Distinguishing Fruitful and Fruitless Situations

Distinguishing Fruitful and Fruitless Situations

Spring Teaching 2023 • Two Autobiographical Praises by Mikyö Dorje • Day 9

27 April 2023

On the ninth day, the Gyalwang Karmapa reviewed what he had discussed in the previous session: how Mikyö Dorje founded monastic colleges for the study of philosophy through the sutras; tantric colleges for the study of Vajrayana; retreat centers for the practice on the paths of means and liberation, the six yogas, and mahāmudra. Today he would speak only about the 31st good deed from the Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds.” Before the teachings concluded, he would express a main point about Mikyö Dorje.

The Karmapa returned to the outline of Mikyö Dorje’s attendant, Sangye Paldrup, author of Commentary on the Meaning (Drepung manuscript) to explain the root verses. Sangye Paldrup did not give glosses on the words but wrote about the meaning of the text. Among the practices of the lesser, middle, and greater individuals he continued to speak about the third: how he practiced the path of the greater individual (v. 9–33).

How the greater individual practiced has three parts:

  1. The intention: rousing bodhichitta (v. 9);
  2. The action: meditating on the two types of bodhichitta (v. 10–21);
  3. How he trained in the precepts of the two types of bodhichitta (v. 22–33).

The Karmapa was speaking about the third.

The third part had seven sub-topics, of which he had already discussed four parts:

  1. How he trained in the six transcendences;
  2. How he trained in purifying his own continuum;
  3. How he trained in the ways of all bodhisattvas;
  4. How he acted in accord with time and place;
  5. How he acted in fruitful and fruitless situations.

This had two subtopics.

  1. How he did what is fruitful;
  2. How he gave up what is fruitless.
  1. How he accomplished the two benefits through the power of devotion.
  2. How the six clairvoyances gave him the ability to benefit others.

Today the Karmapa would continue with the fifth point with two subtopics. Yesterday he had spoken about the first subtopic of the fifth point: how he did what was fruitful. Today he would speak about the second: how he gave up what was fruitless.

The root verse:

But to avoid the turbulence this might bring
Or conflict among communities, I made rules
To keep to isolated places, reliant upon
A beggar’s food and robes made out of rags.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (31)

Yesterday the Karmapa spoke of how Mikyö Dorje accomplished fruitful activities: how he thought about the needs of the teachings and beings, how he built monasteries, built statues, printed texts, and gathered the sangha.

Now he began to discuss the second: how Mikyö Dorje gave up what was fruitless. He gave the example that when looking from the outside, it seemed beneficial to build a temple, a monastery, statues, stupas, and gathering the sangha. Externally, it might seem good and beneficial but could instead be harmful. It might even have looked beneficial for the dharma, but in fact would not  benefit beings. So, it became harmful, for not only should one not do these activities, but one should avoid these activities. Mikyö Dorje said he avoided such activities.

Sangye Paldrup commented that most of Mikyö Dorje’s attendants and his entourage said he had great merit and his activity was very vast, so it was a great opportunity because of his position to do something powerful like the Sakya and Drikung Kagyu did in the past, when they held both secular and religious power. In worldly terms, it would not have been difficult for him to gain such power; he would be unrivaled. The attendants stressed he should not sever connections to sponsors such as the Chinese emperor, for he could become very influential and powerful. In particular, during Mikyӧ Dorje’s time, the king of Jiang converted to Buddhism. He was very powerful in the region of Eastern Tibet and invited Mikyö Dorje to go visit. His attendants urged Mikyö Dorje, not to let slip the opportunity but to go and build monasteries. They suggested he should build a huge monastery in Jiang because the King’s sponsors had often requested him to do this, and they would give as much help and financial support as needed. As an attendant, Sangye Paldrup was in a position to hear these internal discussions, and this is one that he overheard.

Mikyö Dorje replied,

What you say is true. I did go to Jiang once. The king of Jiang asked me to stay and said he would build me a great monastery. If I went to Jiang, there would be no difficulty in doing that. But even if I established a large monastery, and gathered so many monks, it would still be very hard to be of benefit to ourselves and others—or even just for one person to benefit. The present-day schools like the Sakya and Geluk have large forces of people, and within them, the young monks revere older monks, everyone witnesses this, and it looks impressive. But in our schools, if we gather people, sometimes they make mistakes and cause external conflict, and sometimes internal conflict can damage the teachings of the Buddha. These situations just occur naturally. So would it really work out well to do that? It might seem to benefit sentient beings, but in reality, we are destroying sentient beings, using the dharma as an excuse to only accomplish worldly things. I can’t do that sort of work.

At that time also, Kongpo was mainly a Karma Kamtsang area, and sponsors offered their children as tax payments. If they had three sons, one son would be offered as a monk; usually they offered the most intelligent one. Although this was the tradition previously, Mikyö Dorje shook his head and refused. “I’m not going to gather anyone through deceit.”

Mikyö Dorje believed that building a large monastery would create jealousy and conflict. The monasteries would become monastic fortresses that helped or harmed others. From the outside, they might have looked good, as if the monks were practicing the dharma diligently, but inside the monks would just eat and enjoy themselves. These were retreats used to fool others. Many of these monastic colleges held different positions, such as whether they were from the earlier or the later period, comparing “our tradition” to “their tradition,” and this would increase sectarianism.

His Holiness explained how the meditation camps (chokdra in Tibetan), operated during the time of the Seventh and Eighth Karmapas.

Each meditator would have their own individual, conical-shaped tent, a very confined space, in which they lived. They would stay isolated and not communicate with others. They would do their practice sessions within the tent, they would sleep there at night sitting up in meditation posture because they were not allowed to lie down or rest their head on a pillow, and for that reason they never loosened their meditation belt. They would spend three years in meditation retreat, just as practitioners do today.

However, sometimes people abused this system.  There were so-called meditation camps where “they selfishly filled their bellies”. These people were staying alone like  meditators but their motivation was wrong and their meditation retreat became a wrong livelihood; they were just consuming the offerings made to the Three Jewels. They used supporting and propagating the teachings as the excuse, but in actuality, what they were doing were pointless activities, a distraction. If you looked at them from the outside, it seemed virtuous, but it was only the appearance of virtue, unsustainable and pointless, and this would often last for a long period of time over months and years. When it became difficult, the meditator would end up committing non-virtuous actions.

The Karmapa summarized:  

“There’s no point in any of these. You should throw these away like hay. You shouldn’t stay near people who act out of self-interest for only this lifetime for their own food and own clothing. You should follow the example of the great forefathers and practice as hard as you can for your entire lifetime.”

Mikyö Dorje himself stayed in Tsurphu. The word Tsur means “the valley” and phu “the upper part of the valley.” There were many different retreat places in the mountains around this area. There was a place called Kung (Tib. སྐུངས ) where Mikyö Dorje stayed doing meditation practice where he wrote several texts. He liked going to very unpopulated places in valleys. Not just in Tsurphu.

When he was young, the Karmapa himself visited Kung. He described it as a very nice place. There were very simple, rough structures where the meditators could shelter made from rocks and stones without doors, where one could practice like in the old days.

Mikyö Dorje would go to a very isolated place and stay in such structures —not even a proper hut with a door—in unpopulated valleys and remote places all over Tsang. There were many great places to practice the dharma. The most important thing for him was to act without provoking jealousy, to be as unobtrusive as possible in his practice. He said this repeatedly. He did not like making a commotion and went to places where there were not many sponsors or Kagyupas, where people didn’t really know him; this was what he liked best. 

He also said, “I would like to stay at Lha Jomo Gangkar in Nyetang, Semodo in Namtso, and the like.” He intended to go to retreat sites of Milarepa, caves in Tö such as Lachi, Latö Gyalgyi Shr; he also wanted to go to Milarepa’s six fortresses and stay there practicing. However, many monks and students came from Eastern Tibet to see him and he realized that if he were to go far away on retreat  it would be difficult for the people in Kham,  so he chose to stay rather than go. He disliked a lot of activity and busyness. He enjoyed isolation and solitude. When he heard about the great masters from the past going to those isolated places, he had a great feeling for these places because he took such delight in solitude.

Sangye Paldrup thought this was primarily a way that Mikyö Dorje got others to go to isolated places and practice dharma, because, being a great bodhisattva, Mikyö Dorje himself did not need to stay in solitude.

From the Prajnaparamita (8000 line):

When those who stay in forests or in towns
Are free of interest in the two vehicles but are definite toward great enlightenment,
This is the solitude of engaging in benefiting beings.

The Karmapa explained the meaning:

If you don’t have any self-interest, have the bodhichitta of the Mahayana, wear your armor of wishing to benefit all sentient beings, and remain undiminished, even if you stay in towns or among crowds, that is the great solitude of the bodhisattva. The great bodhisattvas do not need to go to remote places.

Solitude means being free from self-interest. It doesn’t mean you are free from distractions or diversions. If you have solitude and undiminished relative bodhichitta, then no matter where you are, no matter how many people are around, that bodhichitta helps you remain in the greatest solitude. This is how it is for the bodhisattvas.

This was different for shravakas because they have no concerns about being isolated from self-interest. But for the bodhisattvas, they need to be free of any self-interest. In addition to being free from any self-interest, they need undiminished relative bodhichitta. If you think this way, a great being such as Mikyö Dorje showed this ability, he lacked any self-interest, continually practicing bodhichitta whether staying in an isolated place in a valley, or among people, for him there was little difference.

But for ordinary people who practiced the dharma and stayed in isolated places where they were isolated from diversions, from any ‘thorns of dhyana’, when they went into isolated meditation, such retreat places were beneficial.

This was said in the Treasury of the Abhidharma:

Householders have difficulty in believing in the Three Jewels.

It was difficult for householders to study the correct view. They would make supplication to worldly deities or idols and offer flowers or milk or incense.   

Also, for monastics it was difficult to have the right livelihood because they were entirely dependent upon others, they had to rely on their sponsors so they would flatter, pacify, or mollify them. There was a great danger this would happen. That was why it was difficult to train in the livelihood of the monastics.

This was also why Mikyö Dorje felt building large monasteries could bring problems. The way Mikyö Dorje thought about such things was that building such monasteries caused harm and not benefit. He went to isolated areas with a humble livelihood. He had a great interest in staying in places like that.

The Karmapa then said this was a good place to finish for today. There were many things to say about Mikyö Dorje that would take another year, so he did not need to speak about everything. A few points remained. He felt that one was about the Fifth Shamar Rinpoche, Konchok Yenlak, Mikyö Dorje’s main disciple. There were some situations about him that the Karmapa didn’t know about before, and that many people still do not know about.

During the first year of the Spring Teachings, the Karmapa had seen an old manuscript that discussed difficulties in the recognition of the Fifth Shamar Rinpoche, but the text was incomplete. The first few pages were missing. However, later, when he wanted to refer to it, he was unable to find it. He has looked for two years without finding the document, but there are other documents to research, and a few other related topics to speak about.

The Karmapa concluded the session with the dedication prayers.