Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings:
17th Gyalwang Karmapa on The Life of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje
March 4, 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
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.
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.
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