Day 6: Setting the Record Straight

Day 6: Setting the Record Straight

Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings: 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses

April 1, 2022 

Previously, the Gyalwang Karmapa had explained how Mikyo Dorje was falsely accused of writing a letter refuting Nyingma Tantra as not real Buddhadharma. He now continued his analysis of the controversy in the context of the thirteenth good deed from the Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds”:

To bring benefit and happiness to everyone throughout space,
I spoke kind words distinguishing what to do and what to reject.
How could I ever, in any situation, say harsh words
That would make myself and others circle in confusion? 
I think of this as one of my good deeds.  

His Holiness clarified he would be focusing on dharma history in order for everyone to fully understand the situation and the main points clearly.

An historical overview of Nyingma Tantra 

In the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition, there are two transmissions of the teachings —the Earlier or Ancient and the Later or New transmission [respectively Nyingma and Sarma]. During the Later transmission, the Dharma kings Yeshe Öd Jangchup Öd, and Podrang Shiwa Ö, the great translator Lochen Rinchen Sangpo, Gö Khukpa Lhetse and others wrote refutations of false mantras. This referred to the practice of secret mantra but specifically to situations where there were inappropriate usages of mantra. At that time, there was no clear distinction between the ancient and new tantra as there is now, and the main object of the refutation was those who engaged in false secret mantras of union, liberation, and so forth. They were not refuting secret mantra but rather refuting wrong uses of secret mantra in ancient [Nyingma] and New [Sarma] traditions. They were not objections to the Nyingma tradition.

When Atisha came from India to Tibet [c.1042 CE], he visited Samye, the largest monastery in Tibet at that time. In the library there, he discovered many Sanskrit manuscripts of secret mantra dharma texts which he had never seen in India, even though he was the abbot of Vikramashila. He was amazed to find them in such a remote place and expressed delight at the achievement of the Tibetan Dharma kings, praising them highly and calling them bodhisattvas. This is evidence that a collection of secret mantra manuscripts existed in Pekar Kordzoling, the library at Samye.  

Later, Tropu Lotsawa Jampa Pel [c.1172-1236 CE] found a Sanskrit manuscript of the Guhyagarbha Tantra, also in the library at Samye. This tantra is a most important Nyingma source text, so he sent it to Chomden Rikral, a renowned scholar who was very important in the compilation of the Kangyur and Tengyur. Having read it, Chomden Rikral accepted its authenticity and acknowledged that the Nyingma had an authoritative source. He wrote a text, the Guhyagarbha: A Practice Ornamented with Flowers. Further proof of its authenticity is found in the great Sanskrit commentary on the Buddhajñāna tradition of Guhyasamaja by Viśvamitra. This cites many quotations from the Guhyagarbha, proving that the Guhyagarbha Tantra existed in India before it came to Tibet. 

His Holiness commented that some had pointed out four faults in this tantra: 

i)   It uses the phrase ‘thus have I taught’ not the more usual ‘thus have I heard’.

ii)  The explanation that the ground is immeasurable is illogical.

iii)  It says there are four times instead of three, which is also illogical.

iv)  The principal deity of the mandala is Vajrasattva, which is inappropriate. 

However, the Karmapa observed that the Sarma tantras also have similar explanations, so having these four faults does not prove that it is not authoritative. He gave further evidence in support of the authenticity of the Nyingma tantras. The Eight Classes of Illusion, and the commentaries on Guhyagarbha by Nyi Öd Sengge and Buddhagupta are listed in the Pantangma catalogue, one of the oldest Tibetan catalogues of sacred texts. This shows that many of the Nyingma texts were present during the early spread of the teachings to Tibet. Pandita Smritijñāna and Lotsawa Rinchen Sangpo both translated Sanskrit works into Tibetan, as testified by Chomden Rikral, who had a vast and broad knowledge of the Kangyur and Tengyur.

Similarly, the Sakya Pandita said that there was a root tantra of Vajrakilaya translated from Sanskrit, and Tarlo Nyima Gyaltsen also said he saw a Sanskrit manuscript of Vajrakilaya in Nepal. Therefore, it is possible to say that practices found in the Nyingma tradition were also present in ancient India. Hundreds of ancient Tibetan manuscripts were found hidden in the caves at Dunhuang. These manuscripts include an account of the origins of the Vajrakilaya tantra and a small collection of Dzogchen texts by Buddhagupta.Therefore, His Holiness concluded, it is not appropriate to dismiss the Nyingma tantras as false without thoroughly examining and researching the evidence.  

The Dzogchen teachings on mind, space, and instructions were probably not widely known in India, but, as tantric practice in ancient India was taught in strict secrecy, that is not proof that they were completely non-existent in India or inauthentic. 

Vikramashila was the centre of Vajrayana tantras in ancient India and Atisha was the abbot. He had also been given the keys to other monasteries, so his knowledge of tantra was broad. However, when he was at Samye and saw so many Sanskrit Vajrayana texts that were not extant in India, he said it was miraculous, and that he had lost his pride in being learned in secret mantra. We need to reflect on this. From this account, we can deduce that at Samye at that time, there were many tantras and secret mantra texts as well as tantras on Dzogchen that were not extant in India. 

Some later scholars argue the Nyingma tantras are incorrect because the explanations in the Nyingma tantras differ slightly from those of the Sarma, but based on that alone, it would be difficult to maintain that they are not valid. For example, the explanations in the tantra differ from those in the Prajnaparamita sutras, but we do not say they are invalid because of that. If we make objections without considering the issue from all angles, there is a danger that we will end up slapping ourselves in the face. 

Primarily, whether a dharma lineage is valid and whether its sources are reliable depends greatly on whether there is a clear, logical history of its origins. Generally, ancient Indians saw little point in making a written record of what they had seen with their own eyes. They took little interest in history. Consequently, it is difficult to even determine when the Buddha was born and died. Even those dates are disputed, and the lack of a written record even raises a further doubt about whether the Buddha actually existed.

In comparison, Tibet was a little better, but historical documents from the time of the Ancient transmission are scarce. There was a period of time when Tibet became fragmented, and the history is a blank. This creates great difficulties for researchers into the history of the Nyingma Ancient Translation school. The Karmapa gave Guru Rinpoche as an example. 

The only namthar of Guru Rinpoche which takes the perceptions of ordinary people as a basis is the one written by Taranātha. The others are mostly terma [revelations], and they contain differences in their accounts. Guru Rinpoche is said to have gone not only to Ütsang (Central Tibet) but to Bhutan, Amdo, Kham, and everywhere in Tibet, even the most minor place: “There is no place he didn’t set foot…” Even regarding how long he spent in Tibet, many things are difficult to fit with the dates of dynasties and so forth. 

For that reason, we need to distinguish between common and uncommon namthar, compare dates with the reigns of kings, and use modern research techniques. His Holiness said he viewed it as an essential thing to do. 

Many Tibetans have misunderstandings about the difference between the views of Zen and Dzogchen and the development of the Dzogchen view. In this context, the Lamp for Dhyana by Nup Sangye Yeshe is a crucial text. It contains invaluable material on the Chinese Huashang or Zen tradition and also contains  a lot of material on the Dzogchen practice. Nup Sangye Yeshe’s dates still have to be determined, but the Karmapa suggested the most logical was that he was a contemporary of King Ngadak Palkhor Tsen. 

Historically, there were many objections to the Nyingma dharma. Some were in order to rectify corruption in the texts, some led to an understanding of a particular philosophy and practice, and others were to clarify history and events. So from one angle, they had a positive influence. Thus, instead of reacting to these objections to the Nyingma as something to be discarded or as inauspicious, the Karmapa thought it was more beneficial to take them as the basis for study and research.  

Karmapa Mikyö Dorje and the Letter of Objections to the Nyingma

The Karmapa began by showing the front cover of a book containing thoughts on the objections to the Nyingma, which was published as part of the “Karmapa 900” commemoration. 

Karmapa Mikyö Dorje wrote many works, including commentaries on sutra and tantra. This shows that he had a great interest in Buddhist philosophy and practice and that he had his own particular viewpoint. Because of this, he was not someone who was fooled into thinking that there was a slim book called “the gurus pith instructions.” Instead, he was someone who worked hard to study all the great texts in the Kangyur and Tengyur and was very familiar with the entire Buddhist corpus. 

Because scholars and researchers hold different philosophies and religious traditions, there are often differences in thought and perspective. Raising doubts and objections, making corrections and adjustments, and engaging in discussion are the methods used by everyone who engages in the study of philosophy. This is how scholars work, not just in Buddhism, in both East and West. For someone such as Mikyö Dorje, who was a scholar and the author of many commentaries, it goes without saying that he would raise doubts and objections for discussion. 

When discussing whether or not Mikyö Dorje wrote the letter objecting to the Nyingma, before determining anything, it is essential to consider the background situation and reasons. Just looking at the colophon which states he’s the author is not sufficient.

Although the Karmapa had already examined this issue previously in the teaching, he said that it was necessary to look at it from many different angles.

The letter of objections appeared when Mikyö Dorje was about forty-six years old, and he wrote his response shortly after. In the response, he denied writing the letter and responded to its questions. However, some people did not accept his denial. As the saying goes, “Words follow the wish to speak,” so we need to consider the author’s character before we decide whether he would have written it or not.

His Holiness said that he had a degree of familiarity with Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s work and saw him as someone who habitually raised questions about the philosophy of the Sakya, Geluk, Kagyu, and Nyingma and always engaged in a lot of dialectical debate. He clearly writes about his own views and thoughts concerning other traditions in his various works, without concealing or holding anything back. In particular, regarding the Nyingma, he wrote in his Words Distinguishing Dharma from Non-dharma that the view taught in Dzogchen and the division of the philosophical schools was not generally accepted among Buddhists; that methods of manifesting luminosity by squeezing the two eyes and so forth were not valid; and that other than the terma Atisha extracted from a pillar in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, the termas revealed in Tibet were not authoritative.

Similarly, in the Dialog with Gyatön Jadralwa, which was a response to the statement that Guru Rinpoche was superior to the Buddha in five ways, so there could be no faults in the lineage of his disciples. Mikyö Dorje argued that the scriptures which said this about Guru Rinpoche were speaking figuratively and not definitively. That alone is not evidence that he disliked other schools and, in particular, the Nyingma. He was expressing his own opinion on various different philosophies and schools. He was not claiming this to be an absolute, as we can tell from his other works. 

The Karmapa now put forward the arguments against Mikyö Dorje being the author of the letter.

It was Mikyö Dorje’s character to be very direct and blunt. He was unable to hide whatever he thought; he probably couldn’t help himself, and spoke out directly. He accepted that he said whatever came to mind, and his student, Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa, confirmed this. It was his character. Also, he was a very logical thinker who could easily spot a fault and then would speak out. In this context, it is true that he did raise objections to the Kagyu and other schools. We cannot deny that. But to use those objections as a basis for believing he also wrote the letter objecting to the Nyingma is not reasonable because the letter objecting to the Nyingma was written with malicious intent specifically against the Nyingma. 

Because of the breadth of his experience, if Mikyö Dorje had written that letter, he would have known how people would react. As he understood clearly the pros and cons of writing such a letter, there seems no logical reason for him to have written it. 

Apart from the colophon, there is no other evidence to support the view that he wrote it.

Mikyö Dorje was a confident scholar, able to mount arguments and explain philosophical thought. In his other writings, he makes objections. If he had actually written those objections to the Nyingma, he would have admitted it. 

Prior to Mikyö Dorje, many other scholars, such as the Sakya Pandita, made well-known, strong criticisms of other schools. There was a tradition amongst Tibetan scholars of the different schools of vigorous back-and-forth criticism. Mikyö Dorje himself once asked the Sera Jetsun to critique his work for him. Within that context, it seems that if he had written such a criticism of the Nyingma, he would not have denied it.

Not long after the letter appeared, Mikyö Dorje denied that he wrote it. If he had written it, the denial seems pointless. 

He wrote an in-depth response to the objections, which suggests clearly that he was not their author. He carefully analysed each of the questions and answered them in great detail. The particular explanations he gave were probably of greater help to the Nyingma teachings than harm, the Karmapa suggested.

However, it seems that, in spite of this, later. most Kagyus and followers of the Nyingma spread the idea that the Eighth Karmapa had objected to the Nyingma, and had no knowledge of Mikyö Dorje’s refutation of the objections. Consequently, the controversy has lasted several hundred years. Primarily, this demonstrates that the followers have not taken on responsibility for their teachers. 

Why the unfounded allegation about the letter has persisted

The Karmapa suggested there were three main reasons why the fallacy continued.

1. The main reason is that Mikyö Dorje’s response to the objections was not seen by many people. There are three reasons why they might not have seen it:

  1. Sixteenth century Tibet was not like the modern information era! Even communicating by letter was not easy. Many texts were handwritten manuscripts. The original had to be copied by hand, and then the copies had to be distributed. This was far more difficult than we can imagine. These days we can post something on WeChat or Facebook and within seconds many people will see it. Thus, it is understandable that many scholars of that time saw the criticisms purported to be by Mikyö Dorje but not his response to the objections or explanation. 
  2. Only a year after he wrote his response to the objections, Mikyö Dorje passed away, so he was unable to spread the response to many people, like a drop in the ocean. The fact we can see his response now is that after 1998 many of Mikyö Dorje’s writings were found in the libraries of Drepung monastery and the Potala Palace in Tibet. For over three hundred years, these texts were in a place where no one on the outside was able to see them. It was very difficult for people to read his writings.
  3. If the letter of objections to the Nyingma was written by someone else, what sort of person would do that? That person was certainly audacious, a scoundrel, who was prepared to appropriate Mikyö Dorje’s name with the intention of offending all the Nyingma and causing a controversy. They would certainly have ensured that the letter was distributed widely within a short time. They may even have tried to prevent the dissemination of Mikyö Dorje’s response, because the more widely Mikyö Dorje’s response spread, the more their letter would lose its effectiveness. Conditions at that time meant that Mikyö Dorje’s letter did not spread widely, and still today, there are very few copies of that text in either pecha or book form, and many people have never seen it. At that time it would have been even harder.

People who had never seen Mikyö Dorje’s response, would readily believe that the letter had been written by Mikyö Dorje when they saw his name in the colophon. They would not imagine that anyone might have appropriated his name. It was complex and full of difficult questions, such as an ordinary person could not write. In particular, people from other schools who were not familiar with Mikyö Dorje’s character, works and activities would take for granted that Mikyo Dorje had written it; they certainly would not have investigated whether Mikyö Dorje had written it or not. For such reasons, as time passed, more and more people believed that Mikyö Dorje must have written the letter. That misconception spread and became the accepted view. 

Another reason why people took such an interest in these objections, said to be written by Mikyö Dorje, was that Sokdokpa wrote about them. 

The words of the Gyalwang Karmapa,
The omniscient actual Buddha, 
The vajra words in good style with a weighty meaning,
Are difficult for ordinary individuals to refute. 
Like fire and tinder, they destroy on contact. 

He took it for granted that Mikyö Dorje had written it and praised its style, weighty meaning, and strong logic. 

Whether or not the letter of objections was written by Mikyö Dorje or not, several of the questions in it raise difficult points, and evoked strong reactions and heated discussions amongst the Nyingma. 

For over four hundred years, scholars have written responses to the letter, all the while presuming that Mikyö Dorje wrote it. On the one hand, this shows that there was a lot of affection and partiality towards the Nyingma teachings in the past. On the other it shows that because it had been attributed to Mikyö Dorje it had status. Scholars took an interest in it; they thought it would be influential and wrote many responses. 

In conclusion, when we discuss the way of thinking and expression of others, and in particular historical figures, we need to be impartial, calm, methodical, and relaxed. We need to have the motivation and courage to justify and verify things when we research. There’s sometimes the danger of becoming too emotional or getting angry. We have to act in accordance with modern scientific methods, using logic and evidence. It’s similar to debate. On the basis of valid logic of the proof and clear examples and analogies that justify it, we establish what we are trying to prove 

It is even less necessary to get angry over it. It’s like watching an action movie: at the time, it seems hot and intense, but actually it’s just a show. It’s not reals. When we do research, not only do we need to use authentic analysis, we must be able to accept others’ explanations of the reasons for how things are, their corrections, and their opinions. If we continue to insist on our assertions without much of a level of education ourselves, speaking with bravado merely for the sake of attracting others’ attention, it’s the talk of someone who always takes short cuts. In terms of logical philosophy, it has no value at all. It is really important that we follow the paths of logic.

The Karma Kamtsang’s connections with other practice lineages

The Karmapa explained that he wished to talk in general terms about the connections between the other Tibetan schools and the Kagyu overall, and with particular reference to the Karma Kamtsang. 

The lineage of the Kamtsang explanations of sutra texts goes back to the Sakya school. They were passed down from Rongtön Sheja Kunsik, Jamchen Rabjampa Sangye Pal, his student Karma Trinley Chokle Namgyal and other Sakyas. 

The Gelukpa school teaches Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa according to the Kagyu tradition. Je Tsongkhapa learned these from the Kamtsangpa. Their primary tantric practice is the Guhyasamaja, and they emphasise the explanations of the tradition of Marpa. Their main sutra practice is the lamrim [Stages of the Path] and lojong  [Mind Training], which they practice according to the Kadampa school. Other than a few differences in how they explain the Middle Way view and so forth, in terms of dharma in general, the Gelukpa and the Kagyu are closely connected, but a lot of people fail to understand this. 

Since the time of Karma Pakshi and Rangjung Dorje, there has been a profound connection with the Jonang school [also known as the Six Yogas school because of the central role the Kalachakra plays]. Most previous Kagyu gurus professed the Shentong view, and later, from the time of Situ Chökyi Jung-le onward, many have taught the Shentong view as it is taught in the Jonang school, so there has been an inseparable connection between the Jonang and the Karma Kagyu which continues to the present day. Likewise, the Shangpa, Shiche, Dorje Nyendrup, and other lineages spread within the Karma Kamtsang around the time of Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. Later through the kindness of Jamgön Lodrö Thaye and so forth, one of the main upholders of those lineages has been the Karma Kamtsang. So there are very many connections between the Karma Kamtsang and other lineages. There is no such thing as a ‘pure’ lineage.

In terms of the relations to the Nyingma, the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa’s father was from a Nyingma family. Some say it was his grandfather. His ancestral protector was Rangjung Gyalmo, who thus became one of the main protectresses of the Kamtsang lineage. He received many Nyingma dharma teachings from Chöje Drak Karmowa such as the whispered lineage of the Aro Dzogchen, so the founder of the Karma Kagyu had connections with the Nyingma school.

Second Karmapa Karma Pakshi’s father was also a Nyingmapa, who practised Protector Bernakchen, a practice which had been passed down for thirteen generations of tantric practitioners. This became the protector practice of the Kamtsang. Kathok monastery had been the centre of the Nyingma tantric tradition, and Karma Pakshi received teachings from Kathok Jampa Bum on the Summary of the Intent of the Sutras, Net of Illusion, and the Eighteen Marvels of Mind [three Nyingma tantras that are the basis for the practices of creation phase, completion phase, and Dzogchen].

Karma Pakshi remembered previous lifetimes, and he recalled how, during the times of Indrabodhi, King Ja, and Garap Dorje, he had awakened through the secret mantra teachings of both the Nyingma and Sarma. He then made his main practice the view and meditation of the union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, the pith instructions on pointing out the crux of the four kayas. He wrote many treatises, including the commentaries on the three types of yoga and wrote in their colophons that his texts might disappear, but the Dharma would never disappear. Because he spent such a long time in Mongolia, most of his works have been preserved in China. In general, there are over one hundred volumes, and it is said that the majority of them are included in Nyingma dharma. 

Druptop Orgyenpa was a student both of Karma Pakshi and Götsangpa Gönpo Dorje [founder of the Drukpa Kagyu]. Orgyenpa practised the same level of austerities as Götsangpa. From the age of seven until sixteen, he practised the tantras of Viśuddhe Heruka and Vajrakilaya in the Nyingma tradition. Later, he found some long-life water concealed by Padmasambhava at Chuwo Mountain. He also became the guru of the Mongol emperor.

However, within the current topic, the main point of mentioning Orgyenpa is that he went to India and Uddiyana. Based on his experiences there, he contested the claim by many later scholars that they had not seen Nyingma dharma in India, which threw doubt on its authenticity. Orgyenpa contradicted them. He said that if he were to make a catalogue of all the Sanskrit manuscripts he had seen in India on Dzogchen alone, it would be as long as the Prajnaparamita in 100,000 Lines.

His student was the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, who, of all the Karmapas, had the greatest connection with the Nyingma. He received many Nyingma teachings initially from Druptop Orgyenpa. Then, from Nyedowa Kunga Döndrup, he received transmissions of most Nyingma tantras including Summary of the Intent of the Sutras, Net of Illusion, and the Eighteen Marvels of Mind. While he was at Karma Gön, he had a pure vision of Vimalamitra dissolving into the space between his eyebrows and realised the meaning of Nyingtik, just as it is. Although he had already received the ultimate lineage in terms of pure visions, Rangjung Dorje knew that in our common perceptions, it was important to follow a guru and to receive an authentic lineage that had been passed down from Guru Padmasambhava. The principal holder of the Dzogchen view at that time was Kumaraja, a student of the Dzogchen Mahasiddha Melong Dorje. Kumaraja and Rangjung Dorje had studied together with Orgyenpa, but Rangjung Dorje recognised that Kumaraja was unequalled in his realisation of Dzogchen, so he invited him to Tsurphu and received the cycle of Vimalamitra Nyingtik from Kumaraja. 

There are differing accounts of how Rangjung Dorje received the Dakini Nyingtik. This terma, written on yellow scrolls inside a rock, had been revealed by Tertön Pema Ledrel Tsal. According to some accounts, Rangjung Dorje met Pema Ledrel Tsal and was offered the empowerment and transmission from the yellow scrolls. However, the History of Nyingtik by Gyalwa Yungtönpa states that Rangjung Dorje was given the transmission by Lotön Dorje Bum, who had been Pema Ledrel Tsal’s assistant when he extracted the Dakini Nyingtik terma, and does not mention him meeting Pema Ledrel Tsal. This needs further investigation

In his autobiography, Sho Gyalse Lekden, the main student and lineage holder of Pema Ledrel Tsal, relates how Rangjung Dorje summoned him to Kongpo. Sho Gyalse Lekden spent three months there. He gave the transmission of the complete cycle of the Dakini Nyingtig empowerments and initiations to the Karmapa, directly from the yellow scrolls and also received teachings in return. He explains how Pema Ledrel Tsal had given him the yellow scrolls, but he had kept them hidden for ten or eleven years, until he was summoned by Rangjung Dorje. 

Rangjung Dorje also had a deep connection with another Nyingma Dzogchen master, Longchen Rabjam, who was said to be the reincarnation of Pema Ledrel Tsal. The two listened to many teachings together. 

At the opening of the Questions on Difficult Points, which takes the form of a dialogue between the two, Longchenpa wrote: 

Here there is no one else who could dispel the doubts in my mind 
Other than the all-knowing one himself, 
Whose unified vajra mind is profound peace, great bliss, and spontaneous. 
Therefore I have asked these questions.

And at the conclusion, he wrote:

May I, from now until the essence of enlightenment,
Be born in the presence of the Rangjung Guru,
Enjoy the oceanic feast of dharma,
And reach the peace that is free of doubt.

When we see this, we understand that there was a deep and affectionate relationship between the two. 

There were many other Kagyu lamas who received Nyingma teachings. 

Furthermore, Rangjung Dorje did not just receive Dzogchen teachings; he was also influential in teaching them to others and propagating them widely, in Tibet, China and Mongolia. According to Yungtönpa’s History of Nyingtik

In the first month of the Male Water Monkey, in the isolated place of Tsurphu Dechen, at the request of the great attendant Loppon Yeshe Gyaltsen, he [Rangjung Dorje] transmitted the teachings to five of us—Drongru Khenpo Gyaltsen, Tokden Yegyal, Tulku Önpo Menlungpa, and myself, Yungtönpa. He also gave the five empowerments in full to seven of us, including the shrine master and the tea server, giving us all the instructions in full. 

As Rangjung Dorje himself said, “If these teachings of Dzogchen disappear, it will be a great loss, so Yungtön Dorje Pal should spread them in Tsang, Ye Gyalwa in Kham and Kongpo, Yeshe Gyaltsen in Mongolia and China, and Menlungpa Shakya Shönnu should spread them in Ü.” Previously the spread of the Dzogchen teachings had been limited, but now they spread in all directions. The continuation of the Dzogchen teachings was one of the activities of Rangjung Dorje. In brief, the main person to spread the Dzogchen teachings in all directions was Rangjung Dorje, as predicted in the Dakini Nyingtik

The bodhisattva on the earth
Will spread this to the ocean.

Consequently, he had a lasting influence on the Dzogchen tradition. 

Rangjung Dorje’s student Yungtön Dorje Pal was well-versed in the entire sutra teachings, particular the Compendium of Abhidharma [Mahayana abhidharma text by Asanga]. He had received all the Nyingma and Sarma teachings, transmissions and empowerments. He was a student of both Rangjung Dorje and Butön Rinpoche. He had received the complete pith instructions on the three main Nyingma tantras and was very knowledgeable. He wrote the commentary The Illuminating Mirror on the Guhyagarbha Tantra, which became one of the most influential and a source for later commentaries. 

The Karmapa related a story. On one occasion, the great Sakya Palden Lama Dampa Sönam Gyaltsen, Dolpo Sherap Gyaltsen, Gyalse Ngulchu Tokme Sangpo—who composed the Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattva—and Yungtönpa were all gathered together. Dolpopa suggested that among themselves they should show signs of their accomplishment. He began by saying that he had memorised everything that had been translated into Tibetan in the Kangyur and Tengyur. Palden Lama Dampa said he took the four empowerments continuously, ie practised secret mantra without stopping. Gyalse Ngulchu Tokme said he continuously practised bodhichitta and had never lost it. Finally, it was Gyalwa Yungtönpa’s turn. He was a very powerful tantric practitioner, particularly of Yamantaka, so he always carried a skull with him. It was an entire human skull not just the kapala. So he took out this skull that he used daily in his Yamantaka practice and recited a mantra. The skull opened its mouth, bared its fangs, and raced around the room, terrifying the other three scholars. It was an amazing miracle, a sign of the power of his practice of secret mantra. 

The later incarnations of the Karmapa all received many empowerments, transmissions, and pith instructions of the Nyingma tradition. Karmapa Mikyö Dorje had many connections with the Nyingma dharma. He had many visions of Padmasambhava while at Tse Lhagang in Kongpo and made a prophecy of an invasion being repelled. He saw that the eight forms of Guru Rinpoche, the eight incarnations of Shang, and the eight incarnations of the Karmapa were inseparable and wrote a Guru Yoga on that called the Shang Kagyama(Sealed Dharma of Shang), or by its full title The Sealed True Dharma of Shang, the Protector of Beings from the Turquoise Cliff. This can be found in his collected works. Although longer, it is very similar to the Kamtsang  Four-Session Guru Yoga, which contains the essence of the Shang Kagyama. Also, in his long commentaries on the introduction to the three kayas and the four kayas, he explains the thought according to the Nyingma tradition, and according to the thought of Karma Pakshi. 

Many of the famous Nyingma Tertöns were disciples of the Karmapa, so it was even said that it was the Karmapa who had to determine whether a Tertön was authentic or not. Around the time of Situ Chökyi Jungne, terma practices spread widely in the Kamtsang, so probably seventy per cent of the pujas and drupchens in the various monasteries are terma from the Nyingma tradition. The term “Kamtsang Nyingma” has come from this —the union of Kamtsang and Nyingma. The Karmapa suggested that the Nyingma component may be a little stronger. Even within the Karma Kamtsang, the transmission of teachings of the ultimate lineage follows instructions from the Nyingma lineage. Thus, scholars from other schools have suggested that the Kagyu are more knowledgeable about the Nyingma than their own tradition. 

When we look at these accounts, we see that the previous generations of gurus and people respected all the other dharma lineages and schools. Not only did they feel close to other schools mentally, but if the opportunity arose, they would take teachings on practice and study from them. If they could serve them, they did. 

Our responsibility toward the preservation of the Kagyu lineage

As followers of this lineage, preserving these impressive stories for future generations is our responsibility. But our most urgent and important duty is, as followers of the Kagyu, to uphold, preserve, and propagate the empowerments, transmissions, practice instructions, philosophy, sciences, and history of this lineage. This is because world religions in general and Buddhism in particular are facing a time of change and challenge in our present day. In particular, Tibetan Buddhism is threatened by many internal and external conditions, causing difficulty and harm. So, at this time, it is important for us to work for our own benefit and treasure our own interests, to take care of our own lineages and schools. If we do not take care of our own lineages, no one else will.

Over several hundred years, there has been a great decline in the Kagyu. One reason is that externally there has been political persecution. The Kagyu were ostracised. “There was even a time when we weren’t allowed to play drums or ring bells,” His Holiness declared. “Our communities of practice and study deteriorated, and there was no opportunity to be in an environment where we could study the texts of our own tradition and develop into scholars.” 

However, he pointed out, there were also internal factors within the lineage itself. “Our teachings and pure intentions weakened, and many of us did not preserve the fine tradition of empowerments, transmissions, and instructions of our own lineage,” he continued. “We didn’t take any interest. We didn’t take care of the texts and did not study or take an interest in philosophy or other areas of knowledge.” This led to a general defamation of the Kagyu. When speaking of the Kagyu, people in other schools compared them to rodents living in the mountains. “We became an object of scorn for all the other lineages.”

At a time when the essence of the Kagyu seemed about to disappear, many Kagyus are slowly waking up from the sleep of ignorance. “If it is not too late, it is certainly not too early,” His Holiness observed. “We absolutely must search out all the lineages of empowerments, transmissions, and pith instructions that have been passed down from the Kagyu forefathers as well as the old texts, restore them, uphold their lineage and take care of them.” If we can put some effort into it now, there is a chance there may be something we can do, but not if we wait, because within a few decades, there will be nothing left to put our effort into, he warned. 

The Karmapa insisted that he was not arguing from a sectarian viewpoint and illustrated his point with an example: how shameful and embarrassing it would be if a Buddhist monk was well-versed in Christianity but knew little about Buddhism. He agreed that it was necessary for life in the modern world to study other world religions and other Buddhist lineages, but our priority should be to study and practise our own tradition to a high level. Otherwise, it would be like cutting down the tree trunk and then trying to hang onto the branches. “Whatever study, practice or activity, we must do whatever we can to put effort into making our own lineage strong and powerful,” he urged. “This is the main commitment or basic responsibility for us as people who follow this dharma lineage.” His Holiness asked that all followers of the lineage think in this way and work cooperatively, with a united spirit, so that the lineage could be preserved. 

As the session drew to a close, the Karmapa explained his reasons for spending so much time on the life and activities of Mikyö Dorje. Firstly, he thought it essential to show Mikyö Dorje’s character and to examine the unfounded accusations made for more than four hundred years against him, concerning the letter of objections to the Nyingma. Secondly, he was able to share his thoughts about the deep and profound historical connection between the Kagyu and Nyingma. He expressed the hope that in the future the two lineages could work together cooperatively without any breaches of samaya or controversies, in order to uphold, sustain, and spread their teachings. 

In this way, the Karmapa had been able to set the record straight on both these issues.

The Karmapa recounted an incident from his own life which showed how easily misinformation or disinformation could spread.

In 2008, he went abroad for the first time to America and visited California. There, he met one of the sons of Dudjom Rinpoche, Trinley Norbu, who asked him to restore the Tsechu Ritual and Cham. His Holiness was flabbergasted. Trinley Norbu had been told that the Karmapa had stopped the Tsechu Ritual. 

“I didn’t know what to say … it has been held continuously from the time of Karmapa Rigpe Dorje!” His Holiness exclaimed.” I wouldn’t even dream of saying ‘Stop doing the Tsechu Ritual.’”

Finally, he reported that in Tibet, some people had been researching Mikyö Dorje’s response to the objections about the Nyingma and had written down some thoughts. This was excellent. The Karmapa concluded that it was important for everyone to work together to establish the truth of events in Tibetan history.

Day 5: A Defence of the Nyingma: Mikyö Dorje’s 'Seeds of Honesty'

Day 5: A Defence of the Nyingma: Mikyö Dorje’s 'Seeds of Honesty'

Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings: 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on the 8thKarmapa Mikyo Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses

March 28, 2022

Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation:

3)  Taking speech as the path

On the fifth day of the Arya Kshema Spring Teachings, His Holiness began by explaining he would speak about the thirteenth good deed, starting at the section Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation.  The section has ten sub-topics and he would begin with the third sub-topic: “taking speech as the path”:

To bring benefit and happiness to everyone throughout space,
I spoke kind words distinguishing what to do and what to reject.
How could I ever, in any situation, say harsh words
That would make myself and others circle in confusion? 
I think of this as one of my good deeds.  (13)

The Karmapa explained that this is what is meant by ‘noble speech’.  Many people say that they are dharma practitioners or lamas and that their primary responsibility is to open the eyes of all sentient beings to what should be done and what should not be done.  That means becoming aware of what is appropriate: what counts as a virtuous deed and what counts as a non-virtuous deed.  We should be someone who can teach or show what needs to be taken up and what needs to be given up. 

There are many people called lamas or dharma practitioners whose conduct of body, speech and mind does not appear in the Vinaya of the three vehicles.  It is not found in the sutras either and contradicts the Abhidharma.  It transgresses the three baskets of the Buddha’s teachings and is not in accord with the teachings.  When their faults are discovered, they use guile or deceit; if they lack qualities, they pretend they have them; if they have faults, they hide them.  They even explain their faults as qualities.  What is more, they imagine that there is a great purpose in accomplishing pointless acts and consider the harm they bring themselves and others to be greatly beneficial. 

In summary, they are shrouded in the darkness of ignorance.  They are completely mistaken as to what to do and what to give up in this and future lives.  They are given prestigious names such as “Lama” or “Rinpoche” or “dharma practitioner” and pretend to be that way.  It is not only that they are lying, but they also like it when similar people appear.  They hope they will be of mutual benefit to each other, bringing more fame by praising each other and saying, “Your conduct of body, speech, and mind accords with the Vinaya.  You have mastered bodhichitta.  You have great aspects of liberation of the secret mantra.  Your view is broad and vast, and your meditation experiences are stable.  You are the most generous and have very strong intelligence,” they say, deluding and fooling each other.                            

If someone tries to point out that their conduct contradicts the scriptures, their reply is that the person hasn’t understood the scriptures, properly: “The teachings of the Buddha are expedient things that need interpretation”.  Thus, they are able to twist the Buddha’s words in many different ways and stretch them so that they fit whatever they want to do.                                                                                                            

Another argument they use is that during these degenerate times we cannot put the Buddha’s words into practice.  Consequently, for all our studies and practices, we should primarily follow the guru’s pith instructions.  “There are many such gurus,” His Holiness observed.  They then lead all their followers down the wrong path, deceiving many people. 

However, Mikyö Dorje never intended to deceive others.  He realised that when others taught false dharma, they were leading people down a mistaken path that would not lead to liberation and omniscience.  Thus, there is no wrong speech more severe than the lies of teaching incorrect dharma.

Thus, when Mikyӧ Dorje was teaching the Dharma to those whose capacity for higher states and true excellence (i.e., liberation) was awakened—those who could understand it— he taught in accordance with the Dharma.  If they had the appropriate capacity, he would teach according to the scriptures, primarily using the stainless words of the Buddha and explaining them to the people.  However, for those who would not understand the words that matched the scriptures, he taught the Dharma through funny stories about brief experiences, sayings and stories, pointing out their faults in ways they could understand.  By speaking in an ordinary way, he would thus give them some understanding of the Dharma.                                                 

Mikyӧ Dorje only had the pure intention to help all beings, whether they were of great or low status, wishing for their benefit and lasting happiness.  He had unsullied, stainless, pure intentions.  No matter whether it was in terms of dharma or worldly affairs, he would say exactly what he thought directly to the person; if there were a fault, he would say so, if there were a quality, he would acknowledge it. 

Because Mikyӧ Dorje was very direct and pointed out peoples’ faults and qualities, not only in terms of the Dharma but also in terms of worldly ways, he was “like the Buddha right before your nose”.  Many people immediately recognised their faults to be faults, stopped doing negative actions and began doing good actions.  Moreover, they cast away inauthentic teachers and their teachings and conduct and gave them up.  They understood the characteristics of individuals and the dharma as they were, and learned the crucial points of progressing and not progressing down the path of dharma.  Because of that, people developed certainty in their minds, saw the reasons and developed such wisdom so that they subsequently could not be deceived by false teachers or led down the wrong path. 

Mikyӧ Dorje never held anything back when he taught or gave advice.  Because of his direct teaching style, there were people who had faith in him and developed the eye of prajna or wisdom - the ability to distinguish what should be done and what should be avoided.  From the bottom of their hearts, they thought that Mikyӧ Dorje had great compassion for beings, always wanting to help them, and opening peoples’ eyes as to what is Dharma and what is not.  The way he did this was considered amazing “like the great being, the Sakya Pandita.”

Some people, on the other hand, were controlled by the “eight worldly dharmas’. These included people such as gurus, lords, politicians, rinpoches and deceptive monastics. They were prejudiced, resentful people, who pretended to be good, who were called scholars but who quoted words superficially, were arrogant and meddlesome practitioners, seemingly honest but in fact just shameless with bad habits.  Some people were called by the name “dharma practitioner” or “yogi” but were actually just weak and incompetent.  In brief, there were many people who had no wish for liberation from samsara.

They had much to say about this incarnation of the Karmapas: “He talks a lot but looks down on everyone else.  He only tries to bring everyone down.  In particular, he is always criticising and reprimanding people, in particular those with faith in the Dharma, trying to eliminate their faith.” The reason for this, they claimed, was that Mikyӧ Dorje would make exaggerations about the Dharma and individuals of the Dakpo and Shangpa Kagyu, Sakya, Geluk, Nyingma, Chöd lineages and so forth, having objections to all these schools and criticising them.  Many contemporaries of Mikyӧ Dorje implied that his objections and criticisms of other schools were groundless and could lead to the karma of rejecting dharma.

His Holiness continued that he was sure that, given Mikyӧ Dorje’s character, when he spoke, it was always appropriately for the Dharma.  To say that someone who practices the Dharma properly has the “karma of rejecting dharma,” is the same as what is said in the Prajnaparamita in Hundred Thousand Lines: “No matter how much fools criticise an irreversible bodhisattva and dharma teacher, the more they are criticised, the more the practice of the irreversible bodhisattva increases.” 

Likewise, it also says that some fools and those who do not know the main points will say, “This is not the dharma; this is not the Vinaya.  This is not the Buddha’s teachings. “It predicts that many such people will appear in the future, His Holiness continued, but the more they criticise and denigrate the bodhisattvas, the more the bodhisattva’s courage and diligence will only increase.

The reason why some people criticise great beings is that when authentic gurus and great beings are teaching the Dharma in a proper manner, it points out the hidden faults of those who are unable to practice the Dharma, and they feel embarrassed.  Out of their attachment, they develop aversion to the bodhisattvas; they begin to view them as enemies.  His Holiness stated that this is what is called “The mara of the divine child”.  We should be careful of such people.  And it is not the case that so-called maras are external, frightening beings with a dark complexion and horns on their head.  We should not have that kind of limited way of thinking.  Maras prevent us from achieving liberation and omniscience and are mostly the people around us.  They are the ones who are the most dangerous, such as our parents and siblings.  It is also possible for maras to be among people around us who practice the Dharma, people whom you believe, whom you love or like and think are good.  “I am not saying they are bad people, but they don’t have any autonomy because they are controlled by their afflictions, so they are controlled by the mara and thus cause harm to other people.  It’s like the mara has remote control,” His Holiness stated.  

Another important point is that of all the Karmapas, it is the Second Karmapa Karma Pakshi who has the most collected works, said to be as voluminous as the Kangyur, comprising more than a hundred volumes.  This is recorded in the histories, but many are no longer extant.  Changzoe Lodrö Tashi, the junior steward at Tsurphu Monastery, said that in the old days the works of Karma Pakshi reached from floor to ceiling in the library at Tsurphu monastery, before it was torn down during the cultural revolution.  These days, His Holiness was not sure if even ten of those volumes remain.

In terms of volume of collected works, the one after Karma Pakshi is Mikyö Dorje.  From the time he was young, he wrote many amazing treatises and doha.  He wrote many commentaries on the sutras.  Particularly, around the age of twenty, he wrote a commentary on the Vinaya sutras; when he was twenty-three, he composed a great commentary on the Prajnaparamita, the Rest for the Yogis; a commentary on Kalapa’s Sanskrit grammar; at the age of twenty-six, he wrote the long commentary on the Vinaya sutras; at the age of twenty-seven, he wrote a long commentary on the Abhidharma; and later, also, the commentary on Mahayana and the Chöd practice.  In terms of the Tantras, he composed many commentaries, as well as mandala rituals and sadhanas, and many instructions that teach the main points of the practice of the Mahayana.  In brief, when we look at the collected works of Mikyӧ Dorje, there are over twenty thick volumes.  His Holiness recalled that when he was in Tibet, he found a few of the huge volumes of Mikyӧ Dorje’s works, so heavy that one person could hardly carry them.

When one thinks about his poetry, his poetic style falls into the category Difficult Ornaments.  The texts on poetry have three different types of ornament: the Difficult Ornament is very complex.  From a starting point, It can be read forwards and backwards, from the beginning to the end, or the other way around.  This poetic form was very difficult to write, which shows how skilled Mikyӧ Dorje was. 

There are so many volumes in his collected works that they are great in quantity but also in terms of their content.  Later commentators used texts by earlier commentators as their models, whereas Mikyӧ Dorje never merely followed the words of earlier scholars.  In terms of supporting texts that he used, he carried out a lot of his own profound research.  In particular, in his great commentaries on the Middle Way, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, and Abhidharma, we find great explanations on difficult points and general discussions that are complete and perfect, bringing out the essential points of their particular philosophy. 

These commentaries on the great texts are the common jewels of not just the Karma Kamtsang but of all the Dakpo Kagyu schools.  His commentaries on the great texts are like the representatives of the great commentaries on these five texts.  Many senior geshes have told His Holiness that Mikyӧ Dorje’s commentaries on Abhidharma and Vinaya in particular are often used as supplementary reading in the Gelukpa monastic colleges. 

The Nyingma Controversy and Mikyö Dorje’s The Seeds of Honesty

After the break, His Holiness introduced his main topic for the day, one of Mikyö Dorje’s shorter texts: Presenting the Origins of the Undisputed Teacher and Teachings: Responses to Some Objections Regarding the Ancient Translation Secret Mantra. 

The Karmapa began by explaining the content of this text is a refutation of a claim made that the Nyingma Secret Mantra tradition was not true Buddhadharma.  In this text, Mikyӧ Dorje uses objections and responses in order to prove that this claim was wrong, and that the dharma of the Nyingma Secret Mantra is real Buddhadharma.

His Holiness showed photos of two old manuscripts of Responses to Some Objections.  The upper one, from the library of Drepung monastery, had the word ’out’ written on it.  His Holiness explained how this showed that it was a text which did not originate in the monastery.  During the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the Mongol armies under Gushri Khan attacked the Kagyu monasteries in Kongpo and sacked the “Black Treasure” at Tse Lagang monastery.  Many of the texts found there were brought to Drepung monastery near Lhasa.  At Drepung, they were catalogued.  These are very ancient manuscripts, over three hundred and sixty years old.     

Why had His Holiness found it necessary to introduce this work, Responses to Objections, which is also called The Seeds of Honesty, in particular among all of Mikyö Dorje’s works?  Firstly, it has a particular connection with today’s topic and, secondly, this work has had a considerable influence on later scholars. 

Before looking more closely into this text, however, His Holiness considered it to be important first of all to understand Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s character.  Because only by understanding his character could one understand the connection between his works and his way of thought, and its particular qualities.

Generally, his character was to be blunt and direct.  He said directly whatever he thought without holding anything back; he said it immediately and did not think whether the other person would like it or feel hurt by it.  In his writings, he would make many refutations of earlier and contemporary scholars, no matter who they were, if there was something that he thought was not logical. 

If one is not familiar with his work, one might think that he was a lama who had a strong sectarian bias, but in actuality, that only shows being unfamiliar with Mikyö Dorje’s character.  For example, if he thought the words did not accord with the intention of a particular text, he would even refute the gurus of his own tradition, other than his root guru, Sangye Nyenpa.  He made refutations against his teachers Karma Trinleypa and Dulmo Tashi Öser.  He also refuted many other well-known Kagyu lamas such as the Fourth Shamar Chökyi Drakpa and his teacher Gölok Shönnu Pal, and those with a great affinity for the Karmapa and strong connections to previous Karmapas such as Panchen Shakya Chokden.      From this it is evident that Mikyö Dorje had no sectarian attachment towards his own lineage.  His primary focus was whether a text matched its intention or not, and if he thought there were reason to, he would cite quotations from his own works.  In brief, when he was commenting on texts and the Buddha’s words, he considered the dharma to be far more important than the individual. 

Mikyö Dorje raised many objections to Sakya Pandita, Dolpopa, Bodong Panchen, Je Tsongkhapa, and other great Tibetan scholars.  The primary purpose was to point out what was reasonable and what was not, in the way scholars do: it was not a question of worldly like or dislike.  This can be known from Mikyö Dorje’s own text, Praise of the Five Great Beings Who Spread the Treatises in Tibet.  In this praise, he mentions Bodongpa, Dolpopa and Lord Tsongkhapa, and praises all of them.  Thus, there was no issue of unilateral objection to someone in a worldly way.  Looking at the Collected Songs, we can see Mikyö Dorje’s character.  He had faith in the great Tibetan lamas of the past and did not see them as enemies or opponents; he was not sectarian.  Mikyö Dorje raised objections to many Sakya lamas and also refuted masters of the Gelug tradition, such as Lord Tsongkhapa, whose view of the Middle Way he disputed.  But what is curious is that later it was not generally said that “Mikyö Dorje objected to the Sakya”, “Mikyö Dorje objected to the Geluk”, “Mikyö Dorje made many refutations”.  Instead, it was frequently said that Mikyö Dorje made refutations of the Nyingma. 

His Holiness then explained the historical context which led to this incorrect view.

Around the time when Mikyö Dorje was forty-six—just two years before he passed away —there was an incident that occurred.  A letter criticising and objecting to the Nyingma Tantra tradition circulated through all areas of Ütsang, and it was purported to have been written by Mikyö Dorje.  Consequently, this became a basis for many people to criticise him. 

 “Did Mikyö Dorje write these refutations of the Nyingma or not?  If he did, why did he refute them?  If not, how did such a letter come to be?” His Holiness asked.

We need to examine the Seeds of Honesty.  First, we need to look at the opening of the text.  It reads: 

Because of my name “Karmapa,” someone has written a fake refutation of false mantra as if it had been written by a “Tibetan Mikyö Dorje.” I do not understand the name or purpose of whatever individual has done this, but this has caused many people in Ü-tsang to view us with hatred as people who chatter out of wrong views and say many insulting words.  In order to prevent such misdeeds from increasing, I shall speak to this. 

Thus, Mikyö Dorje states clearly that this refutation of the Nyingma was written by an unknown person who pretended to be him and stole his name.

He goes on to highlight inaccuracies in the letter which suggest it is bogus:

In the letter, all of the words from “Written by the Karmapa in Nyemo from conversations with Tedro Lama Dzogchenpa…” to “during the Tibetan month of the Year of the Rat.  May it be virtuous!” seem to be completely false.  From the manner in which it is mistaken, if we combine the letter with some notes, this is easy to understand.

When I was staying in Nyemo in the Male Year of the Wood Rat, there was no one known as the Tedro Lama Dzogchenpa. Therefore, to write “conversations with” him seems to be a slanderous lie. 

He agrees that he was in Nyemo during that time, but there was no such person as the Dzogchen Lama at Tedro at that time, so the claim that this is a record of conversations with that lama is a slanderous lie.  

His Holiness suggested that the “Male Year of the Wood Rat” is a copying error, because there was no such year during Mikyö Dorje’s lifetime.  Thus, he had concluded that this year of the Rat must have been the year of the Water Rat, when Mikyö Dorje was forty-six.  The Feast for Scholars records that he wrote the Response to Objections Called the Seeds of Honesty in the Water Ox year of the ninth cycle, and that must have been some time after the objections to the Nyingma appeared.  Thus, the objections to the Nyingma must have been written in the Water Rat Year [1552 CE] when Mikyö Dorje was forty-six.  He then passed away two years later in the Wood Horse Year of the tenth cycle [1554 CE]. 

It seems, the Karmapa said, that somebody out of jealousy wished to harm Mikyö Dorje, which is suggested in the colophon:

To those who cause harm in many ways
From motivations of great hatred, attachment, and jealousy,
I join my palms and make this request: 

Whatever you people think,
We give up the crazy, unbearable ways of acting and thinking
towards our mothers for temporary pleasures and wealth.
You kind and loving mothers, 
Have looked on your children lovingly from beginningless time. 
Without interrupting the actions of loving-kindness and compassion, 
Please always care for all beings throughout space without bias
In the short and long term with benefit and happiness.

This was written by Jamyang Shepa, who was blessed by the title Karmapa in upper retreat Namkha Dzong of Dra Jampa Ling.  The scribe was Karma Trinley Jikme De.  I dedicate this so that all beings may enter the teachings of the undisputed teacher the Lion of the Shakya and achieve the state of the Dharma Lord Great Sage. 

He also mentions the place where he composed this text as well as the person who was with him to actually write it down; this was Karma Trinley Jikme De.  There were several Karma Trinleys.  There was Lama Karma Trinley from whom Mikyö Dorje studied the philosophical texts.  He had studied first in the Sakya tradition before becoming a student of the Seventh Karmapa Chodrak Gyatso and was very influential in spreading the Kagyu tradition.  Then, two of Mikyo Dorje’s students were called Karma Trinley: Sonam Trinzin who was at Tsurphu Monastery, and Karma Trinley Jigme Dewa, who was the amanuensis for this text.  He was very skilled in poetry, skilled in Vajrayana rituals and praised by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama 

That Mikyö Dorje did not write the tract against the Nyingma is shown clearly in the Seeds of Honesty but also validated by his students.  In Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa’s biography of him in the Feast for Scholars it says:

He was invited to Jampa Ling, where Yar Gyapa made offerings with devotion.  Now at that time, there was a letter slandering the Nyingma Tantra that had taken Mikyö Dorje’s name in its colophon, and as that was completely disrespectful of the Nyingma, he wrote The Seeds of Honesty, a response to it and examination of its authorship.

So, it was when Mikyö Dorje was staying at Jampa Ling, that this letter, seemingly written by Mikyö Dorje, began to circulate. 

Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa reiterated this in his Treatise Purifying Wrong Views, which he wrote when he was 53.  The text states that the writer of the letter had borrowed the name of Mikyö Dorje.  The letter had caused all those who had faith in the Nyingma Tantra to lose faith in Mikyö Dorje, and that was the reason he had written the lengthy response, The Seeds of Honesty.

In particular, a letter borrowing the name of the hope for all beings of the degenerate age, my own supreme refuge whose name is difficult to pronounce, Mikyö Dorje, appeared due to the power of the Maras, upsetting all those with faith in the Nyingma Tantra and spreading faithlessness.  The exalted refuge himself wrote The Seeds of Honesty, a long response.  It is remarkable, so read it in there. 

Mikyö Dorje’s principal student was the Fifth Shamar Könchok Yenlak who compiled A Catalog of the Complete Works of Karmapa Mikyö Dorje.  This catalog lists the complete title of the refutation as The Seeds of Honesty: Presenting the Undisputed Origins of the Teacher and Teachings: Responses to Some Objections Regarding the Ancient Translation Secret Mantra.

This is further evidence that the letter of objections to the Nyingma is fake and that Mikyö Dorje wrote the refutation.  Although Mikyö Dorje and his disciples protested his innocence many times, the view that Mikyö Dorje had written the letter with the objections to the Nyingma persisted.  Many of his contemporaries and those who came after him, primarily those of the Ancient Nyingma tradition, took it as a given that these objections were written by Mikyö Dorje, and made various responses, both polite and strident. 

Why did this situation arise?  His Holiness suggested that one reason was that scholars probably did not see the Response to Objections by Mikyö Dorje, in which he said very clearly that he had not written the letter and it was a fake. 

Alternatively, scholars saw the letter objecting to the Nyingma Tantra as an opportunity to show off their own scholarly skills, or as a way to clarify the teachings of the Nyingma.  Mikyö Dorje was a well-known lama at the time so to refute his writings would bring kudos.

Alternatively, they may have seen the Response to Objections but pretended not to have and wrote their response. 

To know the events clearly, we would need to compare how many similarities and dissimilarities there are between the responses to the objections by Mikyö Dorje and by other scholars and to research whether it was taken as a model or not.  Unless we do such research, there is no way we can know. 

Next, His Holiness discussed how the earlier and later Nyingma masters responded to the objections in the letter that was seemingly written by Mikyö Dorje and how they responded: 

The first master was Tulku Natsok Rangdrol, a great scholar and meditator, who, in the Wood Ox Year of the 9th cycle [1555 CE], the year that Mikyö Dorje passed away, wrote a text called The Luminous Dharma Expanse: A Response to Questions Posed by the Gyalwang Karmapa in an Official Letter.  He takes it for granted that Mikyö Dorje was the author of Objections to the Nyingma.

Three years after Mikyö Dorje passed away, Yakde Dulzin Khyenrab Gyatso wrote A String of Jewels: Responses to Questions on the Origins of the Buddha Dharma, which gives answers to each of the 26 objections in the letter and responds to them in depth.  This text became a source for the history of the Nyingma dharma, and Kyabje Düdjom Rinpoche cited many passages from it when he composed his own Dharma History.  Guru Tashi in his dharma history wrote:

At one point in the past, I did see a Nyingma Dharma history known as the “Yakde Dharma History” said to be written by Dulzin Khyenrap Gyatso, but I have not obtained it at this time. 

One major difference between Yakde’s response to the objections and others’ responses is that he rejects the view that the objections to the Nyingma were written by Mikyö Dorje.  As he writes: 

In the words of the emanation of the Buddha Lion’s Roar; the invincible master of the tenth level, and lord of the Buddha’s teachings named Pal Chödrup Gyatlso Chok Tamche Le Nampar Gyalway Mikyö Sangpo Dorje Gaway Yang, he instituted a tradition including all the Buddha’s teachings and spread and propagated the teachings of the Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma schools in all ways in all directions.  He was indivisible from the wisdom expanse of Padmasambhava.  But someone with a sectarian motivation wrote a fake letter with misconceptions about the teachings of the Kagyu and Nyingma.  Tedro Dzogchenpa was taken as the target in this text disputing the tantras, practice, samaya substances, and so forth of the Ancient Translation school, and I have written this String of Jewels: A History of the Buddha’s Teachings because of seeing it.

Likewise, the person who encouraged Yakde to write the response to the objections was actually a disciple of Mikyö Dorje, the khenpo of Tsok Gendun Gang, Panchen Ngawang Kunga Chöjor.  He said that the letter refuting the Nyingma was not a letter by Mikyö Dorje and that because of it many people were accumulating the karma of rejecting the dharma, so he should write a dharma history response to objections to clarify the teachings of the Kagyu and Nyingma. 

Similarly, Yargyap Pönchen Kunga Sönam Gyalpo also encouraged him to write a dharma history with response to the questions that would benefit the teachings in general and specific, and that would be pleasing to Mikyö Dorje.  When we look at these, it seems he believed the letter objecting to the Nyingma was not written by Mikyö Dorje.  So, at that time, people who knew Mikyö Dorje and who had actual connections with him, did not believe he was the author of this letter criticising the Nyingma.  

Twenty-two years after Mikyö Dorje passed away, Sokdokpa Lodroe Gyaltsen wrote The Thunder of Scripture and Logic: A Response to Gyalwang Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s Letter Questioning the Nyingma Secret Mantra

He gives responses to the objections to the Nyingma from beginning to end, on the assumption that Mikyö Dorje had written the letter in order to help the Nyingma by encouraging them to engage in listening, contemplation and meditation:

In the omniscient Gyalwang Mikyö Dorje’s letter about conversations with Tildro Lama Dzogchenpa, there are several figurative citations from scripture.  In the letter written at Neudong Tser, it is saying, “These days here in the north of Uru, the Terton Changlochen and other emanations of maras…” On seeing such words, I wonder how much warmth there is in the view and thought?  Such a manner of questioning are questions eliminating and uprooting all doubts about the Nyingma posed in a deep, vast way that is difficult to fathom.  They were given to inspire Nyingmas to put effort into listening, contemplating and meditating.  If we completely integrate them into our being, we will determine all the difficult points of the Nyingma Secret Mantra.

Sokdokpa Lodroe Gyaltsen also wrote that he had seen three responses to the objections before he wrote his own, but that those responses were pointless because they had failed to understand Mikyö Dorje’s intention in writing the objections and had resorted to sarcasm to denigrate Mikyö Dorje.

At the beginning of the 17th century, there is a text of the Liberation Story of Tsarchen Losal Gyatso, written by the Fifth Dalai Lama, which seems to suggest that Tsarchen Losal did not have much faith in Mikyö Dorje because the latter was fickle, sometimes objecting to the Nyingma and sometimes saying they are good, and also behaved strangely at time as if unstable and not in his right mind.  So the Fifth Dalai Lama took for granted that Mikyö Dorje had written the letter of objections to the Nyingma.

And from the Fifth Dalai Lama’s Record of Teachings:

Karmapa Rangjung Dorje’s instructions on the Outer Cycle of Ati in verse seems to have produced an amazing experience of imprints awakened by Ngenlam Gyalwa Choking.  It is not at all like the Mikyö Dorje said to be his reincarnation. 

He praises the Third Karmapa, calls him omniscient and cites the nying-thik cycle in verse that he had written, which shows that he was an emanation of Ngenlam Gyalwa Choking.  The Dalai Lama goes on to imply that the dissimilarity between the two means that Mikyö Dorje could not possibly be his reincarnation.

In the 18th century, The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Schools by Tuuken Chökyi Nyima wrote:

In particular, Khukpa Lhaytse and Drikung Paladin present many proofs that the Nyingma is not pure dharma, and Shakya Chokden and Karmapa Mikyö Dorje also follow their lead. 

He presumes that Mikyö Dorje had written the objection to Nyingma. 

In the 19th century, Guru Tashi wrote a dharma history of the Nyingma Secret Mantra entitled The Ocean of Amazing Stories that Delight the Wise which is usually called the Gutay Dharma History.  It reads: 

The Eighth Karmapa studied the Tanak Practice Cycle from Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal and practiced them, and he also wrote a sadhana combining the eight Karmapas, eight Shangs, and eight forms of Guru Rinpoche.  He described (as above) how it was a school of pure perception.  This master investigated the Nyingma, and intending to refute some small-minded people, he wrote his own response Seeds of Honesty to prove that it is pure dharma.

He writes as if both the objections to the Nyingma and the repudiation Seeds of Honesty were by Mikyö Dorje. 

Also in the 19th century, Dzogchen Khenpo Padma Vajra wrote the First Dawn of Scripture and Logic: A Response to Objections to the Ancient Translation Nyingma Literature.  In a section titled Questions from the doubt of not realising by Mikyö Dorje, he explains that Mikyö Dorje did not realise the nature and had doubts, he asked questions of the Ancient Translation Nyingma, and Sokdokpa responded.

In Jamgön Mipham Namgyal’s String of Vajra Jewels: A Supplementary Examination of Natural Mind from his Three Cycles on Natural Mind, he gives responses to the objections in three questions about the topic of “Liberation through Investigation”.  He writes:

Unable to prove your own tradition which upholds the Shentong school, when you see the Ornament of Nagarjuna’s Thought, you vanish like dew on grass.  Whatever you do, as a superior tulku who is pleased to consider a school that says that the various inconsistent states promoting the Consequentialist school to be a true school, is fine.

He says, that Mikyo Dorje originally upheld the Shentong view, but then was unable to defend his own tradition, so was forced to abandon the Shentong view and take up the Consequentialist school view instead.  But, as a superior tulku he was free to do what he wanted!  Basically, Jamgön Mipham was being sarcastic and the object of his sarcasm seems to be Mikyö Dorje, though he doesn’t actually specify a name.  However, the Karmapa explained, Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje and the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso primarily explained the view in a Shentong manner, while the Eighth Karmapa explained it from the Rangtong or Consequentialist perspective.

In Mikyö Dorje’s collected works, there is the Dialogue with Gyatön Jadralwa, in which Mikyö Dorje is accused of destroying an image of Guru Rinpoche: 

Did you destroy the talons and fangs on the Wrathful Guru made by Tertön Sangye Lingpa?” In response, “That was already cracked and broken.  Only later, when we restored Tse Lhagang (monastery), did I hear that it had been broken. 

Such events show how people believed that he was biased against the Nyingma and criticised him continually. 

Though the basis for the Practice Lineage of the Karma Kamtsang is the Kagyu, our Dharma protectors such as Bernakchen and Palden Lhamo, Damchen and Shingkyong come from the Nyingma tradition.  Later, it was frequently said within the Kamtsang that Mikyö Dorje had objected to the Nyingma.  Consequently, there were very many, such as Karma Shenpen Wangpo, the reincarnation of Pal Khang Lotsawa, who said that many of our ancestral practices were Nyingma and viewed them like filth.

If this is the situation even within the Kamtsang, then it is totally understandable that people from other schools wouldn’t know the actual situation, the Karmapa concluded. 

Day 4: Taking Harm as the Path and the Faults of Sectarianism and Bias

Day 4: Taking Harm as the Path and the Faults of Sectarianism and Bias

Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings: 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje's Autobiographical Verses

25 March, 2022

After warmly greeting listeners, His Holiness continued his teaching of the Eighth Karmapa MIkyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses which he has based on Sangye Paldrup’s commentary. Previously His Holiness had discussed meditating on relative bodhicitta. This has two parts:

  1. Exchanging himself for others in meditation
  2. Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation

The latter is further divided into ten sub-sections. His Holiness had spoken of the first, “taking running out of supplies as the path”, on Day 3. Today, he gave a presentation of the second sub-section, “taking harm as the path”. 

Taking harm as the path

Of the thirty-three good deeds described in the Autobiographical Verses, this is the twelfth. Mikyö Dorje wrote,

When others unreasonably repaid kindness with harm,
I’d think, “May the results all ripen on me,
To never be experienced by this person,”
And dedicated all the virtue to them.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.

When many of us think about the era during which Mikyö Dorje lived, we believe it to be a fortunate time with fewer conflicts and strife than the present day. We believe that people of Mikyö Dorje’s time had great faith in and devotion to the gurus, and thus they would not criticize dharma teachers. However, through examining Mikyö Dorje’s life, we see that this was not the case. During his early life, there was dispute about whether Mikyö Dorje was really the Karmapa or not, and there were conflicts within the Karma Kamtsang tradition as well as between schools. In addition, Mikyö Dorje took care of many people, giving them food, supplies, wealth, and kindness but he was sometimes falsely accused and was met with unwarranted hostility. People from both inside and outside his tradition tried to create obstacles to his activity of spreading the Dharma. 

How did he face these obstacles? It is as he said in his own Instructions of Training in the Liberation Story of Mikyö Dorje,

When these external and internal maras caused such harms, it is because of accumulating the karma of causing them harm and the afflictions from beginningless samsara that in this lifetime they caused harm. Otherwise there would be no basis or cause for them to harm you and it would have been impossible for them to cause you harm. For this reason, one thing we must pay attention to is that we must continue to strive to purify our own being of the bad karma that will ripen upon rebirth and that is certain to be experienced, and the obscurations that prevent higher states and true excellence.

If we follow Mikyö Dorje’s instructions, in cases such as these, we should turn our attention inwards and put effort into cleansing our obscurations, such that we do not continue to harm others and such that we end this ongoing spinning of the wheel of harm and suffering. No matter how much harm others cause us while we’re on the path trying to bring benefit to beings, we need to see this as a way of accumulating merit for both the bodhisattva and the mara (those who cause obstacles to spreading the dharma or those who cause harm). If it becomes a way of accumulating merit and becomes a cause for achieving enlightenment, we have changed a bad condition into a good condition and a good cause. In turn, we will not be harmed. For the other person, there will not be such a bad full ripening in the future that typically comes from harming others. We have to see how much we can train in the vast conduct of the bodhisattva; this is the main point of what is said in the Instructions on Training in the Liberation Story of Mikyö Dorje.

Putting the instruction into practice: never losing a loving attitude

Ordinarily, people would give up on those who treated them wrongly but Mikyö Dorje never did. To those who repaid his kindness wrongly, he never thought, “They’ve done all of these bad things so therefore let them be sick,” or so forth. He never blamed them or said, “I helped you in this way in the past so why are you treating me like this now?”  He never believed he was right while they were wrong or accused them of being bad people while asserting he was good. 

Mikyö Dorje never blamed others after they mistreated him. In fact, he treated them with kindness and with a particular affection. He made aspirations such as, “May those who have been ungrateful to me not experience a bad ripening of karma,” and “Causing harm is a misdeed and the ripening of the misdeed can only be suffering. May that ripening of suffering not ripen on them but on me.” Another example was a man by the name of Lhatse:  Mikyö Dorje sent him many gifts and treated him very well. However, Lhatse caused significant problems for Mikyö Dorje. When Mikyö Dorje heard that Lhatse had died a horrible death, he never thought, “He deserved it,” or ,“It served him right.” He took no joy or satisfaction from his death and never uttered insulting words at all. Rather, he said that Lhatse had had a hard time and was overcome and controlled by his afflictions. The Eighth Karmapa often thought about all those enshrouded by the darkness of delusion, burning with the fire of hatred, and enslaved by the afflictions, as they were accumulating bad karma. Mikyö Dorje’s attendant, Sangye Paldrup, recorded that Mikyö Dorje was really very anxious for them, as though his heart was pierced by a needle. He fretted for days, and he went to the Three Jewels and shed many tears.  

Mikyö Dorje was not only a lama well-known for teaching the dharma, he was a worldly judge as well, with great influence throughout Tibet. Thus, in addition to having spiritual authority, he was given secular authority. He could have had all those who did not listen to him, were proud or acted wrongly punished, by way of fines, physical punishment or even execution. He could have fiercely upheld the law or had strict rules. Yet Mikyö Dorje did not act like this. He did not state, “This is the rule of the Encampment or the rule of the land.” Instead, he did not cause problems for wrongdoers or punish them because he did not want them to suffer or be unhappy. If he had an opportunity to talk to them, he would tell them to use the dharmic antidote of the Four Powers and confess, but even from the depths of his mind he would never feel any bias, attachment, or hatred towards any other sentient being. This shows he thought only of their needs and their feelings.

Without making any effort on his part, Mikyö Dorje’s merit and fame became widespread. As a result, some people from other schools and lineages grew jealous and annoyed by him. They accused and criticized him unjustly, and prevented the public from going to see him or having audiences with him. For example, in his mid-30s he was unable to travel to see the precious Jowo Shakyamuni statue in Lhasa because of grudges some people held towards him, which made it difficult for him to travel. Also, while in his 40s, an important king in Tibet named Lord Pakdru offered Mikyö Dorje Sulpu monastery in the region of Ü, which was one of the six important monasteries for the study of Buddhism during the reign of Je Tsongkhapa. Before showing a photograph of the monastery ruins, His Holiness explained that Mikyö Dorje did not want to be the administrator of the monastery. He did not believe it would work out. However, because of Lord Pakdru’s importance, he could not refuse the offer. Accusing Mikyö Dorje of being an emanation of a mara and of coming in to take away their place, sangha members of other traditions took up arms in order to stop Mikyö Dorje from entering their territory. 

This demonstrates how Mikyö Dorje experienced difficulties and conflict during his lifetime, yet never lost his loving attitude towards those who had caused him harm. He even said that they should be offered sustenance and other goods. 

We say the downtrodden worry about their own suffering but noble beings worry about others, as they know those people will experience suffering. We may wonder how beings can act in harmful ways. His Holiness explained that in this degenerate age, maras, ghosts and spirits who don’t like the dharma can have a great influence on others and change the way people are thinking and acting such that they do harm. His Holiness explained that we may not be able to see these spirits and maras with our eyes but they do try to change especially powerful and influential people. Controlled by their karma and their afflictions, they can’t be blamed for their actions. 

Mikyö Dorje thought about this extensively. Instead of blaming others for treating him badly, he did everything he could to stop their afflictions. If he couldn’t stop the afflictions, he tried using skillful means to stop their harmful actions. For example, he avoided going to places where he would have many students or receive many offerings and went instead to isolated areas. He prayed that the karmic effects of bad actions would ripen on him and the results of his pure actions would ripen on others, and he dedicated his virtue to evil beings that were threatening or harming him. MIkyö Dorje wrote that this was one of his good deeds. 

The shared characteristics of the Liberation Stories of the Karmapas

His Holiness shared his motivation for teaching the Liberation Stories of the Gyalwang Karmapas. He asserted that, as an ordinary sentient being who is controlled by the three afflictions, when he is teaching and speaking about liberation stories, he thinks about being a follower of the Gyalwang Karmapas and of Buddhism. Following the path of the body, speech and mind of the Gyalwang Karmapas entails, for him, studying their liberation stories and doing as much as he can to practice them. This is a motivation we should all share. 

There are four shared characteristics found in the liberation stories His Holiness chose to discuss during today’s session. First, all of the Karmapa incarnations have been skilled, hard-working dharma leaders who have used many methods to spread the dharma to many places. Many Karmapas never stayed in one place but rather travelled to remote areas and to many regions throughout Tibet, China, and Mongolia. As a result, they gave many people opportunities to see them and hear them teach,  and developed deep connections with people in different areas. Even today, in some regions where there is no Kagyu monastery or Kagyu monastic, many households have an ancestral tradition of chanting “Karmapa khyenno”. This shows the deep imprint made when past Karmapas travelled to those particular areas and forged connections with the local people. We can ascertain from this that past Gyalwang Karmapas spread the Dharma to many areas of Tibet and worked hard to bring benefit to the region.

The second characteristic discussed is that each Karmapa had his own individual character and style and brought his own ideas to the tradition. As such, the Karmapa tradition was not just old, ossified and dogmatic. Some Karmapas were wrathful while others were more peaceful. They had diverse interests. Mikyö Dorje, for example, really enjoyed studying and discussing texts with others, and he liked statues and other representations of Body, Speech, and Mind. In addition, he had a recognizable writing style. It is said that Gendun Chophel’s Ornament of Nagarjuna’s Thought was influenced by Mikyö Dorje’s style as seen in his Chariot of the Practice Siddhas. On the other hand, the Tenth Karmapa, Chöying Dorje, had a great interest in art and his own particular artistic style. We can say that the Karmapas not only helped to spread the Dharma, but were broadminded and had different areas of knowledge.

Third, none of the Karmapas has liked having power and influence. This does not just refer to political power; they did not much care for administering monasteries such as Tsurphu and did not care to maintain the status of “Karmapa” either. The liberation stories of the Eighth and the Ninth Karmapa state that they preferred to go to remote places and did little to maintain the Encampment. 

The fourth and last characteristic is that the Karmapas rejected sectarianism and maintained a broader view of benefiting all of Tibet. Although we say that their main activity and responsibility has been to uphold the Kagyu lineage, in the Bright Lamp of the Teachings by the Fourteenth Ganden Tripa Rinchen Öser, it is said, “The Karmapas are revered in common everywhere throughout China and Tibet.” If you look at the activity of the Karmapas up until the Tenth Karmapa, you can see how they had the great broadminded view to teach all Tibetans and all schools in general. They did not identify the Kagyu lineage alone as being correct. Instead, they saw the reasons for having different schools, regarding them and the Bön tradition favourably. The Karmapas unilaterally rejected sectarianism and bias towards the various schools and lineages. For this reason, Patsap Lotsawa gave the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa two sacred objects––a painting showing all of the upholders of the Buddha’s teachings from the Buddha Shakyamuni to Bhikshu Simha and a conch said to be from Bodhgaya from the time of Nagarjuna. Giving these sacred objects to the First Karmapa, Patsap Lotsawa told him, “I am transmitting the Buddha’s teachings to you, so you must take the responsibility for teaching the entire teachings of the Buddha.” 

Similarly the Second Karmapa Mahasiddha Karma Pakshi had no sectarianism or bias for any sentient being or school. He compared his inclusive view to the sun shining in the sky: 

Like the sun in the sky,
May the being Rangjung Dorje 
Have nonsectarian auspiciousness. 
Through the activity of a bodhisattva, 
May the light of his compassion shine
In all directions like the full moon.
May there be the auspiciousness 
Of happiness in the world. 

Bodhicitta is having no bias toward any sentient being, whether they be close or far, which can be compared to the light of the moon that shines on all sentient beings without dividing them into factions or sects. The activity of the bodhisattva is like the light of compassion, shining in all directions without any bias, and their sole wish is that there may be “the auspiciousness of happiness in the world”.

Documents of the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje and the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa say that theirs is not a lineage of Indian Kings nor of Chinese emperors. Theirs is a lineage that upholds the Buddha’s teachings, that is to say it is not sectarian. 

The Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso likewise wrote, 

Here in Tibet, all lineages are primarily only Buddhist, Mahayana, and in particular Secret Mantra teachings. There is no discordance within the teachings taught by the Buddha. The current separate lineages of the Sakya, Jonang, Shaluwa, Bodongpa, Gelukpa, Radreng or Kadampa, Sangpuwa, Gampopa, Tsurphupa, Drikung, Taklung, Drukpa, and so forth do not mean individual dharma lineages. They are distinct traditions of daily prayers and hats in different regions and customs due to the development of monasteries. Not being the same in those ways does not mean that the teachings of the Buddha are different. All of them are solely pure teachings of the Buddha, so they are proven to be true recipients of offerings to gather the accumulation of merit. 

Here, the Seventh Karmapa is emphasizing that, although there are many different lineages, we are the same in being practitioners of the Buddha’s teachings. There is harmony amongst us regardless of whether we are practicing the teachings of the Sakya, Gelug, Foundational, Mahayana, Secret Mantrayana traditions and so forth. We are divided into different lineages, we have different names, different monasteries were founded, we wear different hats or ring our bells in puja slightly differently, but in actuality, we are all the same. The minor differences in external form do not make an actual difference because we are all the same in being practitioners of the teachings of the Buddha. 

In his Letter to be Announced in all Kingdoms, the Seventh Karmapa also wrote, 

As the Karmapa, I do not distinguish between any factions in places, communities, students, teachings, dharma traditions, and so forth. I do not hold there to be a separate “Karmapa’s tradition” or “teaching.” The teachings of the Buddha are the teachings of the Karmapa. I take care of the teachings of the Buddha. All those who enter them enter the teachings of the Karmapa. 

Although His Holiness did not discuss them at length here, he mentioned Mikyö Dorje’s Instructions for the Lord of Kurapa and his Nephews as additional relevant reading. In this text, Mikyö Dorje offers detailed reasons why having sectarian views about the Buddha’s teachings is not appropriate. 

His Holiness then stressed one of the main points of the day’s teachings: the importance of assessing the situation in the world and seeing the harm of having biases. Normally, he said, we stay in our own monasteries that exist within specific dharma lineages. This shapes how we see things with our eyes and how we think about things with our mind. However, this may lead to our views being limited. We really only consider how our own monasteries and our own labrangs will flourish and we think our own monasteries need to remain forever. Consequently, we do not see others at all and we don’t see that things are changing. Thus, we need to begin thinking more profoundly, using our two eyes to examine ourselves rather than looking at others, His Holiness urged. He recommended trying to look at our lineage, our monasteries, and our labrang as though we were a person on the outside looking in. He then stated that we need to expand the range of where we’re looking so that gradually we can expand our viewpoints. 

As we are now in the 21st century, we can no longer continue as we did before with our hands covering our eyes. Looking at the world, we see there are many, many religions, and many true religions among them. Christianity and Islam are the largest religions in the world and several countries identify as being Christian or Muslim. On the other hand, there are only a few Buddhist countries left in the world. Although Buddhism is considered to be one of the world’s major religions, if you compare its spread or dissemination to that of Christianity or Islam or other large religions, it is relatively small. Previously, there were many more Buddhist countries than there are now, and many of these countries have ceased to be Buddhist. This shows there has been a real decline in the Buddhist teachings. 

Though there are some external factors contributing to Buddhism’s decline, such as conversion to other religions, His Holiness suggested that the most significant factor contributing to Buddhism’s decline is an internal condition, specifically the division and factionalism that exists between Buddhist communities. There are, in fact, very few good connections between Buddhists. This is something we need to consider seriously. We continue to make many different distinctions such as Foundational and Mahayana, or Sutrayana and Vajrayana. Likewise, we say Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism,  and Theravada Buddhism. Even within Tibet, there are five great lineages. Within the Kagyu there are dozens of traditions, with its elder and younger lineages and so on, there are many different divisions. 

Originally, there were very few Buddhist lineages, His Holiness explained, but over time, they split into many smaller factions and became weaker and weaker. There is the danger that one day there won’t be anything left for anyone to see. For that reason, among Buddhists, in Tibetan Buddhism, and in the Kagyu lineage, we shouldn’t have this sectarianism of saying “us” and “them”. Even making a distinction is not good because when you make distinctions, naturally you begin to have bias. We must take the first step ourselves; we must take action otherwise it’s like having a nice piece of fruit. You put it on a plate and leave it. What happens? It rots.  We have to start with our own monasteries and lineages. We do so by increasing our ideas of creating connections and unity,  and expanding our idea of belonging, until we reach the belief that we’re the same inside and out, and understand  the unity of Buddhism. This really comes down to the idea that if one declines, we all decline; if one spreads, we all spread. Whether Buddhism declines or spreads therefore depends on this. Take the example of the United States. Because it is a powerful country, its citizens can hold their heads high and be confident anywhere as an American. If an entire country is not doing so well, its citizens will be weaker and have less confidence. It is difficult for us to develop this feeling when we stay within the environment of our own specific lineages. 

People often fail to realize how very sacred it is to be in Buddhist monasteries in the presence of the sangha.  But one day if you travel to Europe or a non-Buddhist country, you may not even find a statue of the Buddha, never mind there being Mahayana, Secret Mantrayana or disputes between Tibetan traditions. If you were to see a statue of the Buddha in such a place, you would be overjoyed! We take such things for granted, but in many countries around the world, there aren’t even any Buddhists, much less Kagyupas or Karma Kagyupas. Kagyupas are like rabbits with horns — they don’t exist! And yet many people sit in their monasteries thinking, “The sky is Kagyu, the earth is Kagyu, everything is Kagyu.” Thinking this way is no better than being the frog in the well, unable to see the external world or the overall situation. 

Some monastics sit there thinking that nothing will change, but there has been a lot of change in the world already. We are becoming a single, global, human community with increasingly greater connections. In a time of such development, if we stay in our own little world covering our eyes, we’re just deceiving ourselves. We have to open our eyes.

In terms of being Buddhist and bringing benefit to the Buddhist teachings, we need to all respect one another and serve all in the same way. This is the foundation of being Buddhist; we need to take care of this great basis that we have. This means we can be a follower of the Buddha and practice the Dharma as it’s taught, that is to say not having any bias in the teachings or towards people, or having any notion of greater or lesser. We should not let the kindness of the great masters of the past, who upheld and spread the teachings with such great effort, go to waste. 

The Karmapa clarified what it means to be non-sectarian. He emphasized that it does not mean not having our own standpoint or basis. We each have our particular karmic connections and the lineage we have entered because of them, so it is our particular responsibility to serve our own particular lineage. It is extremely important to respect that. Rather, being non-sectarian means considering other lineages as the same as, if not better than, our own. Even with the intention of preserving and spreading the Buddhist teachings throughout this world, if your thinking and outlook are old-fashioned, if you are unwilling to open your eyes and look at how the world is now, simply saying “I will spend innumerable eons achieving the state of Buddhahood” is merely an ensemble of words that you will be unable to accomplish. For these reasons, we need to train in the Liberation Stories of Mikyö Dorje and think about the faults that come from factionalism and bias. 

Day 3: Gathering the Accumulations

Day 3: Gathering the Accumulations

Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings: 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje's Autobiographical Verses

March 22, 2022

‘’I spoke yesterday mainly about exchanging oneself for others,’’ said His Holiness Karmapa, as he began the third day of teaching on the autobiographical verses of Mikyӧ Dorje. He continued the topic further. 

Buying Suffering and Selling Happiness

Generally, exchanging oneself for others is not disconnected from the situation of our daily life. For example, if our parents, life partners, and children are dear to our hearts, we are able to sacrifice ourselves for them. When they encounter difficulties, we think, “It’s better for me to take on the suffering.”  Our hearts ache for them, and we do whatever we can. That is exactly what it is to exchange oneself for others. We would be happy to take their place. That is one way of exchanging self for others. It’s something all human beings can feel.  It’s not inconceivable.

However, the exchange of self and others usually taught in Lojong Mind Training doesn’t come naturally. The intention and the aim are quite different. The focus is broader, and the intention is far vaster. We have to do it for all sentient beings. We have to take the feelings we have for those we love and apply it to all beings. We need to enlarge our intention; this is the first step and it’s not an easy one.

Do we feel the wish to exchange ourselves for people we are not usually connected to, whom we don’t even know, when they face difficulties? This is a huge question. It is very unlikely. They aren’t connected to me. Why should I put myself out for them? Why should I sacrifice myself? It’s understandable to think like that. In general, everyone is so habituated to cherishing themselves that we naturally think in that way. 

It’s even more difficult to do with our enemies. Why would I feel love for them? Why would I sacrifice for their sake? We feel disconnected from them. To begin with, we have to understand that person’s suffering. That’s why Geshe Langri Tangpa says, as the first stage in his Eight Verses of Training the Mind, that we should train until we see all beings as similar to a wish-fulfilling jewel. Without sentient beings there is no way to attain buddhahood, no way to purify. All sentient beings are not only as important as we are, but they are also even more significant. They are actually indispensable.

The way we accumulate merit is similar to a business model. When we have the opportunity to do a deal with a big business person and earn a lot of money, we make sure not to miss that chance. Gathering the accumulations is the same. The difference is that normally we work for someone else to earn money but when we practice dharma, we take on suffering ourselves to accumulate merit. There is no limit to sentient beings’ suffering, so our opportunities to gather merit are limitless. The dharma profits just roll right in. We buy their suffering and sell our happiness.

Just as we have to work hard to earn money because we need food and drink to live, we need good conditions to lead a good dharma life, and for that to happen we must gather the accumulations. Gaining a precious human body and meeting an authentic guru will not happen without the support of gathering the accumulations. It is the same as earning money. 

Right now, we are just spending the merit we accumulated in previous lives, and if we do not continue to accumulate more, one day the merit, like money, will run out. We need to grow that exponentially. Gathering the accumulations is more stable than earning money. Money is limited but the accumulations are limitless. The currency of the two accumulations can be used in any world system at any time. 

Accumulating worldly wealth is important for humans, but in terms of the wider universe it has no value at all. The power of gathering merit transcends any limit of the material and can bring immeasurable benefit and happiness. To look at it from the widest and most long-term perspective, gathering the accumulations is much more important than earning money. It is a way to eliminate all our problems and fulfill all our wishes.

The best way to become rich is to take birth in a rich family. Right now, we don’t have money like Elon Musk, and this is due to whether or not we have the merit for wealth. Thus, a good or bad rebirth is a question of whether or not we know the methods; in this sense, reincarnation is a technical matter. 

Even if we cannot think that way now, we must not belittle accumulating merit. If we do so, that is the foundation for losing everything we have. 

We have to think about it from the depths of the mind and with a pure motivation. 

The Karmapa then turned his attention to the 11th Good Deed of Mikyӧ Dorje

Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation

1. Taking running out of supplies as the path 

The 11th verse reads:

Although I gave without attachment to beings,
When combative people responded to that with harm,
I thought to myself, “This purifies bad karma!”
And felt as much delight as a beggar finding treasure.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. 

The roots of virtue Mikyӧ Dorje was striving to attain brought on obstacles caused by the Maras, both in human and spirit forms. Both would try to denigrate his intentions and actions. They would say, “generosity and discipline such as this will never become the path to great enlightenment. This is not the Mahayana path. This is not work that will help you or others. This is harmful.”

At such times we need to focus our minds and remember this is their obstacle without bearing a grudge towards them. And we must be really diligent in this. The more obstacles, the more momentum our antidotes will gather, like the current of a river. 

The way to be victorious over the Maras is to have the kind of confidence and courage that cannot be changed by any condition, internal or external. We must be as still as the depths of the great ocean, unmoving and stable. This is important. 

The Karmapa then referred to the rift in the Great Encampment before Mikyӧ Dorje was correctly identified and enthroned as the 8th Karmapa. After he was enthroned, he received a mountain of wealth from the Ming Emperor of China. He had not the least attachment to any of it and would give away a thousand bricks of tea; countless bolts of silk; four or five mule loads of gold and silver; or innumerable pack animals to his students and entourage, without any discrimination. Even an ordinary person in the retinue would receive wealth fit for a great lord. Yet he never even referred to it. He never said, “I gave you a gift.” Sadly, those people, had neither gratitude nor respect. They would try to get whatever they could as if they were recalling a loan. Then they would ask for respect in accordance with their new status and use all their powers to denigrate their benefactor.

They would say: “Your activity is because of our kindness. By yourself you aren’t capable. We are kinder than you. Without us, who knows where you would be now.” They even threatened to destroy all the monks.

He understood that this was because their minds had not been tamed. When people repaid his help with harm, he saw that if he continued to help them, the result would be the cause of inexhaustible wealth. He never said an angry word or even criticized them even when all the jewels and artefacts that had been offered him and the previous Karmapas were stolen or destroyed. He showed only loving kindness and spoke naturally. He never exposed hidden faults or humiliated anyone. He saw them as a teacher who shows how wealth and possessions have no point. They were no different from a buddha. 

He said:

When others have robbed the sensory pleasures, we have been given, debts from beginning-less samsara are being purified, so we must accept them. If instead we accumulate the karma of greed and hatred, we and all other sentient beings will be born in the great hells. If without accumulating karma we take it as an aid on the path to great enlightenment, there is no better method for swiftly awakening to buddhahood. 

A few bodhisattvas may have vast activity, the Karmapa reflected, but the results of their students’ bad karma are so powerful that their activity cannot flourish.

The Food of Faith

In the Vinaya it is said that the proper livelihood of a monk is to live off alms. In the alms round they should hold out their bowls like beggars. The difference between a monk and a beggar is that the donors make offerings to monks out of faith. The food and clothing that lay people offer to monastics is called the “food of faith.” The recipients need to pay due respect to this aspect of offering.

The Vinaya scriptures teach five ways of accepting offerings from the faithful. The first is accepting them like an owner. This applies to Arhats. The second is by accepting what is designated or permitted, which applies to stream-enterers. The third is using them in the allowed manner, which applies to ordinary individuals who have discipline and strive on the path of virtue by practicing meditation or recitations. The fourth and fifth have serious consequences: using them like red-hot iron and using them like a loan. 

To illustrate this, the Karmapa recalled the story of the great sponsor Anatapindata who invited the Buddha and his entire retinue to Jetavana Grove in Sravasti in order to make impressive offerings. Once there, Anatapindata asked the Buddha: “Who is the best recipient of an offering?” “The Sangha,” replied the Buddha, meaning solely the noble ones, the learners who had eliminated the afflictions. Not everyone present was in this category; some were just ordinary people. 

The Arhats wouldn’t take the offerings because they were taught not to boast about themselves. Many others didn’t take them either because they thought they still had the afflictions. In the end, not a single bhikshu would accept the offerings. Anatapindata turned ghostly pale, thinking it must be due to his lack of merit. The Buddha asked the bhikshus why they had not taken the offerings, but they remained silent. The Buddha then asked, “Why did you go forth as monastics? Was it for liberation or food and clothing?’’ Only then did the bhikshus understand the meaning.

It is said that for those disciplined monastics who intend to reach Nirvana, there is no fault in enjoying expensive robes, good food, and large houses. To sum it all up. individuals who have discipline or who have reached liberation may enjoy the food of faith. The vast merit of offering benefits the donors. It is not appropriate for those who do not have discipline to enjoy the food of faith, and if they do, it becomes like a lump of red-hot iron going into their stomach. This is really important, the Karmapa emphasized.

At this point, the Karmapa recalled the teachings of Patrul Rinpoche: 

Even if all we know is to sit in rows in a puja and recite one text, those of us who live on offerings of faith must focus our minds, stop speaking, and recite. If we mix the recitation and mantra repetition with ordinary chatter, there is no point at all. In particular, when reciting rituals for the deceased in the bardo who are stricken with fear and suffering, if we have negative thoughts or sit there chatting, the bardo beings will know because they are clairvoyant. They may get wrong views or aversion toward the ritual, and they may go to the lower realms. That kind of bardo ritual is not helpful; better not to have it at all. 

If we just recite empty words in loud voices, it destroys the essential meaning. When we get to the mantra recitation, our bodies become like corpses, and we cannot even sit up straight. We look around distractedly, prick our ears up at any noise and open the floodgates to pointless idle chatter. 

This is reducing dharma to the flimsiest of facades. An ancient proverb says: “It is better to sing a little ditty with good intentions than to recite manis while harboring ill intentions.” 

We lamas, monks, and nuns, no matter who we are, should not think, “How many offerings did I get today? How rich was the tea? How good was the bread?” The donor, whether living or deceased, has come to a critical point. They have put their hopes in us. We are their refuge. If we shatter their hopes that does not bode well for virtuous karma. At the very least we can pray from the heart that the gurus and Three Jewels will care for these desperate bardo beings. The compassion of the Three Jewels, the unfailing power of karma, and the limitless benefit of bodhichitta, will help the deceased person in the bardo. 

Phowa on Demand

‘’There’s a story about this also,’’ said the Karmapa, launching into a wondrous Tibetan anecdote about the unfailing power of faith to help bardo beings. 

There was a monk at Tsurphu Monastery, probably during the time of the Fifteenth Karmapa, who wasn’t very bright and so lazy that he was unable to memorize the daily prayers. The custom was to make the uneducated monks into the senior tea servers, and that is what he became. But one day he made a mistake at his job, and he was afraid the discipline master would beat him. So, he and a friend ran away from the monastery. They ended up going to Tö Ngari, it’s said. 

One day they went to a nomad family to beg for food, and as it happened, a family member had just died. The family, knowing they were monks from Tsurphu, invited them in, and asked them, “Please do phowa for the deceased.” 

Forget about knowing how to do phowa, they didn’t even know what the texts for phowa were! But lamas and monks from other lineages had also been invited so they were embarrassed to admit they couldn’t do it—they thought it would be a disgrace to Tsurphu Monastery. So, they screwed up their courage and went in and took their seats. 

They sat there for a while, looking at each other and thinking, “How are we supposed to do phowa?” The senior tea server could stumble his way through the Four Sessions Guru Yoga, so he thought it would be good to recite that. He said to his friend, “If we don’t recite anything, we’re finished. I’m going to recite the Four Sessions Guru Yoga, and you can help me out and recite it too.” They got ready, but so many people were sitting there staring at them and waiting for them to do something, that they panicked. Their faces began to burn, and they weren’t able to even begin reciting the Four Sessions

They had no choice, so they covered their heads with their robes and began to recite the Four Sessions: “My mothers, all sentient beings throughout space…” When they got to the Karmapa Khyenno mantra, they prayed fervently, “Karmapa! Please look at us with compassion now!” Then they recited the mantra so loudly. At that point, the senior tea server suddenly heard a voice in his ear, “Now do it!” Without thinking, he cried “hik!” in a crackling voice, and then “peh!” A piece of skull the size of a palm popped off the top of the corpse’s head. Everyone there was amazed and said, “There are no monks like Tsurphu’s! Look at these signs of phowa!” They felt great faith in the two monks and plied them with offerings of butter, meat, and cheese. The two errant monks decided to return to Tsurphu. They distributed offerings to the sangha, confessed remorse for running away, and were allowed back into the monastery. 

At that time, it was said that the Gyalwang Karmapa had heard their prayers when they were reciting the Karmapa Khyenno, and it was he who said, “Now do it.”

So even if we don’t have any qualities or abilities, when we call out to the gurus and Three Jewels with pure motivation, there will be a response, the Karmapa concluded.  

Day 2: The Practice of Exchanging Oneself for Others

Day 2: The Practice of Exchanging Oneself for Others

Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings: 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje's Autobiographical Verses

March 21, 2022

On the second day of the Arya Kshema Teachings, His Holiness the Karmapa began by wishing us good health and started to explain the tenth of the good deeds described in the autobiographical verses Good Deeds. He mentioned that one of Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s attendants, Sangye Paldrup, wrote a commentary on the text, and he would like to teach based on its outline. He showed several slides to review the outline as presented in Day One’s teachings.

Of the final three parts mentioned in the previous day’s teachings, we have reached the meditation on relative bodhicitta. There are also two parts to this:

  1. Exchanging himself for others in meditation 
  2. Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation

He explained that today’s teaching would focus on the first of these, exchanging oneself for others in meditation. The verse for this reads:

Benefiting others depends at root on giving away
Your happiness to others and taking their pains upon yourself.
I gave without a trace of ego-clinging
My body, possessions, and virtue to wandering beings.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (10)

As previously mentioned, there are thirty-three good deeds in total, and this is the tenth of them. “When we say that someone develops the genuine intention to achieve great enlightenment,” explained Karmapa, “they must use all of their places, bodies, and possessions, from now until space disintegrates, to create the roots of virtue that will bring all sentient beings who want the higher states and true excellence to achieve their goals. They need to have this strong feeling to do it, as if their hair were on fire.” In order to free all sentient beings from all suffering, they have to gather these virtues both through intention and action.  

He then pointed out that in the Foundation vehicle, practitioners have lesser methods and prajna to benefit other sentient beings. “For them, the Mahayana conduct is seen as being filled with suffering and hardship. But someone who has bodhicitta does not see it as all that difficult,” said Karmapa. Instead, they joyfully and willingly undergo suffering and hardships for the benefit of others. He explained that by having this attitude, they are actually able to put it into practice and carry out real actions. This is what is meant by exchanging oneself with others, or to give the profit and victory to others and take the loss and mishaps on yourself.

Checking our practice

Karmapa cautioned that some people do not really understand this crucial point. They think that just being a little generous is equal to exchanging oneself for others, or they hope that by spending the first part of their life undergoing hardship and pain, they will be regarded as good dharma practitioners in the latter part of life. Others believe that if they take defeat on themselves and give victory to others in the first part of their life, their families, friends, and students will gain even greater profits in the latter part of life. 

“If you actually think about this, they have not really given up on this life,” Karmapa explained. “They are seeing if they can get an even greater benefit than the loss they suffered earlier. They think that by bringing others to happiness in this lifetime, the karmic credit will come back to them in the next lifetime, and they will be very happy, prosperous, well-known, and so forth.” In particular, some people say they have done the mind training practices and trained in cherishing others more than themselves, but in actuality, in order to help people who take their side, they completely disregard and walk all over their enemies.

According to the way these people act, it is possible for many to think that they are exchanging themselves for others. However, Karmapa stated, they are misunderstanding this method totally. He advised, “Forget about such ways of taking others’ suffering upon oneself being the path to great enlightenment—they are nothing more than karma that mixes virtuous actions of the Desire realm with unvirtuous acts. It is not even the pure virtue of the Desire realm.” 

These days, we might say we are training in bodhicitta, or in the profound practice of the Chöd severance of Maras; we might also say we are suppressing harmful demons in a forceful way. Although we say all these impressive things, His Holiness indicated that it is doubtful that most of us actually understand the profound crucial point of how to exchange ourselves for others. “When we pretend to do it, not only are we fooling other people, we are also fooling ourselves. When you lie at first, you think you are lying. But later, as you repeat that lie over and over again, in the end you begin to think it is true,” he explained. If we were going to follow the path of the bodhisattva, we absolutely must rely on a spiritual friend who is skilled in teaching that, and then train in the vast virtue that will bring all sentient beings to the state of liberation and omniscience. 

Mikyö Dorje’s loving-kindness and compassion

In this regard, Karmapa Mikyö Dorje himself thought greatly about all sentient beings, his mothers who are bereft of refuge or protection. The way he thought about them was that they all want to be happy and not to suffer. But as it is said:

The noble ones take up or give up the causes; ordinary individuals take up or give up the results.

Ordinary individuals are deluded about what they should do and what they should not do. Although virtue is the cause of happiness, they abandon it as if it were poison; even though non-virtue is the cause of suffering, they use it as if it were medicine, and the result is immeasurable and inconceivable suffering without respite, without even a moment of pleasure. Mikyö Dorje understood this from the depths of his heart and knew this to be the main cause of continuous suffering. 

His Holiness pointed out that when suffering happens to others, it is common to think that whatever happens to them makes no difference to us. In contrast, for ourselves and those close to us, we think, “What can we do to live a long and healthy life? How wonderful it would be to become well-known and well-liked!” We take this attitude as if it was the essence of our practice, and we use this like a yidam meditational deity. “This is the main cause of our suffering,” he stressed.

Knowing all this, Mikyö Dorje felt unbearable affection for these inane and insubstantial beings. He thought, “There are so many types of suffering of all those beings. What would be wrong if even the suffering of one hundred or a thousand times more severe than that befell me, but I could take their place? Wouldn’t that be better?” He had this uncontrived feeling and intention in his heart.

How do we know this was so? His Holiness explained that we can understand by looking at his liberation stories, both the autobiographies and ones written by others. From the time when Mikyö Dorje was little, it seemed he naturally had unstoppable loving thoughts toward other sentient beings. There was a little dzo (mix between yak and cow) calf that he thought was going to be slaughtered. Out of love, he protected it in the daytime and slept with it at night in his room. Likewise, there was also a nanny goat that his parents were going to give to a lama as an offering. Worried that it would be butchered, young Mikyö Dorje said, “This nanny goat has been kind, so I won’t let you give it away,” and held on firmly to one of its legs until he was completely exhausted. Even before he was recognized as the Karmapa, he already had such compassion. “It is taught in the Mahayana sutras that the people belonging to the bodhicitta family naturally had such signs, such as getting goosebumps or shedding tears at the sight of others’ suffering. This was the case with Mikyö Dorje,” said Karmapa.

He then shared a saying of the Kadampa masters: If you could take the place of one sentient being, even if it meant experiencing the suffering of hell until samsara was emptied; when you have that feeling actually arising, you have developed authentic aspirational bodhicitta. When you have this intention, and you feel not even the slightest fear or discouragement about putting that thought into action with your body and speech, only then can you be said to have authentic engaged bodhicitta. Once you develop such aspirational and engaged bodhicitta, there is no difficulty in developing the vows of engaged and aspirational bodhicitta.

Likewise, in Mikyö Dorje’s mind, all sentient beings have been our fathers, mothers, friends, relatives, siblings, life partners, and so forth. “It is inconceivable when we think about all the ways they have protected us, in terms of our bodies, life, and possessions. It was not just in one place, and it was not just trillions of times; it was not just one or two beings. In sum, the number of times, places, individuals, and so forth is so great that even the buddhas cannot calculate it,” explained Karmapa. Mikyö Dorje had such strong certainty in this that he thought, “If I could take even one of the hardships they encounter or one of their sufferings; if I could take their place and experience it until samsara is emptied, I would.” He developed the courage of thinking as such as well as the diligence of actually trying to do so. Thus, Karmapa explained that he had no difficulty in actually exchanging himself and others; it just happened naturally.

From the time Lord Mikyö Dorje was little, he had few thoughts of self-interest. He did not worry about his own comfort, such as whether his stomach was going to be full or not, but he was always worrying about whether things would go badly for others. Karmapa explained, “There were probably more bad people than good ones around Mikyö Dorje. They never listened to what he had to say and did various different things, but he was not bothered at all. For the sake of others, he cast away any pleasures of his own body, speech, and mind as if they were spit. He was always thinking and wondering, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’" Likewise, many felt that an ordinary person would not be able to work as hard as he did; they would become exhausted and die if they tried. 

During that time, the earth was filled with pseudo dharma practitioners who pretended to be authentic; they were willing to sacrifice even their own lives if it meant gaining some fame or pleasure. At that time, whenever any sentient being gained the higher states of gods and humans, or the enlightenment of true excellence, Mikyö Dorje always felt incredible joy and delight for them. Karmapa compared this to the moment when someone receives one million U.S. dollars, and they feel as if they will die of happiness. Similarly, when something went well for others, Mikyö Dorje was extremely delighted; he never had feelings of jealousy or of being unable to bear it. 

"Many of us who are called dharma practitioners like it when things go well for people we like, but it is a little uncomfortable in our hearts when it happens to our enemies or opponents," explained Karmapa. "When people are unable to bear others enjoying a small bit of good fortune, it is difficult to say that they have bodhicitta." If we cannot get our minds around others having some good fortune in this lifetime, saying we are giving everyone the happiness of complete enlightenment is totally laughable. 

Therefore, for someone like Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, his heart and his words were aligned. For him, the most profound method for bringing ordinary beings to the supreme state depended on the wish of exchanging oneself for others. Not only did he not feel jealous when others experienced happiness , but when others experienced suffering, he wished for that suffering to happen upon himself instead, and he was delighted if that actually happened. 

The Great Encampment was very vast at that time, so when certain things did not go according to plan, or when there were unfounded accusations, Mikyö Dorje never placed the blame on anyone else but himself. When certain things did turn out well, he never boasted of it or took the credit. Karmapa explained that it was impossible for him to be deceptive or blame others for his own duplicitous acts.

As far as actually exchanging others' suffering with himself, he occasionally mentioned to some of his receptive students that, he would think about the people who were ill or suffered misfortunes and, without them knowing, take it upon himself with his mind. As a result, he would experience discomfort and unease. Karmapa added that he did this secretly; if he told everyone, it would become one of the eight worldly dharmas. 

Likewise, he was always very modest and assumed a low position, never asserting that he was the Karmapa or a dharma practitioner. He would never speak of his qualities; he only shared some of them when the need arose. He treated others as equals and made no difference between rank or station; he neither praised the Kagyu lineage nor criticized other lineages and masters. Because of all this, His Holiness shared that there were many Kagyupas who complained, "Mikyö Dorje is letting everyone else stomp all over his own wisdom, merit, and majesty. He has no appearance of a great lama; he is just like a kid. This is really harmful to the Karmapa's teachings because no one is looking up to him." No matter what they said, Mikyö Dorje was never swayed, and devoted his body, speech, mind, and merit for the sake of the teachings and sentient beings. "This was not just speaking from faith and pure perception," explained Karmapa. "It was something that receptive students saw in their shared perceptions. His deeds and examples are what we should understand as the practice of exchanging self for others."

Langri Tangpa, a genuine spiritual teacher 

Resuming after the intermission, Karmapa noted that there was a historical person we absolutely must know when speaking about the practice of exchanging oneself for others. This was the great Kadampa spiritual friend Langri Tangpa, whose actual name was Dorje Senge. Born in the year 1054 in the region of Penpo Lhundrup Dzong, he was the one who first popularized the instructions of exchanging self for others in Tibet. Along with Shang Sharawa, they were great students of Potowa, and the pair was often compared to the sun and moon.

The transmission of the instructions on exchanging oneself for others was passed down particularly to Langri Tangpa, who became the most important practitioner of this practice, explained Karmapa. Later, he founded a monastery in the Penpo region, which had over two thousand monastics at that time. His Holiness then showed pictures of the Langtang Monastery. It was originally a Kadampa monastery, and later became a Sakya monastery. He indicated that in the main shrine room, there was a statue of Langri Tangpa, wearing a hat that we do not usually see. He likened it to the Gampopa hat. Since Gampopa was originally a Kadampa, His Holiness deduced that there was a connection, and this was possibly the origin of the Gampopa hat. 

The instructions on exchanging oneself for others was initially a secret practice. Langri Tangpa arranged the mind-training visualizations into eight verses and made it his primary practice. He later taught these in public, particularly to the monastic communities. With regards to exchanging oneself for others and the tonglen meditation, Langri Tangpa himself had said, "I have never taken an ordinary breath." Karmapa explained this meant he was doing the practice continuously; he combined each inhalation and exhalation with exchanging his happiness for others' suffering. Each breath he took was for the sake of bringing benefit and happiness to other sentient beings. 

The author of the Seven Points of Mind Training, Geshe Chekawa, said he first developed faith in the Kadampa because he heard these eight verses taught by Langri Tangpa. Karmapa noted that there are two versions of the Eight Verses of Mind Training— the verses that are well-known today and a prose version. In his opinion, the original Eight Verses might be the prose version. "In Tibetan, the term tsig refers to a phrase or a line of verse, but it's impossible to count the verse version as only having eight lines or phrases, while the prose version can.Likewise, the commentary by Ja Chekawa is clearly based on the prose version, so there are several reasons for thinking in this way. But I'm not saying that the version in verse is not by Langri Tangpa," explained Karmapa. 

Some scholars hold that the version by Langri Tangpa originally read:

Thinking that all sentient beings
Surpass a wish-fulfilling jewel
For accomplishing the highest good,
I'll always train in cherishing beings.

The last verse of each line read "I will train in it," but Sangchenpa Darma Sönam later changed it to read "May I", turning it into an aspiration.

An individual who practices exchanging oneself for others must be able to take the lowest position for themselves and carry everyone, whether greater or lesser, above the crown of their head. Another crucial point, Karmapa added, was that Langri Tangpa said that no matter what profound text he might read, none could be understood any differently than saying that all faults are his own; all positive qualities belong to other sentient beings. Due to this, we must give all profit and victory to others, and take all losses and mishaps on ourselves. He believed that was how we should understand the dharma.

Another quality of Langri Tangpa was that he was always scowling, His Holiness remarked. The reason he never smiled was because he was always meditating solely on the problems of samsara. Once, one of his attendants said to him, "People are all calling you scowling Langtangpa. You should smile sometimes," to which he replied, "When you think of these sufferings in the three realms of samsara, how can you have a happy expression on your face?" 

"We don't really understand the suffering of samsara," explained Karmapa. "We just say, 'Oh, it's the idea of suffering,' but in the depths of our mind, we don't feel it. But he felt it deeply, and it actually showed in his body language." 

It is said that Langri Tangpa only ever smiled three times in his life. One time, while he was meditating, he had a mandala in front of him with a piece of turquoise on it. A mouse came and really liked it, but the gem did not move when the mouse pushed, so it called a friend for help. One mouse pushed from behind, while the other pulled the gem. Langri Tangpa started to smile a little when he saw this. 

Karmapa then gave a further illustration of how Langri Tangpa practiced exchanging himself for others. One day when he was giving a dharma talk, a woman came and put a newborn baby on his lap. She simply said, "This is your son; I can't raise him," and left. Everyone was amazed, but Langri Tanpa accepted the baby without any change in his facial expression. He looked for someone to provide milk, and he raised the child. When the boy had grown up, his parents came back for him and apologized, "We had many children before and they all died. According to the divinations and astrology, we had to give him to a lama to prevent him from dying young too. Please forgive us and return our son to us." Langri Tangpa then returned the child to them. Even when people criticized or deprecated him, he would never explain but took all the loss and defeat upon himself. 

Langri Tangpa had many excellent students, including Geshe Shapo Gangpa, Gya Chakriwa, and Ra Lotsawa. Khyungpo Naljor, the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage, was also a student of his. When Khyungpo Naljor went to India, he requested bhikshu vows from Lama Bodhgaya, who replied, "As an Indian, I cannot be your khenpo. Go back to Tibet and there there is an emanation of the Buddha Amitabha in Langri. Take full ordination from him." Following his instructions, Khyungpo Naljor went back and took full ordination from Langri Tangpa, who was forty years old at that time. Another of his students, Geshe Shapo Gangpa, said, "Langtangpa had incredible bodhicitta. For someone like me, I can sacrifice myself for those who help me but not those who have harmed me. He can do so for both."

Due to Langri Tangpa’s great loving-kindness and compassion, even the animals within the area of Langtang Monastery would not harm each other. On the day of his passing, an elderly woman was circumambulating Langtang. "What is going on?" she said. "In the past here at Langtang, wolves did not kill sheep and falcons did not harm birds. But this morning, I saw a falcon carry away a bird. It seems Langri Tangpa is not here anymore; he must have left his body." 

Karmapa elaborated that Langri Tangpa made the prayer, "May I be reborn in hell to help sentient beings," before he passed away, but it seemed that this was not fulfilled. Langri Tangpa said, "I’m only seeing pure visions,” and became very worried. His Holiness pointed out that most of us are worried we will be born in hell, but Langri Tangpa was the opposite. He passed away at the age of 70 in the year 1123.

Langri Tangpa’s reliquary stupa is still at Langtang Monastery, and people and gods circumambulate it all day and night. His Holiness explained that if a human shadow fell on a god, the person’s life would be shortened, so Geshe Shangshung made a rule that humans could circumambulate until noon, and then gods and spirits could circumambulate until nightfall. This rule is still being upheld, according to a sign in a picture of the stupa. Karmapa encouraged any who could to go there on pilgrimage. “He was someone who really had bodhicitta, so I think it would be very beneficial for developing bodhicitta if we made supplications there,” he explained.

An extraordinary tale about Gya Chakriwa

Karmapa continued by sharing with us a miraculous story about Gya Chakriwa, one of Langri Tangpa’s main students. He was also an important Kadampa lama whom Gampopa followed. His Holiness emphasized that since we say that the Dhakpo Kagyu is the confluence of the Kadampa and Mahamudra, we need to be able to remember the name of the person who passed down the Kadampa teachings. 

According to most Kadampa masters, Gya Chakriwa was born in Kham, but Ra Lotsawa’s liberation story said he was born in Penpo. In any case, his father died when he was young, as  had all six of his elder siblings. In such situations, Karmapa explained, Tibetans tended to think that perhaps the mother was a witch or a monster. 

Every evening, his mother disappeared, and the child started wondering, “My mother is a little strange. I’ve got to see what she’s doing.” One night, he pretended to go to sleep and around midnight, two women with dark red faces came and asked the mother to go with them. The mother sat astride a large wooden trunk as if riding a horse. Then all three of them flew right through the wall. The child fell asleep a little while later, but his mother had already returned when he awoke, so he did not see where she had gone.

The next night, he decided that he wanted to see where his mother had gone, so he climbed inside the trunk and waited. Just as on the previous night, the two women arrived and held the same conversation. His mother sat on the trunk, and it made a creaking sound; as she flew, it nearly touched the ground. His mother remarked, “Tonight this horse isn’t moving well.” Eventually, they reached a charnel ground where many women were gathered.

Karmapa explained, “When we talk about dakinis, we consider them to be very good. But in India, people see them as witches who cast spells. When we Tibetans say the word ‘dakini’, everyone is like, ‘Oh, I want to be one too!’ People think they are something special, but it actually isn’t like that; they are really scary. If we don’t treat them well, they will cast spells.”

The child’s mother was the main one, the boss. The women placed her trunk in the center, and it became a throne she sat on. Then, they brought the corpse of a young man and had a party. First, they cut off the top of his head and offered it to the mother, who then exclaimed, “Oh, but I left my spoon at home!” One of the women replied, “Just stretch out your long arm,” so his mother, while still sitting on the throne, extended her arm a long way to fetch a spoon from her home. Then, she ate the brains. The son saw all this from inside the box.

When dawn approached, all the women left, and the mother also rode the trunk back home and went to bed. The son slowly got out of the box and lay down in bed without his mother sensing it.

Nothing happened for a long time,  until one day his mother dropped the wooden spindle she was using to spin yarn upstairs. It fell in front of the boy who was downstairs. The mother instructed, “Bring me my wool.” The boy could not stop himself saying, “Oh Mommy, just stretch out your long arm.” His mother realized he knew her secret and immediately got angry. She grabbed him, shook him a few times, and immediately he turned into a dog. Although his body had turned into a dog’s, his mind was still human, which tortured him immensely. He was devastated and thought to himself, “It would be better to drown myself in a river than to stay like this.” While he was on his way to do so, he heard many people talking about Langri Tangpa’s incredible qualities and powers. He decided to go to him and see if he could be freed from this body. 

According to the Kadampa histories, the boy followed some merchants to Ü-tsang. Geshe Langri Tangpa already knew that he was coming and told an attendant to make a torma and bring it to him. Just as the sun was setting, Langri Tangpa told him, “Go outside and see if anyone has come.” The attendant looked and saw that no one had come, but there was a dog running towards them. He related this to Langri Tangpa, who then put on his hat, took the torma, and went outside. He immediately threw the torma at the dog, instantly turning him back to a human body. The boy felt great faith in Langri Tangpa and stayed with him as his attendant. He was ordained and received bhikshu vows. However, Langri Tangpa warned him, “Another misfortune will happen to you, so do not make any decisions without asking me first.”

Not long after that, the boy’s mother heard that he had gone to Langri Tangpa and his body had changed back to that of a human’s. She cast a spell on a wooden box that she then gave to someone going to Penpo, saying, “My son is studying dharma with Langri Tangpa, so give this to him and tell him it is to support him.” Subsequently, the son received the small box, but it was so heavy that it almost dragged him to the ground. He wondered what his mother could have put in it that was so heavy. He was about to open it when he remembered Langri Tangpa’s warning. The boy immediately went to ask the lama, who took off his dharma robe and gave it to the boy, saying, “Put this on before you open that box.” He did as he was told. When he opened the box, nine claps of thunder and lightning exploded. The building and all his belongings caught fire, but because he was wearing the lama’s dharma robe, he was not burned at all, even as molten metal pooled on top of the dharma robe. That dharma robe is still kept privately at Langtang Monastery. After that, Langri Tangpa told the boy, “You are now free of obstacles,” and gave him instructions. He realized emptiness and compassion and became one of Langri Tangpa’s best students. 

The son we have been talking about is Gya Chakriwa, Karmapa reminded us. This story was recorded in the histories of the Kadampa lineage and the liberation story of Ra Lotsawa, but with some differences. According to Ra Lotsawa’s version, the person who changed him back to human form was Ra Lotsawa, while most accounts state that it was Langri Tangpa. His Holiness mentioned that he had decided to explain in accordance with the Kadampa tradition, since there were more sources on it. In conclusion to the Day Two teachings, he mentioned that he would teach more on the practice of exchanging oneself for others the following session.