it is hard to turn them away from their current involvement. You can’t force them to give it up. The best thing to do is wait for the right time and practice the authentic path yourself, which will gradually affect your parents.”
Your Holiness, my question is about the kleshas. You spoke about not having jealousy as a motivation, and I wondered if you could speak about anger in terms of the #MeToo movement where the anger of the women saying “Stop!” has a prajna aspect. I wondered what you would call that? It’s not okay to be abusive. I’m a therapist and work with clients. I don’t want to lead them in a wrong direction towards anger, but I want to help them to know how to say, “Stop!” For me that energy feels very much like anger, just the initial rising Stop energy. Could you speak about that?
The Karmapa replies, “First of all, it takes a great deal of courage to say ‘Stop!’ and there is no question that the fundamental motivation behind this is a good and healthy one. The mere appearance of an angry demeanor, if needed in a particular situation, does not necessarily interfere with or pollute the fundamental motivation behind saying ‘Stop.’ The question remains, however, when saying ‘Stop’ is not enough. It takes a state of mind that is at ease to figure out the best way to deal with the situation strategically. Most people can’t think carefully when they are totally overpowered by grief and pain. But there needs to be a certain energy to the message of Stop, because we are not only concerned with halting a temporary situation but with stopping it entirely, once and for all.”
I feel there are two difficult situations: one is when people wrong me and I get very, very angry and I tell myself not to get angry, but the anger doesn’t stop. And another situation is when I do something wrong myself and I keep telling myself, “I did this wrong.” Is there a better way to deal with these difficult situations?
The Karmapa replies, “The first situation sounds like holding onto grudges because of something that has been done to us, and the second sounds like recurring guilt. In the first case it’s helpful to simply change your perspective and reflect upon the fact that when people do bad things, they do them because their ignorance is extremely dense. Specifically, when we are aggressive or hurt another, it’s because we are under the sway of our kleshas. So the person who hurt you, in a very real sense, was not in control. He was not a free agent but dominated by a klesha. If we can understand that the fault is not found in the person but in the klesha that controlled him or her, then that can be very helpful, especially if you go on to think, ‘If I’m not careful, I could become just like that, too.’ We all know from experience that when we get very angry, we lose control to the anger. So thinking somewhat empathetically and applying the same reasoning to both of you will help.
Your Holiness, my question is: What can we students do to support your wish to unite the lineage?
The Karmapa replies, “The main thing is to abstain from attachment and aversion and especially the harsh speech they can motivate. We should avoid exaggeration and denigration and be patient while cultivating nonaggression. Remembering that we all belong to same Karma Kagyu lineage with the same gurus and yidams, we should try to be open-minded and not petty. Aside from that there is nothing dramatic that we can do as disciples. Sometimes people came to me and said, “I’m going to support you in this,” but then they go on and just increase the factionalism and fighting. That’s not good.
Would you please talk about the relationship between teacher and student when there are difficulties?
The Karmapa replies, “The relationship between teacher and student needn’t be complicated but somehow we make it so. It actually could be extremely simple. Fundamentally the teacher is a spiritual friend and so there is a connection of friendship, but the bond is basically through Dharma—they are your friends in the Dharma. So in that sense, the relationship between a student and a teacher is quite normal because it is friendship. But we distort it somehow and make it very complicated where it almost becomes something that we can’t handle.
“Now in regard to the actual state of a teacher it is said that in the age of degeneration spiritual friends will be combinations of qualities and flaws. But it is not the case that we need to weigh their character, putting their flaws on one side of the scale and their qualities on the other in order to say, ‘Well let’s see, his qualities weigh 80 pounds and his flaws weigh only 40 pounds so that’s probably okay.’ It’s not about whether the qualities predominate or not. It’s about whether these qualities are effective in changing you. And if the teacher’s qualities change you and help you as an individual, even if later on you observe flaws in the teacher, it is immaterial because you still have been benefited and changed by their qualities. At the same time, their defects are their defects and don’t affect you. They haven’t affected you in the same way the qualities have. So the teacher’s flaws should not inhibit or in any way ruin the positive change you have experienced.”
This concluded the question and answer session and the Karmapa called for the recitation of the dedication prayers.