Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings:
17th Gyalwang Karmapa on The Life of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje
February 21, 2021
Part 1: Discarding the Husk
His Holiness began the sixth day of teachings by offering a warm welcome, reminding us that we all have this opportunity to enjoy the true dharma together. The organizers of the Arya Kshema requested these teachings for all the nunneries; the shedras are participating as well. His Holiness emphasized we can still speak as if we are in each other’s presence in spite of the difficulty of the pandemic and our inability to gather together in-person. In fact, these teachings are most important because they offer the opportunity for many to listen to Mikyö Dorje’s liberation story in ways we may have never dreamed of previously.
For any student of Kagyu philosophy, hearing Mikyö Dorje’s liberation story is of utmost importance because we learn about his character and beneficial actions. As we come to know what he taught, we can develop and feel real faith.
Through a series of slides, complete with detailed names, dates, and images, His Holiness drew our attention to Mikyö Dorje’s birth in a village two hours from Changdu City, on the 4th day of the 11th lunar month of the Female Fire Hare, 1507 in the Western calendar. He explained that Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal gave Mikyö Dorje the monastic name Chökyap Drakpa Pal Sangpo.
Additionally, His Holiness showed vivid images of a memorial stupa for Mikyö Dorje, a tree planted in the year of his birth, and tree bark said to have been used for wrapping his mother’s body after she passed away. Additional images included ruins of a house built in his mother’s memory as well as two images of Mikyö Dorje’s footprints.
Then, Gyalwang Karmapa turned to the second stanza of The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…”.
Seeing that those who try to make pseudodharma
Of the disobedient and naturally unwholesome
Into true dharma remain outside, like a husk,
He taught the fine meaning well—to him I pray.
According to the Fifth Shamar Könchok Yenlak, the topic of this stanza is, “How he abandoned the impediments to the teachings himself and also got others to do so.” His Holiness further clarified the meaning of the stanza: “When we are practicing the Dharma, it is really important for us to know the dividing line between Dharma and non-Dharma.” In order to recognize this, we need to ascertain in our mind what should be taken up as dharma or discarded as non-Dharma. Not only do we need to understand this meaning, but also it must be put into practice. Only if we are able to put it into practice, can we be counted as a pure Dharma practitioner, and, to actually apply it, primarily depends on our strong longing and determination.
For the path of the Hearers and the Pratyekabuddhas to take root in our being, we absolutely need the intention of achieving Nirvana. We must set aside things that get in the way such as wishes for fame, respect, and material goods. For the Mahayana path to take root in our being, we should consider others as more important than ourselves. Often, however, we take pleasure in an adversary’s suffering. When doing tantric practice, we should meditate on the entire world as a pure realm and all the beings who inhabit it. Yet, everything appears as an enemy or something we dislike.
His Holiness elaborated further on the last two lines of the stanza. He noted that when we do not know what we should do and what we should give up, we confuse the practices of the three vows. We are taught we should discard the disobedient and unwholesome actions; however, we do the opposite, and put them into practice. Even though we are not actually Dharma practitioners, on the outside we look as if we are. We act as if we are, but Mikyö Dorje said this was pointless. It is like the husk which needs to be discarded and not something to keep.
Mikyö Dorje taught the unmistaken path of the meaning to others; and so we pray to him because he taught this meaning so well. For instance, Lord Tsongkhapa wrote in his Summary of the Stages of the Path:
I, a yogi, practice like that.
You who want liberation, do the same.
Later this was modified slightly:
The jetsun gurus practice like that.
You who want liberation, do the same.
Similarly, we need to practice just as the venerable gurus. When we read The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…”, we must think about practice as we recite these prayers.
Part 2: Meeting the Authentic Gurus
Through the autobiography Good Deeds, His Holiness drew our attention to Mikyö Dorje’s authentic gurus. First, His Holiness read the third good deed:
When I saw that the Mahayana masters were unmistaken,
I became captivated by their excellent qualities
And acted in harmony with all of their august examples.
The great beings therefore granted me their blessings with delight.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.
According to Sangye Paldrup’s Commentary, The Bright Lamp, this third good deed is the third section on, “the favorable conditions following great spiritual friends.”
There is also another text Mikyö Dorje composed called Past Deeds of Mikyö Dorje where he describes how he met spiritual friends and made connections:
I met the great being, the Nyewo Goshri Tulku Tashi Namgyal, an emanation of Milarepa’s disciple Shiwa Ö and of the bodhisattva Paljor Döndrup. He gave me the Mahayana fasting vows and empowerments, blessings, and pith instructions including Bhagavan Gyalwa Gyatso, Vajravarahi, Mahakala Bernakchen. I esteemed him highly with unbreakable respect and made him the object for gathering merit and confessing misdeeds.
Then, His Holiness taught the brief biographies of Mikyö Dorje’s principal teachers, including the Second Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal and Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, also known as Denma Druptop.
Gyaltsap Tulku Tashi Namgyal’s Short Biography
His Holiness went on to give a brief biography of Mikyö Dorje’s first guru, the Second Gyaltsap, Tashi Namgyal. He was born in Nyemo valley in Central Tibet in the Fire Sheep year [1487 CE]. The Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso recognized him as the reincarnation of Goshri Paljor Döndrup. In the Water Pig year of 1503, as Guru Rinpoche had prophesized, Chödrak Gyatso gave him a red crown with a golden blaze, consecrated with the essence of speech of the Vajra Amitabha Lama Gongdü practice. This is the origin of Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal wearing the orange-colored crown.
During the time of the Seventh Karmapa, Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal received empowerments, transmissions, and so forth from the Goshri tulku, Drung Situpa and his brother, Drongbu Goshri. Additionally, he received instructions and monastic ordination from the tradition of Je Kyasé. Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal received transmissions from all the different lineages in Tibet, and after Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso passed away, he became the regent and received the title, Gyaltsap meaning, the tulku’s regent. He built a golden stupa for the remains of the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso. Then he recognized and enthroned the Eighth Karmapa. He passed away in the Wood Pig year [1515 CE] at the age of 29.
Then His Holiness shared how Mikyö Dorje met Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal in on the 11th day of the 2nd lunar month of the Year of the Bird (1513) when he was enthroned as the Eighth Karmapa.
On the 3rd day of the 4th lunar month of 1513, Mikyö Dorje took the Mahayana fasting vows from Gyaltsap Rinpoche and was given the name Chökyap Drakpa Pal Sangpo. On the 3rd day of the 8th lunar month in that same year Gyaltsap Rinpoche gave him the monastic vows.
In summary, Mikyö Dorje considered Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal extremely kind to him. Not only that, he also treated Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal’s reincarnation very respectfully as evidenced in several texts. For instance, Pawo Rinpoche’s history of Dharma: A Feast for Scholars says:
He thought of Shamar Könchok Yenlak, the nirmanakaya of the fourth holder of the Shamar crown, and Drakpa Paljor, the tulku of Gyaltsap Rinpoche, as his actual lamas. He did not think of them otherwise, as students.
He considered the Fifth Shamar and the Third Gyaltsap’s reincarnations as his actual gurus. This is also clearly described in Mikyö Dorje’s autobiography:
After that, I approached the nirmanakaya of the lord himself, great Avadhūtīpa Drakpa Paljor. Though I did not actually make offerings with body and speech, mentally I took him as worthy of prostrations and respect, and did as much accumulation and purification as I could, as fit my mind.
The break fell at this point., and the audio transformed into the beautiful chanting of the nuns of Karma Drupdey Palmo Chokyi Dingkhang.
The teaching resumed and His Holiness gave a short biography of Mikyö Dorje’s most important guru, Sangye Nyenpa Druptop.
Sangye Nyenpa Denma Druptop’s Biography
Among all the gurus he followed, Mikyö Dorje had the most faith in Sangye Nyenpa. The first Sangye Nyenpa was called Denma Druptop. From the age of ten, Mikyö Dorje followed him as his most influential guru.
His Holiness described Sangye Nyenpa’s early life. He was born sometime during the 1440s in the valley of Denma in Kham. He was a descendent of the Lord of Denma. When he was young and first heard the name Karmapa, he had goose bumps, shed tears, and could not eat nor sleep. When he was six years old, his parents brought him to have an audience with the Seventh Karmapa. Immediately upon meeting, it was like a father and son uniting and they had a feeling for each other unlike any other. At that time, the Seventh Karmapa gave him the name Tashi Paljor. At the age of 8, he went forth as a monk under Bengar Jampal Sangpo and Paljor Döndrup. From the age of nine until 16, he studied the five dharmas of Maitreya, Nagarjuna’s Collection of Logic, and other teachings of sutra and tantra. Having studied and read philosophy, he thought he also needed to practice. He needed to follow a guru and receive pith instructions.
His Holiness focused on some important aspects of Sangye Nyenpa’s aspiration to practice the dharma fully. Sangye Nyenpa went to the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso and made the request to practice. When the Seventh Karmapa agreed, Sangye Nyenpa never separated from him for a moment. For that reason, he only subsisted on food scraps and received the nickname Nyenpa Ngökyok meaning “Gnarled Blue Nyenpa.” By the age of 23, he had received many instructions and decided to devote himself one-pointedly to practice. With the Seventh Karmapa’s blessing, he went to areas of Kham and then to Central Tibet. He practiced three years in Kampo Nenang, two years in Pangpuk, two years at Tsurphu, and one year in retreat at Tanglha. For eight years, he did not start a fire or eat any hot food. He only lived on chü-len or “extracting the essence” – a practice of visualizing external objects as food and visualizing eating them and receiving their nourishment.
Additionally, he never took any allowance. He only ate leftover scraps from tormas and drank leftover tea leaves. Other than speaking with his gurus, he maintained a vow of silence. Then, the Seventh Karmapa sent Ser Jadralwa Gendun Gyaltsen to accompany Sangye Nyenpa and both lived on chü-len. They spent five years at Namtso. Then they went to Nomtang in Mön, Drowolung Sangpo, and Shampo Gang, practicing a year in each respective place. At the age of 40, he wished to go to Uddiyana. He wanted to test his friend to see if he would join him. To do so, he asked him if he wanted to go to Shambhala in the north. His friend responded, “How can we go to places that Menlung Guru and Druptop Orgyenpa, teacher of the Third Karmapa, could not even reach?” Instead, if you have enough confidence, let’s try to go to Uddiyana in the west. While they were preparing to go to Uddiyana, Ser Jadralwa suddenly passed away, so Sangye Nyenpa abandoned the plan.
His Holiness also described many of Sangye Nyenpa’s miraculous activities and how he received the name Nyenpa Druptop, or Nyenpa Mahasiddha. At one time, Sangye Nyenpa dreamed of his birth mother and felt a great wish to see her. When he asked the Seventh Karmapa about this, the Karmapa urged Sangye Nyenpa to return to his homeland. However, before departing, Sangye Nyenpa realized that his mother had already passed away but was reborn as a dakini. Sangye Nyenpa had a vision that she was living in a terrestrial state and wanted to dwell in the sky. He understood she had requested the Chakrasamvara empowerment from him. Through his samadhi, he was able to give her this empowerment.
His Holiness gave another example of the numerous ways Sangye Nyenpa benefited beings. When there was a war between Sangye Nyenpa’s homeland of Denma and Adro, someone from Amdo killed one of his brothers. This adversary also set out to Central Tibet to kill Sangye Nyenpa. At that time, Sangye Nyenpa was living as a yogi in a cave. When his enemies reached the cave they found that Sangye Nyenpa only had a bit of dry grass, he was emaciated, and his robes were in tatters. Upon seeing him, their hatred immediately subsided and they felt overcome with faith. Once they had felt faith, the people from both Denma and Adro requested his help in resolving their conflict. However, Sangye Nyenpa did not want to engage in such worldly activities.
The Seventh Karmapa sent Sangye Nyenpa a letter asking him to build a monastery to benefit beings. Sangye Nyenpa, however, thought that he lacked the qualities to achieve this. He thought that maybe the Seventh Karmapa was trying to test the level of his realization. So, Sangye Nyenpa replied that he was unable to build a monastery. Once again, a letter arrived, ordering him to build a monastery. Sangye Nyenpa knew to follow the guru’s demands. He returned to Denma and resolved the dispute with Adro.
He then built a monastery at Urgyen Mountain Retreat and taught many of the people who had killed his brother. When these former adversaries realized his unbiased impartiality, they developed great faith in him. Not only did he build a monastery, but many students gained accomplishment from that.
All the preexisting monasteries of Denma, however, became jealous and worried that everyone would become a Kagyupa. When these monasteries went to take up weapons against Sangye Nyenpa’s institution, the others in the region stopped them from fighting. While some disputes still continued, Sangye Nyenpa’s monks mainly spent time in retreat. Not long after that, there was a strong earthquake that destroyed the adversarial monasteries. During this time, the retreat quarters also collapsed but not entirely. Sangye Nyenpa’s quarters were on the fourth floor but he escaped unharmed when the building collapsed. Afterwards, he was seen sitting atop one of the remaining two walls. People concluded that he had been saved by his miraculous powers and that he had flown up to safety. That’s how he got the name Nyenpa Druptop.
After this, he built a new monastery named Jangchup Ling at the base of the mountain. Not only that, he collected donations, restored damaged and destroyed monasteries and promoted harmony among all the monasteries in the region. Then the Seventh Karmapa encouraged him to leave Denma and build a monastery in lower Dokham. He went to many different places. If monasteries were in disrepair, he would restore them. Everywhere he went, he encouraged practitioners to practice virtue.
He made many offerings to the Seventh Karmapa. In particular, he became the Eighth Karmapa’s guru and offered him all the empowerments and pith instructions. When he was 65, he had completed all his activities and he passed away at Karma Gön. He had many different students. Nevertheless, he made the aspiration that all of his students would become Mikyö Dorje’s students.
After this brief but extremely detailed biography of Sangye Nyenpa Druptop, His Holiness shared the story of how Mikyö Dorje met his guru. When Mikyö Dorje was four years old, the Seventh Karmapa’s sister, Wangmo Gawa, came to him and asked, “Who is your guru?” Mikyö Dorje replied, “Sangye Druptop.” So among all of his gurus, Sangye Nyenpa Druptop was the foremost.
He met Sangye Nyenpa when he was nine years old. At that time, Mikyö Dorje made the aspiration to follow the guru, but he did not have the freedom to do so. The Fourth Shamar Chökyi Dragpa was the most appropriate to be his teacher, but Mikyö Dorje was in Kham and the Shamar was in Central Tibet. Since they were unable to meet, the Fourth Shamar concluded in a letter that Gyaltsap Rinpoche would be the most appropriate, but he had passed away. Thus, Sangye Nyenpa Denma Druptop became the worthiest teacher for Mikyö Dorje.
Mikyö Dorje followed Sangye Nyenpa from the age of ten. During a short period of two years, he received all the transmissions and empowerments. Gyalwang Karmapa asked, “How did he do this?” Then he explained that as soon as the sun rose until it set, Mikyö Dorje spent every moment with his guru. He did not waste any time at all. This is described in the Past Deeds of Mikyö Dorje:
Then I touched the feet of Sangye Nyenpa Mahasiddha, the nirmanakaya of Jowo Smṛtijñāna, and took the novice vows. He gave me empowerments and blessings of the kriya tantra including Trisamayavyuha, empowerments and blessings of the carya tantra including Vajrapani, empowerments and blessings of the yoga tantra including Vajra Dhatveshvari, empowerments and blessings of the unexcelled yoga tantra including Kalachakra, and in particular the empowerments and blessings the ninth yana such as Strength of Awareness. In brief, he gave me the empowerments, instructions, and transmissions of the Ancient and New transmissions.
In particular, I received many instructions of what are known as the Nine Profound Cycles of Instructions of the Sa Kagyu, Joshal, Dakpo, Shangpa, Dzogchen, and so forth. I held him to be our highest object for accumulation and purification, and day and night, whenever I remembered, I took the four empowerments through the vajra yoga, never missing a day.
Then, from the bodhisattva on the eighth level and great lord known as Tashi Öser, I received his kindness from the Vinaya up through Glorious Samaja. I took his liberation and comportment as a yidam deity and prayed to accumulate and purify as much as possible through view and conduct that follows those manners.
His Holiness went on to clarify this quote. He explained that Mikyö Dorje never missed a day of teachings and he never considered himself to be equal to his guru nor his guru being an ordinary individual. Even when he went to bed at night, he would think about his guru’s teachings. In the morning, he would offer the mandala and the Seven Branch Prayer, envision his guru as Vajrasattva, and take the empowerments. “He would not just go and sit down like we take dharma teachings these days,” His Holiness commented.
Mikyö Dorje ensured he was never apart from bodhicitta. He always thought about bringing benefit to countless sentient beings and took this into deepest consideration. During Dharma teachings he listened assiduously to retain the words; when contemplating he worked diligently to ascertain the meaning; and during meditation, he developed experience. He had a really strong interest and longing. No matter what, he could not bear to be apart from his guru. Mikyö Dorje nursed Sangye Nyenpa through an illness when we was unable to walk. Even though he was young, he served his guru and did whatever he could.
His Holiness explained how Sangye Nyenpa was pleased with Mikyö Dorje’s accomplishments. As Gyalwang Karmapa noted, Sangye Nyenpa said, “Karmapa, your actions are really in accord with the dharma. The dharma that I have been given is passed down from the great Kagyu forefathers and will bring great benefit to sentient beings. So, continue to behave and perform the actions and examples as you are doing now.”
Because his authentic guru had been pleased, all the blessings of body, speech, and mind in their entirety were transferred. This is common within the lineage from Tilopa teaching Naropa through Marpa to Milarepa. To actually see the guru as the Buddha is the profound point of devotion that was able to take root in Mikyö Dorje. Since Mikyö Dorje saw Sangye Nyenpa as his guru, he was able to consider others more important than himself. He developed faith in the guru and disgust for samsara. This is also from his autobiography:
The mindstream of someone like myself is not workable, and I spend all my time with wrong views about dharma and individuals. I don’t see any qualities, but with the diligence and prajna of seeing if I can analyze the scriptures and with the understanding that this life has no meaning, I had a bit of renunciation of wishing to be in an isolated place not working for this life. Gaining a bit of understanding that beings have been my parents is solely due to the power of the compassion of my guru, the great Jetsun. When I look at his ability to tame people with mistaken minds such as myself, I cannot describe how much he appears to be only in the sphere of those with great fortune. For that reason, these days most people do not recognize qualities as qualities, and put their hopes in false qualities.
For clarity, His Holiness summarized this passage. Even though Mikyö Dorje saw himself as having a wild character and fixed views, through the authentic guru, he was able to gain understanding and inspired renunciation. These only occurred because of the kindness of the guru. When Mikyö Dorje looked at his ability to tame people with mistaken minds, he understood Sangye Nyenpa’s life as the foremost example of Dharmic activities. Further, due to the authentic guru’s kindness, Mikyö Dorje became a great being, an authentic guru himself, whose name and meaning are in accord with all of the Dakpo Kagyu.
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