His Holiness teaches on "living the dharma"
January 13th, 14th, 15th, 2009
His Holiness taught on Living the Dharma, this was the first teaching in India directed specifically at Westerners.
His Holiness was scheduled to start teaching at 9.00am and 3.00pm, and the final quarter of an hour before each teaching began was designated as “silent meditation”.
His Holiness began by welcoming everyone in English and then continued in Tibetan. He said he viewed everybody in the hall as his friends, and reflected on how they had come there from all over the world, from different countries, environments, cultures and conditions, to hear about living the dharma, so, in spite of his youth, he would try to share his own experiences.
First he tackled the question, “What is dharma?”
Practicing Dharma is more than performing rituals which require a special place or a special time, or special equipment. At a deeper level, the Dharma is something that transforms our minds, an ongoing process whereby we examine our minds, checking the afflictive emotions and the three mind poisons, and slowly try to become less angry, less attached and so forth. The practice of Dharma leads to a slow change in body, speech and mind from within, hence, it could be done anywhere, even while you are at work; it doesn’t require a special time. Indeed, the kind of dharma practice where you reflect on your aspirations, your way of thinking, how you relate to other people, and how you react and connect with other people is very important. Drawing on experience, Karmapa said that his own life seemed to be getting busier and busier, so that he felt that the time he had to work for the benefit of others and the time to meditate was shrinking. Thus his dharma practice these days involved trying to help the many people who he came across daily, being very aware of his thought processes, and attempting to live his life with the intention to benefit sentient beings. His priority was the happiness of others, and he examined his actions, what he said, and his mind to check the fit. That in essence was his practice. When he was young he had had time for formal prayers and recitation, about an hour each morning and evening. These days, with little time for formal prayers, he kept all the people whom he met in his thoughts, whether he was working, eating or sleeping. This seemed to be a very live, real and practical form of dharma practice.
It was an important foundation for practice, keeping other sentient beings in the forefront of our minds, as if they were there before our eyes in a real and very present way, otherwise we might lose contact with the people we wanted to benefit, and become lazy in our efforts.
Another important support for practice was to use others to reduce our own self-interest, by thinking deeply about their suffering and happiness, which would lead us to develop a feeling of responsible concern for their welfare. This would not only help counterbalance our self-cherishing attitude, it would also mean that our constant preoccupation with our own welfare would diminish, and we would feel more inclined to transform ourselves.
This led to the next important aspect of practice: transforming ourselves by working on our negative mental and emotional states. It was often difficult to truly see the negative aspects of these mental and emotional states, but when you did, it was as clear as daylight that you had to do something about them. It was like falling in love. People have many different relationships, but there may not be a great commitment or there might be some confusion. Then one day you fall in love. All the earlier relationships fade into insignificance, and there’s never any question about it. You are in love with this one person and you want to spend your life with them. It’s as clear and simple as that.
The experience of Bodhichitta was also like this – a wish-fulfilling gem. When we develop bodhichitta our hearts fill with joy but until we find that wish-fulfilling gem in our hearts it can be difficult; afterwards dharma practice becomes easy and the purpose of life becomes clear.
There were many parallels between life and dharma practice. In everyday life if our goals are unclear or confused, we do not achieve what we want to achieve. Similarly, dharma practice needed a clear objective too. Thinking too much about it was not beneficial and only produced more conceptual thoughts! The crux was to work for the benefit of beings!
People often asked His Holiness what they should practice and he usually suggested the Chenresig or Tara Saddhanas, but then if they asked,
“How many arms?” or “Which colour?” it showed they’d missed the point completely, failing to comprehend the core meaning of these practices which is meditation on loving kindness and compassion in order to transform our minds. Without this understanding, any practice becomes blind faith not living dharma. Therefore when we practice dharma it has to be strongly related with our minds; it has to become one with our life.
His Holiness then suggested a different tack, which beginners might find more useful, which was to start instead from the point of our lives, look at the difficulties we are experiencing, and see if the Dharma could shed some light on them. This would certainly be less disruptive and less disturbing to our families than suddenly bringing home vajras, damarus, bells etc. and doing strange things! If we lived with the intention of being useful and helpful to other people, the dharma in our lives would become stronger, and our lives would become dharma practice.
But in order to transform our minds through dharma practice we needed to receive the pith instructions, and we needed to receive them from a genuine lama. This was someone who had realized the Dharma in their lives, someone who was a genuine refuge. There were also people at a lower level of realization with whom it was possible to study. It was said that anything that appears can be a lama - and His Holiness illustrated how the seasons could be our teacher. On a superficial level, winter meant cold weather and warm clothes, but it was also a paradigm for impermanence. If we used our eyes, there was a lot to be learned about the Dharma in life itself.
His Holiness concluded the morning session by launching the booklet he had produced on protecting the environment: Environmental Guidelines for Karma Kagyu Buddhist Monasteries, Centers and Community
In the afternoon session, Gyalwang Karmapa clarified the advice on integrating Dharma into daily life he had given in the morning session. He had not meant that formal practice or retreat were unimportant, but wanted to show how it was also not absolutely necessary to do formal practice, in the context of the many Westerners who came to see him who had so much work to do and very little time for meditation. It would also be wrong, he added, to give the impression that those engaged in formal practice, retreat and meditation were the ‘real thing’.
He then went on to discuss how to integrate formal practice into daily life.
Generally speaking dharma practice was not restricted to the temple, monastery or retreat, or the shrine room at home. It can be done anywhere, on a picnic, in the office, in prison; some great masters had said we could even practice dharma in our sleep, if we knew how to do it, which was useful as life was half-awake and half-sleeping. If possible, we need to set some time aside each day, in the morning, for formal practice, and then the day can become worthwhile.
Then at work, if we make the commitment that our work will be useful and beneficial for society then the work we do can become a form of giving – and hence the practice of generosity. When we finish work and return home, if we can bring up our children in a way that will be beneficial to the world that is also a dharma practice. If we reflect on the love we have for our partner or for our family, it is possible to transfer that loving kindness to other sentient beings. His Holiness gave the example of someone who is in love – even when they water the plants; there is a loving quality to the action.
In the hectic schedule of our day-to-day lives we needed to create a time and space in which we could rest our minds, otherwise they became too turbulent and disturbed. This was the role of meditation. Through meditation we could develop a peaceful, calm, and joyous mind.
Gyalwang Karmapa returned to a theme he had introduced during the pre-Monlam teachings, that of building a home for our minds, a place to come back to, where our minds could rest and de-stress. These days he himself had limited time for formal practice, but when he did practice, he did it one-pointedly. Nothing else was allowed to intrude. Mahamudra practice describes a state free of conceptual thoughts, and it was important to aspire to this.
Too much clinging and attachment to things was a great obstacle to finding peace of mind, because it was impossible to separate the mind when we were attached. Anger is present sometimes but not all the time, whereas attachment is there all the time, making it very difficult to separate ourselves from it. As the Tibetan saying goes: If we hold it, it burns our hand. If we don’t hold it, it breaks.
Gyalwang Karmapa then explained how attachment arises and the difficulties it causes.
The first problem was that when we were attached to something we only saw the positive never the negative. Something that we are attached to appears very good, and the object of our attachment is seen as something desirable. Attachment deprives us of our freedom. We see something we want, for instance, and feel compelled to buy it. In a way we are overpowered by the object that we are attached to. We are trapped by it. His Holiness described how, as a child, he was taken to shops in Beijing which stocked the most amazing toys. At that point he understood why people might steal. What we see as desirable or undesirable is the product of our own minds, perhaps sometimes through cultural conditioning, and we often overvalue something, like someone being fooled by a fake diamond, thinking that it is 100% desirable when it is worthless.
Could compassion be viewed as a form of attachment? His Holiness agreed that it could be similar but the difference was that we had a choice whether to be compassionate or not. Furthermore, the grounds for compassion were genuine- not to abandon sentient beings, whereas with attachment it was “I want”.
Gyalwang Karmapa told a story to illustrate how attachment led to suffering.
There is a rule that monks cannot touch women. So, one day two monks came to a river, and there they met a pretty young woman who asked for help because the water was so deep. The younger of the two protested, “No,no! We are monks. We can’t touch you.” But the older monk just picked her up and carried her across. The young monk was quite outraged by the older monk’s behavior, and after a while, he challenged him about his action.
The old monk replied, “I carried her across the river only, but you are still carrying her.”
Returning to the question of the role of formal practice, His Holiness warned about some pitfalls to avoid. Particularly, going into retreat required correct attitude and motivation. The purpose of retreat was to pacify body, speech and mind, but some people seemed to regard retreat as a tradition or something that had to be done saying, “Oh, I have to do a three year retreat.” In which case, there would be little benefit.
Finally, the principal thing in the Dharma is the union of wisdom and compassion. These two should also go together in our lives. We needed to know what the sources of suffering were, and what would bring true happiness, so that we could understand what was to be abandoned and what to be adopted.
Gyalwang Karmapa dedicated the first part of the morning session to discussing his concerns over the environment. Many of those present had bought copies of his booklet, Environmental Guidelines for Karma Kagyu Buddhist Monasteries, Centres and Community.
He spoke of the need to preserve forests, the danger of glaciers in the Himalayan region shrinking, pollution of the rivers, protection of wildlife from fur-hunting, the need to be vegetarian or at least reduce the quantity of meat that we eat, and the crisis of climate change. Monasteries did not have a training or culture in waste management so he intended to provide training for them, in the hope that they could become examples to the community. If we were really committed to working for the happiness of sentient beings, we had a responsibility to protect the environment and all the limitless sentient beings therein.
A question and answer session followed.
During this session Gyalwang Karmapa elaborated further on how to combat the afflictive emotions. He explained how the Buddha Dharma exists to clear all the impurities in the mind – there is nothing which is not a direct antidote to the negative emotions. Different practices work on different mind poisons. In fact there are different practices and methods for different purposes and for practitioners of different capacities and different levels.
Usually, beginners try to evade confronting the mind poisons. Then the second stage is to challenge them. The third stage, when you are stronger, is to use skillful means
His Holiness then began a more extensive answer.
The signature of attachment was feelings such as, “I must have it” and “No one else should have it” and this was how it created suffering.
His Holiness gave the example of a couple in love,. His wife sees her husband talking to a beautiful woman. What does the wife think? That is attachment. Because it focuses on feelings such as “This is mine,” attachment is closed and restricts freedom. Genuine love means wanting joy and happiness for others – wanting what the person you love wants. Of course , even with attachment, you want to give them everything, but love also gives freedom. Attachment cannot be the basis for a happy relationship because authentic love is open not closed.
As to aggression or anger, this was far easier to recognize because our speech becomes rough, our face changes, and our whole demeanour changes. The antidote to anger was patience. Often it was difficult to tackle anger because of the mistaken view that our anger was justified, foe example after someone has been very abusive towards us. One way to defuse anger was to focus our attention elsewhere, either we could bring our Lama to mind, or we could remember certain teachings which had inspired us. If we focused on a particular incident the anger would grow stronger and stronger so it was important to break that cycle, even if it meant thinking instead about all the things we are angry about. His Holiness illustrated the point.
Once, there was a nomad trying to herd lots of frisky sheep, but they wouldn’t obey him and were leaping and gamboling all over the place. He got so angry he started hitting one of them. That didn’t help, so he hit another one, and another one, and another one…and after he had hit sixty or seventy of them he was so tired and his arm ached so much that he couldn’t continue. Then he understood how ridiculous his actions had been, his anger evaporated, and he burst into laughter.
Responding to a question on the two truths, ultimate and relative, His Holiness talked about dependent arising, and the relativity of everything. What is short only exists, he explained, because something longer exists. East exists because there’s a west. Nothing can be established without it having a relationship to something else. Take the example of a vase - we think of a vase as an independent object , but if we put water in it, it becomes a water bowl, if we put tea in it, it becomes a tea bowl. Talking about emptiness is also talking about dependent arising. The nature of things is emptiness. Emptiness has to be understood in terms of relativity – as the moon reflected in water. There is nothing that exists independently. A good example of our mistaken view was poisonous plants. We classify them as poisonous because we do not consider the relative nature of things – we think things are constant - but some animals eat these so-called poisonous plants and thrive. Everything is relative.
There had been so many questions submitted by the audience that His Holiness chose to answer more questions in the afternoon session. The first question he answered concerned explaining reincarnation to people who do not have a Buddhist background.
His Holiness began by suggesting that belief in something continuing to exist after a person dies is a common experience of humanity. It was also beyond proof either for or against, although it could be doubted. Further, people exist who remember past lives, not just in the countries where belief in reincarnation is widespread or part of the culture, so then this also cannot be satisfactorily explained away or dismissed. It too falls into the category of things open to doubt.
From the Buddhist point of view there was also a logical argument. When a new born baby takes its first breath there is definitely an awareness or consciousness operating, but this has to be the product of causes and conditions, and causes and conditions have these to be of a similar nature to the effect. Hence, the baby’s consciousness has to be produced by similar conditions, a previous moment of consciousness. Observation showed that awareness or consciousness cannot be created by matter, so the only possible cause is another consciousness. Matter has a continuum, if it could turn into consciousness, then all matter should produce consciousness but it doesn’t. The nature of consciousness is awareness and knowing. So, generally speaking, the main point is that the matter continuum and the consciousness continuum are separate.
These days people are more materialistic so it can be difficult to demonstrate the mind continuum though there might be methods – meditation is one. In meditation, gross consciousness becomes more subtle and then you can remember your past lives. You can experience certain memories of the past.
The next question concerned the meaning of “giving the victory to others” Gyalwang Karmapa suggested there were two aspects to this. The first was to actually implement it – to act it out. The second was training the mind so through meditation experience – such as tonglen, which involves taking on the negativities of others, and then exchanging them for our own merit.
His Holiness explained the visualization to use. Imagining our self-interest and selfishness as a fire or light burning in our hearts, we take in the suffering of others which is envisaged as darkness, so that the fire of self-cherishing is extinguished by the darkness. This powerful visualisation slowly changes our attitude. The second part involves giving our own merit away freely to others, because we really want to give it. In reality, we are neither taking on their suffering nor actually losing our merit, but training the mind.
There were instances when such generosity had a practical application too, such as offering a kidney for a kidney transplant, but we had to have a clear understanding, having examined the situation fully. If we were able to give the person a kidney and thereby save their life, such an act would make us very happy. Another example would be when two people were competing for the same job. Should you let the other person have it? Only if you could do so from your heart, rather than because you felt forced to do it or you were supposed to do it.
The next question concerned how to live in a city without feeling lonely.
Drawing on his experiences during his American tour, Gyalwang Karmapa discussed the feelings of dislocation and isolation that modern life brings. He wryly remarked that in New York there was no need to consult the calendar if you wanted to know whether it was the weekend or a weekday, because on Saturday and Sunday you could see people talking to each other on the street. The rest of the week they were too busy to interact.
It seemed that life was getting faster and faster. In America, it felt as if you’d only just started your journey and you’d arrived. His first day in America in New York at the Waldorf Astoria, he had looked out of the window and he couldn’t see the ground, it was so far below. That felt very strange.
His Holiness suggested that in the busy-ness of modern living, we had to find time to rest our minds. He himself was increasingly busy but he managed to maintain a relaxed and peaceful mind. We had to learn to pace ourselves. He gave the example of a horse. A horse can run faster than a man, but, if the man trots along at a steady pace, eventually the horse will tire and the man will catch up with it. If we were unable to stay mindfully aware we could be overwhelmed. For instance, if someone fell in the river and panicked, they could drown. If, on the other hand, they kept their heads and stayed calm, they could reach the river bank and survive. Maintaining mindfulness could reduce stress.
The next question was about the Chenresig Practice for new dharma practitioners. His Holiness said it was important to receive the empowerment ( Tib. wang) first before beginning any Vajrayana practice. Then it would be helpful to receive some instructions and clarification of the teachings behind the practice. He thought that if the person didn’t get either the empowerment or the instructions, to practice Chenresig might not be so useful.
Many of the questions focused on issues arising from everyday life in the West. His Holiness was asked for advice on how to deal with other people’s attachment and self-interest in the workplace.
He responded by describing how the presence of a Buddha pacifies the disturbing emotions of those around, because the Buddha has completely done away with negative emotions and is totally aware. Sravakas make an aspiration prayer that nobody gets disturbed by their presence, so people are not so affected by negative emotions around them
We take time on our appearance so that people find us attractive; it is just as important to present our positive mental qualities, our loving kindness and caring for others, so that our presence does not arouse their negative emotions. We can also set an example by our behaviour, which might have an influence on the people we work with.
Laughter echoed round the hall at the next question - why do people look the way they do?
His Holiness told how Tibetans say people with big ears had them pulled by their teacher when they were young. Chinese Buddha images have big ears, because they are meant to be very graceful. But whether you have big ears or little ears will depend on several things, your race, and the environment, and also karma, which affects the three aspects of body, speech and mind.
Generally, it is taught that the karma of body and speech create the conditions for a better looking body. That is why Chenresig is always smiling , because he has done so many virtuous actions of body and speech. His Holiness paused. “It is said that I don’t smile much, so I’m worried about what I will look like in future!” he joked.
The next question was about the meaning of Buddha claiming the earth as witness to his enlightenment. Gyalwang Karmapa explained that Buddha said that the earth is the basis of all beings. The earth is also totally neutral, like the mother of everybody. The Buddha attained enlightenment, touched the earth, and the earth shook six ways.
Finally, there was a question about one of the prayers which included the request to be born as a male! Did this not conflict with Tara’s aspiration to attain enlightenment in female form?
His Holiness first pointed out that the prayer in question reflected what people desired, and that wishing to be born male was a relic from the days when women had very low status and little control over their lives. Thus they desired to be reborn as a man. We could pray for whatever we wanted, and in the case in point it was important to distinguish between actual Buddhist thinking and people’s wishes. He suggested that, if we wanted to, we could pray for all men to be reborn as women, which provoked much laughter, so long as there was a good reason for the aspiration and it was based on the wish to benefit others.
Thus the second day concluded.
His Holiness began the last day of the teachings for foreign students by announcing that he would bestow Refuge, the lung of the Preliminary Practice text that he composed last year, and also bestow Bodhisattva Vows, but first he decided to devote the entire morning session to questions and answers.
The first question concerned the profound meaning of reciting ‘Karmapa Khyeno’. His Holiness began his answer by explaining the meaning of ‘karma’: activity, or action, and ‘pa’: one who performs that activity.
He told how 100,000 Dakinis wove the black hat from their hair, consecrated it, and offered it to the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. He was the one who performed all the activities of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the three times and ten directions. His Holiness also said that it does not need to be one particular individual who is called ‘Karmapa’, but that it can be a general name for all Vajra Masters who do the activities of the Buddha. It can be regarded as a title for all genuine masters. The Buddha had prophesied that when the Dharma is nearing extinction, he would come in the form of Vajra Masters to perform his Buddha activity.
The activity of the Buddhas is the activity that brings out the white, or positive, side of people, and that brings out the Buddha nature of all beings. So, when we recite ‘Karmapa Khyeno’, the purpose is to bring out the white or light side of our nature.
‘Khyeno’ has the meaning of entreating, ‘please think of me’. The purpose of this entreaty is also to remember the positive qualities of the lama again and again and to pray to the lama to remember us. It is not necessary to recite aloud, but from the heart. Milarepa said: ‘When I am alone, I call to my lama from my heart’. This answer was followed by a couple of questions that His Holiness said he would answer at a later time, and then there was a question about how people who are non-Buddhist can be helped when they are coming close to the time of their death. His Holiness replied by saying that whether one has entered the Buddhist Path or not, everyone has the opportunity to be reborn in a positive state. It is not necessary to practice Buddhism to take a positive rebirth. The most important thing is the state of the mind at the time of death. So, for those around the dying person, it is very good to create the circumstances for the dying person to have a positive state of mind. Even if the person has not practiced extensively during their lifetime, if they have a positive state of mind at their time of death, this can make a great difference and is very helpful. His Holiness told the story of a butcher who killed many animals during his life, but when nearing his death, he heard about the Buddha and was so inspired that he passed away with one hand in the prostration mudra. When he was reborn, he took the form of a piglet, but that piglet had one human hand. He was taken to a monastery to live, and his life was saved. His Holiness emphasized that this was a true story and that he had seen a photograph of the small pig with the human hand.
A couple more questions were shelved by His Holiness, and then he bestowed the lung for the Preliminary Practices. He said that the students have come from many faraway places and need to take back with them something so they can continue to practice. Many people are starting to do their Ngondro practices now, so he planned to teach Vajrasattva and Guru Yoga in the afternoon session. Last time His Holiness taught the Ngondro, he said he had not permitted video or recording of his teachings on Guru Yoga, so this time, he would teach in such a way that it could be recorded.
Finally, His Holiness gave Refuge Vows to the assembly, explaining first the purpose of going for refuge. He explained that Refuge means that we can find support and safety, like the refuge that our mothers or parents who love us very much show to us. By taking refuge, we feel encouraged, and we receive a new hope, assurance and courage. These days, the world is passing through many crises, and people feel they can have no confidence or security, and nothing they can depend on. Through finding a true refuge, new hope and new confidence can be generated.
To go for refuge is similar to a small child running to his/her mother, and spontaneously calling ‘Ma’, when something undesirable happens. In the same way, when we face the sufferings and difficulties of samsara and the great problems of the world, and we feel there is no refuge or protection, we need to find not just an external refuge, but an internal, spiritual refuge, to give us inner strength and protection.
Buddha Shakyamuni passed away more than 2,500 years ago, and so today we cannot find him, but the power of his teachings remains. His radiance and his representations exist today. When we practice, it is not enough that the teachings of the Buddha are here; it is necessary to practice loving kindness and compassion. We need to use it, rely on it, and study with genuine masters. If we do this, there is no difference between that and meeting the Buddha himself. If we can do this, we will find protection and confidence within ourselves.
His Holiness made a comparison about the three Refuges. He said that the human brain has advanced a great deal and that three reasons can be posited for this development. Firstly, the experiences of past generations have been transmitted to us; we have learnt from previous generations. Secondly, we have not just copied, but we have used our own intellects and found new ways of doing things through our own wisdom. Lastly, life in this world is full of ups and downs, sufferings and positive experiences. We rely on friends and companions to share our tough and good times together, and for our support and progress. So, in the same way, we need the experiences of the Buddhas of the past to give us the knowledge of how to free ourselves from suffering and pain and to find lasting peace and happiness. This is the first refuge. The second refuge is the Dharma, the teachings that help us work with ourselves to find happiness. Then the friends with whom we can work together, with whom we can share support on the Path, represent the third refuge. So with these three refuges, we are on the Dharma Path; we are practicing a spiritual Path. We should feel that the Buddha is the Teacher, the Dharma is the Path and the Sangha is the spiritual friend with whom we go together.
His Holiness advised those taking refuge to carefully observe the Refuge Vows, to carefully follow what is prescribed and to avoid what is proscribed. He then completed the morning session by saying that the stones that had been brought from all over the world to form the stone altar that has stood beneath the Bodhi Tree during the Kagyu Monlam, have been imbued with blessings. He would distribute each stone to the participants at the end of the afternoon session so that they can take those stones out all over the world to carry each of our prayers and to spread the blessings of peace.
In the afternoon session, His Holiness first gave the Bodhisattva Vows, preceding this with a teaching on bodhicitta. He said there are many different liturgies for bestowing the Bodhisattva Vows, but that found in the Bodhicaryavatara is the easiest and best. He began by explaining how to generate bodhicitta in our hearts. To do this, it is important first to understand the Seven-Point Cause and Effect, and that all sentient beings have been our kind mothers. We should understand the great kindness of the mother, and feel gratitude for that, and also feel the equality of self and others and understand the importance of exchanging self with others. We need to generate strong compassion to arouse the wish to eliminate all the sufferings of beings. There are two stages to accomplish this: first to liberate oneself, and then to work to liberate others. A strong aspiration must be generated at the beginning.
His Holiness said that as we think primarily for the benefit of all suffering sentient beings, we also have to think about the container for sentient beings – this world in which all the sentient beings live. It has the capacity to provide all the necessities for sentient beings. We must be aware of the environment, and know about the destruction of the environment. He described how the forests are being destroyed in very terrible ways without any compassion or understanding, and how with wrong understanding, we were ignorant of what to get rid of and what to keep. We must know what we need to do for the benefit of others.
If we give rise to the aspiration to work for others, that is good, but we need more than that. We need to complete that aspiration by making a commitment to work for sentient beings. We should train and act in the Six Paramitas. This is what is meant by action, so we must do that according to our level, and according to the strength of our minds.
His Holiness explained that it is good to generate bodhicitta and to take the Bodhisattva Vows, but if we do not know how to work at our own level, it is not very useful. If we feel we have to do something that is beyond us, we will not be able to accomplish it, so we need to work out what is our own capacity. We are in a way inviting all sentient beings as guests, so it is therefore very important not to give up on our promise for them. We need to work step by step, otherwise, if we give up, it is like deceiving sentient beings. His Holiness emphasized that we must work and train step by step without giving up.
Generally, if we truly generate bodhicitta, it is said that if that bodhicitta had form, it would not be able to be contained within the whole of space, and that even if we are sleeping and not doing anything, great benefit is always occurring. His Holiness said that this description of the purpose and benefit of bodhicitta is not mere words, but has a very deep meaning. It means that wherever there is space, there are sentient beings, and wherever there are sentient beings there is karma, kleshas and there is suffering, so it is essential to have compassion and kindness. Bodhicitta covers all the places where there are sentient beings, and sentient beings are wherever there is space, so bodhicitta is everywhere.
His Holiness talked about pre-1959 Tibet, and said that most people there did not know about the world, but they did have an understanding that wherever there is space, there are sentient beings who need to be loved, who need to be freed from their suffering, who need to be covered by compassion and kindness. Therefore, when we generate this mind of enlightenment, the love covers wherever space covers, so it is understandable to say that when we generate bodhicitta, the merit is as vast as space. It is right to say that. His Holiness said that there was nothing more to say, our lives are full of talk, so let’s just do it, do it. He said that he would recite the verses for taking the Bodhisattva Vow first three times in Tibetan because of his ‘ego’ [he said this in English], as he is not so good at reciting in English, and then once in English, to make the meaning clear.
After bestowing the Bodhisattva Vows, His Holiness said we have been very fortunate to receive the bodhisattva attitude, and we should rejoice as if we have received a great treasure. If small negative things occur, our possessing the Bodhisattva Vows should make it easier to let go and deal with such small things, so we should value it and rejoice. We should feel that now we will really do something concrete.
His Holiness then turned to the short Preliminary Practice Text that he composed, based on the 5th Sharmapa’s Ngondro text, and began to teach the Vajrasattva practice. He explained that, basically the purpose of Vajrasattva practice is to purify negative deeds and obscurations. If we rely on the four antidotes or powers, our practice becomes more strong and effective:
1. The power of the support
2. The power of relying on the antidote
3. The power of repenting the negative deeds
4. The power of resolving not to repeat the negative deeds
The first power of the support refers to the Triple Gem in which we take refuge. We should briefly take refuge before starting Vajrasattva practice.
The second power of relying on the antidote is the actual visualization and recitation of the mantra of Vajrasattva. This practice is outlined in the text. We should feel the presence of Vajrasattva above the crown of our heads, as the union of compassion and emptiness. His Holiness stressed the importance of feeling that Vajrasattva is really there. We should feel that our negative deeds are purified through our strong request, after which nectar flows through the big toe of Vajrasattva, enters our Brahma aperture, and fills our body. We should feel that all obscurations are completely purified and that our body is clear like a bottle. In particular, His Holiness said, if we have committed some very serious negative action, or have broken vows and samayas, we should think of them, feel they are purified and feel there is really an effect.
The third power is to actually having strong repentance for the negative deeds we have committed. His Holiness emphasized the importance of this part of the practice, and drew the comparison of having a serious illness and undergoing surgery or treatment to remove it. In the same way, the negative deeds must really be taken out and eradicated.
Making a commitment not to repeat the negative action again in the future is the fourth power, and His Holiness said that if that intention is not present, however much we purify, the purification process is not complete. This fourth power is the way to totally remove the negative deeds. He said that undertaking not to repeat the action is a very difficult thing to do, but in order to truly resolve not to repeat the negative action, we must see the negative aspect of the deed, have revulsion for it, and strongly resolve not to repeat it. This is the basis of true purification.
The practice of Vajrasattva is used to purify all negative deeds, but it is especially important and relevant for the purification of broken vows and samayas. The samayas are the basis of our realizations, and it is of utmost importance to abide in the samayas and commitments, and not to overlook our breaches, but purify them immediately. In Vinaya, if we are keeping the Vinaya vows, we may not obtain a high level of attainment such as Stream Enterer in this life, but in the next life we will attain such a level. This is clear from the life story of Shariputra. He heard one word of Dharma and immediately attained the Path of Seeing. In the Vajrayana also, if we keep our samayas, even if we do not meditate or practice much, in eight or sixteen lives we will attain the Path of Seeing.
His Holiness stressed that the main point in Vajrasattva practice is not visualizing the colours or mudras, but the attitude of repentance and the resolve not to repeat the negative action. In Vajrayana practice, it is important to have clear visualization, but here in Vajrasattva practice, if the four powers are not there, it is not true purification practice. He explained that the main long mantra in the Vajrasattva practice is the one to be accumulated, while the short mantra should just be recited a few times at the end of the session. He also said that prostrations seem to be very difficult for some foreigners, so if they are really a problem, at least 1,000 prostrations should be completed. He cautioned, however, that if possible 100,000 prostrations should be completed, and only commuted to 1,000 if there is real physical difficulty.
At this point in the teaching, His Holiness said that people had also asked for teachings on Guru Yoga, but that time had run out. He jokingly said, ‘OM STOP SVAHA’. But, after loud persuasive cries from the audience, he began again to teach.
His Holiness said that there is the Uncommon Guru Yoga which is part of the Six Yogas of Naropa, and the Common Guru Yoga, which is the fourth practice of the Preliminary Practices. Vajrayana is a short cut, the quick path, and its main essence is devotion. Sometimes it is said that it is more effective to visualize the Lama as he is now, in living form, without transforming him into a Buddha, but here in the Preliminary Practices the Lama is visualized as Dorje Chang. We visualize the Lama as Dorje Chang so we do not see him as an ordinary being. His Holiness explained that in Vajrayana, we transform our ordinary way of seeing things, and so we also visualize ourselves as a yidam. In the Karma Kamtsang tradition, Vajravarahi is the principal yidam. The correct way to visualize is to hold the view of the union of emptiness and appearance simultaneously – wisdom and skillful means together. If they are separated, there is not much good effect.
Then, visualizing the Lama on top of the head as Dorje Chang, we should recite the Seven Branch Practice as an offering to the Lama.
When we practice the Vajrayana and visualize the yidam, the practice has to be imbued with the view of the union of wisdom and skillful means. We should see all as emptiness, and even if we have not a full understanding of what that means, we should think of it as much as possible. Because of that view, the right way of understanding, then that clarity, that consciousness transforms into the deity. The one consciousness performs two activities at the same time: the activities of skillful means and wisdom.
The deity has the qualities of the result – the enlightened being. Those qualities appear as the deity. This is the very special characteristic of Vajrayana. This is its speciality, to use the result at the beginning. In Sutrayana, we talk of the inseparability of wisdom and compassion, but the cause being the result is not elaborated upon.
His Holiness emphasized that bodhicitta has to be there too. We generate ourselves as the yidam with clarity and divine pride. We visualize the Lama on our head; maybe the pride becomes less, he said, but the clarity must be very strong. At this point we offer the Seven Branches to the Lama. We should see the Lama as the embodiment of the Four Kayas, but if we don’t know how to see this well, we should think of any positive qualities the Lama possesses and concentrate on those, and then make prayers from our heart. From the three places of the Lama, light comes and enters into our three places.
His Holiness then abruptly stopped and said there would be no time to distribute the stones, and then he would have to throw the stones at everyone! He told how the stones have come from 101 countries and that has made him very happy. He said that what he actually says is not so important, but that the main thing is to see and meet everyone and be in the same place. He expressed his happiness at seeing everyone with his two eyes. His Holiness said he enjoyed that we all shared these three days of teachings together, and that he feels he has made a connection with every one of the participants, especially by reading and answering the questions. He thanked everyone for their questions and said even if he had no time to answer them all, he has read them all. He expressed his wish that he will see everyone again and again, and that perhaps everyone will return to the next Kagyu Monlam.
His Holiness said that the assembly should make prayers and dedicate the goodness that has been accumulated. He said that during the Kagyu Monlam, when everyone performed the aspirations and prayers, he hoped that they were not just words but that those words would take form in golden letters that emanate out from our hearts and spread throughout the whole world and give blessings and benefit.
Concerning the stones, His Holiness said that when he distributes the stones to each person, and wherever we bring those stones, carrying them with us to other countries, there will also spread the message of love and loving kindness in all corners of the world.
His Holiness said that in his heart he feels our presence, and it is his hope that we will become like a great light that shines in the darkness so that he can see all of us wherever we are, like stars in the sky, and that the shimmering of those stars will clear away the darkness of the world, and remove all the suffering and sorrow in the world.
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