Spring Teaching 2023 • Two Autobiographical Praises by Mikyö Dorje • Day 12
13 May 2023
At the start of today’s teachings, His Holiness gave a transmission of the long-life prayer that he had composed upon request for Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche’s swift recovery from his illness. He mentioned that this year is the second year that a puja is being held for Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche in Nepal, and so His Holiness wished to take the opportunity to offer some praise to Choeje Lama Phuntsok and promised to make a recording of the benefits of this puja and make it public later on.
Continuing with the main topic of this year’s Spring Teachings, His Holiness said that in today’s lecture, he would speak about the 33rd of the good deeds from the Autobiographical Verses Good Deeds. As mentioned previously, there are two manuscripts of Sangye Paldrup's commentary - one from the Potala, and one that comes from the Drepung library, between which there are big differences.
According to the outline from the Drepung manuscript, the primary topics His Holiness wished to discuss in today’s teachings were the practices in accordance with those of beings with greatest capacity - firstly, the intention, rousing bodhichitta; secondly, the action, meditating on the two types of bodhichitta; and thirdly, how Mikyö Dorje trained in the precepts of the two types of bodhichitta. His Holiness wished to look more closely into the third aspect, the training in the precepts of the two types of bodhichitta and its seven sub-topics. Of these seven sub-topics, His Holiness had already covered the first six, thus continued with the seventh, how the six types of clairvoyance gave Mikyö Dorje the ability to benefit others, explaining that this section relates to the last of the thirty-three good deeds.
His Holiness quoted from the root text:
Someone who does not have the clairvoyance of
Exhausting defilements cannot benefit students,
So, I perfected accumulation and purification
And developed a zest for benefiting beings throughout space.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (33)
In these degenerate times, His Holiness went on to say, there are people who say that someone who is benefiting other sentient beings - whether one is a lama, a tulku, or a rinpoche etc. - should teach one’s students the faults of samsara and the advantages of nirvana so that they may understand crucial points about the nature of happiness and suffering and strive to achieve it.
Everybody wants happiness and does not wish for suffering, yet, people do not act accordingly, i.e., they do not give up the causes for suffering and fail to create the causes for happiness. Thus, we need to use different methods to make people understand what to practice and what to refrain from, as well as to gather the accumulations of virtue and purify obscurations. In this way, the qualities of faith and so forth will ripen in the students’ mind streams. Along with the students’ gradual ripening, they will eliminate obstacles and enhance positive qualities. Moreover, the students should be made to learn the profound and vast Dharma of means and prajna [wisdom]. According to the teachings of the Buddha and other great beings, there is no other true way to bring others to ripening and liberation.
However, His Holiness went on to say, in these degenerate times, people are given the name ‘lama’ or ‘tulku’ although they often do not really understand how they should teach the path regarding what one should do and what one should avoid. Yet, because of past karma, these so-called lamas or tulkus are gathering people around them with bad characters. Guessing from their own knowledge and skills, they give them the teachings, vows of refuge, education, and meditation instructions. If their students are receptive, they continue to care for them and give them advice. If the students are not receptive, they discipline them and act a bit more forcefully or wrathfully.
Karmapa Mikyö Dorje did not really have much interest in these so-called lamas or tulkus, nor did he think the way they acted was good; he even looked at people like this with disgust as he regarded such fake “benefiting others” as being of no true benefit to others. He understood that rather than benefitting them, it would destroy everyone’s lasting happiness.
Enthralled by the way the buddhas and bodhisattvas truly benefit beings, Mikyö Dorje had this very strong feeling and thought to emulate them in order to work for sentient beings’ benefit.
His Holiness quoted from the Prajnaparamita in Eight-thousand Verses:
Subhuti, it is thus. A bird cannot fly without wings. Subhuti, likewise a bodhisattva cannot teach Dharma to beings without clairvoyance. Subhuti, therefore bodhisattvas should practice transcendent prajna to accomplish clairvoyance. With that clairvoyance, they will easily accomplish the benefits they wish to bring sentient beings.
Similarly, it says in the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment:
Just as a bird whose wings are not fledged
Cannot fly in the sky,
Without the powers of clairvoyance,
One cannot benefit beings.
Once Atisha said to Dromtönpa, his main student: “Upasaka, as long as you do not have clairvoyance, do not nurture a group. It is like an archer with no eyes. You have no idea what you will hit.” To illustrate this point, His Holiness shared a story of a foreigner who once visited Sera monastery in South India and was shown different representations of past masters; seeing an image of Dromtönpa with long hair, he asked the temple keeper whether the person was male or female; not knowing the correct answer, the temple keeper replied wrongly that Dromtönpa was female.
His Holiness went on to explain that there are two types of clairvoyance, worldly clairvoyance as well as supramundane or transcendent clairvoyance. With the help of worldly clairvoyance, one will be unable to bring students onto the path of great enlightenment. Mikyö Dorje saw that one must realize the student’s capacity through the supramundane or transcendent clairvoyance of knowing the extinction of defilements and bring them onto the path of great liberation. He was able to perceive the student’s capacities directly, as well as their faculties and latencies and then teach them the Dharma and perform activities appropriate for them. All the virtuous actions that Mikyö Dorje himself performed were efforts to achieve this clairvoyance of knowing the extinction of defilements and he dedicated all his roots of virtue toward that aim.
There are many causes for achieving undefiled clairvoyance; the main one is to receive teachings from innumerable Mahayana teachers and to study, contemplate, and meditate in the presence of them in a limitless way, such as is illustrated in the stories of many bodhisattvas who follow an incredible number of teachers. Bodhisattva Norsang was such an example, His Holiness added, showing us how to follow our teachers; he quoted from the Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct:
I will purify completely oceans of realms
And liberate completely oceans of beings.
I will completely see the oceans of Dharma
And totally realize the oceans of wisdom.
I will purify completely oceans of conduct,
Perfect completely oceans of aspirations,
Offer completely to the oceans of buddhas,
And act for oceans of eons undiscouraged.
For this reason, Sangye Paldrup, the author of the commentary on Mikyö Dorje’s Good Deeds, said that Mikyö Dorje cared for those who sought the Mahayana, depended upon him or who placed their hopes in him in such a manner as mentioned in the Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct. He must have either had the actual clairvoyance of knowing the extinction of defilements or at least something like it, His Holiness added.
When Sangye Paldrup was approached by some people who said, “If the Karmapa is your guru, so since the Karmapa is a buddha, you should not have any doubt whether he has the clairvoyance of knowing the extinction of defilements.”, Sangye Paldrup replied that that was true and that his guru Mikyö Dorje was often said to be the essence of the buddhas and bodhisattvas - the Karmapa. However, an ordinary sentient being such as he was had no way of knowing whether his guru Mikyö Dorje was a buddha or an incarnation of the Karmapa; he could merely follow the words of great ancient and modern masters and have confidence that he was the Karmapa. Sangye Paldrup made notes based on authoritative sources such as the liberation story by Akhu Atra, which says, “There were virtuous omens at his birth, and his deeds were comparable to the buddhas and bodhisattvas in their youth;” and the liberation story by Gampo Khenpo Shakya Sangpo, who had achieved mastery of practice; the liberation story by Lama Pönyik, and the liberation stories said to be by Mikyö Dorje himself. Other than that, he had not perceived any of his clairvoyance, visions of yidam deities, or the like.
His Holiness commented that Mikyö Dorje himself had said: “Those who bear the title Karmapa are merely the blessings of the activity of the Karmapa himself.” Aside from that, he himself had no thought that he was a rebirth of the Karmapa.
The Karmapa then spoke openly about his own experiences as a child when he was tested to see whether he was a tulku or not, how his selection of items during the testing was rather hit-or-miss, and how sometimes his attendants would brief him beforehand or indicate which objects he should choose. They would also brief him on what he had to say.
Mikyö Dorje’s name was often misappropriated by his attendants and people in his retinue for material gain. For example, they would write verses which showed previous connections with the Karmapa and present them to the supplicant as if they were written by Mikyö Dorje, or they would tell a supplicant who was asking about past and future lives, that Mikyö Dorje had made a bad prediction for their future. Then the offerings would increase and the prediction would improve. This is why Mikyö Dorje maintained that his previous liberation stories were unreliable: “It was all a pretense, so one cannot rely on any of my previous ’liberation stories.” He tells how:
In some previous liberation stories, some old lamas, in order to prove that I was the Karmapa, made a comparison to the life stories of earlier Karmapas so that others would believe it. There were many who said, “I shall prepare a life story of His Holiness’ deeds.” I have not done such deeds as they say in expressing the twelve deeds of my life story, but I have made the aspiration that in my next life, I may, through the path of mantra, display the example of the twelve deeds of a supreme nirmanakaya. I also did not recognize Konchok Yenlak as the incarnation of the Shamar through clairvoyant powers. I merely had to serve the testament that Tulku Chökyi Drakpa [the previous Shamar] had himself made.
When Mikyö Dorje spoke thus, most people thought, “His Holiness is pretending not to remember past lives, so such words are not intended literally.” However, Sangye Paldrup acknowledges that Mikyö Dorje was speaking truthfully. His reasoning is that for this guru not to have any of the qualities of the Karmapa such as miracles does not mean that he is not the Karmapa, because it is seen that buddhas and bodhisattvas emanated and blessed many emanations that did not have all the qualities of a buddha, the telepathic powers of a buddha, or qualities of remembering past lives and so forth. For example, dogs and pigs that are nirmanakayas of the buddha do not appear to have a buddha’s qualities of remembering past lives, but we are unable to say that they are not emanations of the buddha.
The Karmapa reminded everyone of the story of the Bodhisattva Maitreya appearing to Asanga as a maggot-ridden dog. Whether or not Mikyö Dorje remembered past lives or displayed miracles, is not merely an appearance of experience. Ordinary individuals had shared perceptions of his miracles. When the Chinese emperor Jǐngtài was punishing Domes Goshir for saying the Karmapa’s golden letter was false, the emperor and most minsters inside the Golden Hall saw His Holiness with the Black Crown appear in the sky. At that time, two cranes— birds symbolizing long-life—circled the spire of the palace. On the morning of their arrival, the Tai Kyen and others sent by the emperor to escort the Karmapa arrived at the encampment and saw the Karmapa, wearing the black hat with a golden blaze, in the midst of rainbow clouds above the peak of a snow mountain. The envoy and soldiers all saw this.
By the river Nyakchu, the encampment gathered, looking for a ferry, but they couldn’t agree a price with the ferrymen, so the latter refused to take them across. That evening, the river froze. The encampment was able to walk across the river, but as soon as they had crossed safely, the ice melted. At that time, some saw the Karmapa Mikyö Dorje flying in the sky above the water.
In many places in Kham, Kongpo, and other regions, he left hand and footprints in rock.
During a consecration ceremony at Sok Zamkhar Monastery, the grains of barley that he tossed, didn’t fall to the ground but filled all the surrounding fields and in the summer it sprouted. There were uncountable instances when, with statues, paintings, and such, a multitude of barley grains (thrown for consecration) would remain in the sky directly above the image for many days. Not only that, even the horses, mules, dzos, and dogs left hoof and foot prints. And after they had died, their bones emanated piles of relics radiating light that amazed all who saw or heard about them; there are many such amazing signs.
It seems some people forged his hand and foot prints. Mikyö Dorje warned them that it was not good to do this, as it was wrong for people to gather the accumulations based on fakes.
Whether or not he had the clairvoyance of telepathy, most who came into his presence, whether they had faith or not would feel, “He knows without impediment that I had such and such a thought and everything I’ve done in secret.” When Mikyö Dorje’s words turned out to be true, it was because he was using his profound prajna to infer from their behaviour and knowing their faults and qualities from that. Thus, he would jokingly say, “This is not telepathy. I knew it from observation. I knew it from observing your eyes and tongue, so guard your tongue!” Some fortunate fools with faith said, “I don’t dare think a bad thought in His Holiness’ presence.” No one was able to fool him or get away with lying. People observed that when they had a good thought or a bad thought, this would be reflected in the Karmapa’s expression. “It was as if he was scanning you,” the Karmapa explained and described how people with few karmic obscurations were able to perceive people with strong afflictions. “Some people immediately have this feeling, when they're brought into the presence of someone who has murdered someone or killed someone, they just feel unease, a sort of discomfort with them.”
One of Mikyö Dorje’s songs says that there is actual contamination from those with extreme afflictions:
This illness disturbing the elements of the body
Is nothing but a fault in my students’ dharma practice.
When he had an illness, it was because the students did not really act in accordance with the Dharma. On the other hand, when people with few afflictions and great faith and devotion came to him, he would immediately appear to feel better, appear pleased, and speak. According to the words of Sangye Paldrup:
If you want the guru to always be healthy and not to get sick, make sure that your own mind stream is not affected by the faults of wrong thought. Moreover, you must have devotion to the guru that is free of boasting and sectarianism, supplicate, and invoke blessings, and so forth. Doing this assiduously is important.
Sometimes, when he visited a remote area rife with thieving and banditry, Mikyö Dorje would know more about it than his friends and other people around him. Whether someone was close to him or not, even if their external behaviour was excellent, if their internal intentions were bad, they could not deceive him. If their intentions were good, but at that moment their behaviour was bad because of afflictions, out of compassion, he never gave up on them. To obstinate fools and braggarts, he would say, “Your situation is like this…” clearly. For example, the Lowo Tokden said they had achieved siddhi. He summoned them and said, “You have not achieved siddhi. You have been blessed by a big demon.”
In brief, it was as if there was nothing he did not know about all beings’ intentions and behaviours, but Mikyö Dorje had no wish for material things or fame and never acted as fools in this degenerate age who assert they have clairvoyance. Mikyö Dorje said that he was an ordinary sentient being with no clairvoyance at all, so that people did not feel embarrassed or become angry and to prevent people from making projections or exaggerations.
Later in his life, people came from Central and Eastern Tibet to ask him to do divinations. He told all of them, “I don’t know how to do them,” and would not make predictions. He acted in accordance with the Prajñaparamitain Twenty-five Thousand Lines: “An irreversible bodhisattva does not make predictions saying ‘You will have a son’ or ‘You will have a daughter,’ and never has the fault of making such predictions.”
Sometimes, however, there were faithful people who would come asking him with tears in their eyes to predict where their deceased parents had been reborn. He said he was reluctant to refuse people in such pain, so he would do the divination of writing the names of the six realms inside balls of dough and they would pick one. He never claimed to have clairvoyance.
After a short break, His Holiness went on to speak about Mikyö Dorje’s telepathic powers and the clairvoyance of remembering past lives. There are accounts from the life stories of the previous Karmapas that speak of most Indian and Tibetan scholars and siddhas being in the same mindstream as the Karmapa. When Mikyö Dorje spoke about the life stories of previous Karmapas, most people who listened to him must have known that these were his previous incarnations.
When an individual passed away, Mikyö Dorje would say that he had dreamed about this deceased individual, and that they had been reborn. He would not say anything more. But his attendants would exaggerate it and say that the Gyalwang Karmapa said that he saw the deceased so-and-so in the bardo and that he saw what happened to them in the bardo state, and that so-and-so was reborn in a particular place. Thus, there were a lot of projections and exaggerations.
Whether or not one has the clairvoyance of the extinction of defilements, whether Mikyö Dorje himself actually had them, is something that Sangye Paldrup could not tell. But he did have the prajna that distinguishes obscuration from antidote which did not depend on others’ words; he was able to understand the meaning of the great texts, the words of the Buddha and the commentaries, merely by reading them. Moreover, by merely observing the behaviour of the students who depended on him, he was able to know their experiences of shamatha and insight, so he never missed the chance to eliminate obstacles or enhance their practice.
For those practitioners of the secret mantra and the practices of nadis, pranas and bindus, he gave instructions or empowerments; he could see whether that was beneficial to that person, could clearly examine and see whether someone’s experiences were good or bad and what level of practice they would have as well as give clear predictions.
At this point, His Holiness concluded today’s teachings.