Day 13: Karmapa Mikyö Dorje and the Bhikshuni Vows

Day 13: Karmapa Mikyö Dorje and the Bhikshuni Vows

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

April 19, 2022

His Holiness began the thirteenth day, which was also the last day, of the Arya Kshema Spring Teaching, by expressing his intention to teach the twenty-first stanza, which is on ultimate bodhicitta, and the rest of the autobiographical verses Good Deeds and The Praise 'He Searched Thoroughly' next year.

In relation to Mikyö Dorje’s deeds and liberation, Karmapa expressed that he would like to speak particularly about something connected with the nuns, since we were having the Spring Teaching for the nuns.

His Holiness related that a few years ago, there were several conferences in Dharamsala on the topic of bhikshunis. At that time, he received a document by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol that was surprising—it described how Mikyö Dorje gave bhikshuni vows. It was titled A History of How the Teachings were Established at the Three Tsele Monasteries, and it read:

Lady Jetsunma Könchok Tsomo received full ordination from Lord Mikyö Dorje and became a bhikshuni. She observed all the rules meticulously and without any fault. She taught over one hundred nuns at Shokhang Nunnery, living a long life and perfecting her practice. She became venerated by everyone in the region of Taklung. 

“So here, when it says Lord Mikyö Dorje, of course there were many Mikyö Dorjes in Tibet, but the one at this time, we should understand as Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, since the three Tsele monasteries were all related to him,” His Holiness clarified. The other surprising fact was that no text other than this one mentioned the topic of giving bhikshuni ordination—not in Mikyö Dorje autobiographies or in writings by other authors. 

The Karmapa expressed his surprise at the time, because he had never seen or heard of this text before. “When we saw this text from Tsele, we began to consider what the connection between Mikyö Dorje and the bhikshuni ordination was, and we began new research into it. If we look more closely, there are many points—both major and minor—related to bhikshuni ordination in Mikyö Dorje’s collected work. He spoke about the precepts for bhikshus and bhikshunis as well as the precepts of novice monks and nuns, but this is not all. It is also important how he put this into practice in his lifetime.” 

Karmapa recollected that in 2004, when he was reforming the codes of conduct for the Kagyu Monlam, he saw a text by Mikyö Dorje on the Vinaya rituals, which detailed the manners of making offerings, wearing dharma robes, and so forth. That was the time when he began to take more interest in bhikshunis. As a result, a special seating area was prepared for bhikshunis at the Kagyu Monlam, and both bhikshus and bhikshunis participated in the Kangyur and alms processions. The main cause of this was this particular text on the Vinaya rituals, he stated. 

His Holiness then introduced the title of the text A Presentation of the Motions of the Sangha, Motions for Individuals Related to the Sangha, and Motions for Individuals. The meaning was that:

The practice of the rituals is accomplished as is seen. The rituals for women cannot be practiced in Tibet these days, so if a woman wishes to take full ordination, it is appropriate to give full ordination according to the ritual for men. The bhikshuni vows primarily arise on the basis of the male bhikshu sangha, and when there is the ritual for women, the gathering of the dual sanghas is merely the proper and appropriate way according to tradition. As the Sutra says, “Bhikshunis are fully ordained by the bhikshus and are granted the vows of bhikshus.”

This is because the long commentary says, “The gathering of the bhikshuni sangha is merely according to tradition…” and “Actions performed by bhikshus and bhikshunis, when done by others, are not unaccomplished.” Therefore rituals for bringing women forth and giving them full ordination on the basis of rituals for men are mostly similar as for men, and the few differences may be filled in and stated. 

The main point of this passage was that since there was no bhikshuni sangha in Tibet, if women wanted to become bhikshunis, the male bhikshu sangha would be allowed to give the women’s vows, explained Karmapa. The ritual was to be based on the ritual for men, and the passages required altering, for example, saying novice nun instead of novice monk. “When I first saw this text, since I had yet to see the text by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, I had not thought that Mikyö Dorje had given the bhikshuni vows. It occurred to me that he must have given some thought to this matter. Later, after I saw how he had given bhikshuni vows, it seemed to me that perhaps he had given the bhikshuni ordination with that very same ritual he had altered for ordaining women,” Karmapa shared. 

Other than this passage by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, there were very few other sources about Mikyö Dorje giving bhikshuni vows, he explained. Thus, we cannot determine definitively that he gave the bhikshuni ordination. Karmapa then pointed out that if we took some interest and looked more closely at the matter, it would be very clear that there were students of Karmapa Mikyö Dorje who were bhikshunis. 

He continued by explaining that the Ma dak ma, translated as “the impure prayer,” is a Mahakala text that we recite daily. In Tibetan, there is a tradition to take the first few words to give a text its name. The colophon of the text reads: 

Written by Mikyö Dorje at the request of Rinchen Palmo. 

Likewise, the colophon to the Selected Prayers in Mikyö Dorje’s collected works reads: 

Composed by Karmapa Mikyö Sangpo Dorje Away Yang at the request of Rinchen Palmo, who is rich with faith. 

Karmapa explained that Rinchen Palmo’s name appeared here twice, on two occasions. The name “Rinchen Palmo” on its own only indicates a female student and does not mean anything else in particular. But when we look at the colophons of other texts that she requested, we can see that “Rinchen Palmo” was not just anyone. In a text titled, The Light of Profound Suchness: An Uncommon Meditation on Guru Vajrasattva, the colophon reads: 

Thus this uncommon meditation on the guru Vajrasattva from the oral tradition of the Gyalwang Karmapa was written as a few notes as a reminder about meditation for the Shakya Bhikshuni with a faithful and devoted mind, Rinchen Palmo. 

This clearly proved that Rinchen Palmo was not just anyone; she was a bhikshuni. Unfortunately, at this point we do not have a detailed account of Bhikshuni Rinchen Palmo’s life, but in the collected songs of Pawo Tsuklag Trengwa called The Garland of Secret Words: A Treasury of Vajra Songs, there is a song that reads: 

Meditate on the main practice of the Mahayana,
Aspirational and engaged bodhicitta.
Get to the main points of devotion, guru yoga. 
Gain clear appearances of the deity in the creation phase.
Rest uncontrived and loose in the essence of meditation.
Whatever appears, purify it into deity, mantra and great bliss.
Do not be attached to body or any possessions,
Eject your consciousness, the letter a, into the sky.
The essence of dharma teachings is contained in these.

Though I was asked to write notes on instructional advice I had given to Lady Rinchen Palmo, I did not have time and only wrote these seeds. 

“Looking at this, it seems that Rinchen Palmo was first a noblewoman who later became a bhikshuni. I think she was connected with Taklung, but not definitively. In any case, we must examine whether she is the same as the Könchok Palmo mentioned above,” Karmapa pondered. Generally, when we translate the Sanskrit word ratna, it would be ‘rinchen’ in Tibetan if translated literally, but it would be ‘könchok’ if translated based on its meaning. Thus, it seemed that there was a choice between Rinchen and Könchok, so it was possible that she was named ‘Rinchen Palmo’ here and was known as ‘Könchok Palmo’ in other places. However, Karmapa added that it was hard to determine definitively that it was her. 

If Karmapa Mikyö Dorje had given the bhikshuni ordination, was it appropriate and according to the vinaya rituals? Historically, there were two ways to become a bhikshuni, either through a dual sangha or through a single sangha; in Tibet, it seemed that bhikshunis were ordained by a single sangha. To help us understand this issue better, Karmapa went on to provide some historical background.

The Historical Background 

I. There are differing accounts of the initial spread of Buddhism in Tibet, but according to the most reliable sources, it seemed to have been during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo, explained Karmapa. This can be known from the edicts of Sena Lek and Trisong Detsen, the inscriptions on the pillars from Karchung and Samye temples. The inscriptions in Samye about the development of a monastic community read: 

Representations of the three jewels were built, and people from Tibet also were brought to liberation.

This was during the time of Trisong Detsen. Here, “brought to liberation” meant allowing them to go forth (take ordination), and “people from Tibet also…” seemed to indicate that Tibetans must also have gone forth. 

Likewise, within the Tengyur’s section on letters, the colophon to the Letter Summarizing What to Cherish Sent by Ba Palyang reads:

In Tibet, there was not even a word for bhikshu, and then the lord bodhisattva Trisong Detsen found the true dharma. The glorious emperor roused faith and said, “the one with the monastic name Palyang is a perfect monastic.”

This stated that prior to Ba Palyang, there were no bhikshus. He was the first Tibetan monastic, explained Karmapa.

In addition, an old manuscript of the Chronicles of Ba found in Drepung said:

Some histories say that at that time of Songtsen Gampo, the translator Sambhota, Chökyi Dzö, and others went forth, but this is nonsense from people who do not know when the Seven Men for Testing [the first seven people to take monastic vows] lived.

This refuted those who said that there were monastics during the time of emperor Songtsen Gampo. Prior to Trisong Detsen, there were no monastics in Tibet. If there were, they were Chinese monks or monastics from other regions; it seemed that no sangha community of Tibetans had developed at that time. 

Karmapa stated, “It is generally accepted that the first Tibetan monastics were during the time of Trisong Detsen. The khenpo who gave them the vows was Śāntarakṣita, and the people who took the vows were the six or seven men for testing.” This was clearly found in the old manuscript of the Chronicles of Ba:

On the full moon of the first month of spring of the Year of the Sheep, the seven of Chim Shakyaprabha, Tsang Lekdrup, Pa Or Bhairotsana, Shang Lhabu, Shöbu Khonglen, and Wa Yeshe Wangpo went forth with master Śāntarakṣita. 

This text also mentioned something previously unknown:

Some explain that Śāntarakṣita was from the Tāmraśāṭiyā school, but those who say that the seven men for testing acted as translators and Dānaśila ordained Palgyi Yeshe, saying he was the earliest Tibetan monk, do not understand the meaning of the seven men for testing.

It seemed that there were people who asserted that Śāntarakṣita was not the abbot who ordained them. Karmapa then indicated that we can tell when the first monastic community was founded by knowing when they were ordained. 

He continued by pointing out that in the Chronicles of Ba, there was record of not only men who went forth but also women:

Then Kharchen Sa and Jangchup Je went forth with three hundred subjects…

In some documents, after Samye was built but before it was consecrated, Wa Salnang went forth and was given the name Yeshe Wangpo. In the Year of the Sheep (the year 767), during the great consecration rituals, Wa Ratna was the abbot when Lady Chen Trigyal and one hundred subjects went forth. 

“It gives different situations on how women went forth, but later it became well-accepted that the abbot who first ordained women in Tibet was Wa Ratna,” explained Karmapa.

From an ancient Chinese manuscript found at Dunhuang called Ascertaining The Logic of the Mahayana Sudden Enlightenment:

Queen Tri Jemo Tsen had great faith and devotion from the very beginning and awakened to realization in an instant. She therefore cut off her deep black hair and wore the saffron-colored banner. The jewel of stainless discipline illuminated the mandala in her heart, and through the clear water of samadhi she realized the nature of zen. This deed cannot be exemplified even by a lotus unstained by the mire. The Master was skilled in means for taming beings, so he always taught the emperor’s sister Trina Namsa and over three hundred wives of ministers the Mahayana dharma. They all went forth on one occasion. What difference is there between her and Mahaprajapati? 

Karmapa said this explained that Queen Tri Jemo Tsen, the king’s sister Trina Namsa, and over three hundred wives of ministers went forth. The abbot who ordained them was not clearly stated to have been Abbot Mahayana. However, His Holiness speculated, Abbot Mahayana and their ordination were most likely closely connected because they went forth due to his teaching the dharma.

By comparing the Chronicles of Ba and the Ascertainment, we can learn that the first Tibetan bhikshuni was the queen of emperor Trisong Detsen—Tri Gyalmo Tsen. There were two other pieces of evidence related to her story: the inscriptions on the bells of the Samye Gegye Temple and the Tradruk Temple. The former was probably built before she went forth, and the latter after. 

Showing us a picture of the bell from Samye Gegye Temple, Karmapa read the inscriptions on it: 

The Lady Queen and the Prince, as an offering to the three jewels in the ten directions, erected this bell. By the power of this merit, may Emperor Trisong Detsen, his princes, and their wives have voices with the sixty qualities and achieve unexcelled enlightenment. 

The inscription on the Tradruk Temple bell read: 

This large bell is very well known in the time of Emperor Tride Songtsen. In order to inspire all sentient beings to virtue, like the sound of the drums of the gods that is heard in the sky, this bell was sponsored by Jomo Jangchup and cast by Khenpo Gya Bhikshu Rinchen. 

The latter inscription stated the sponsor of the bell was Jomo Jangchup, the name given to Tri Gyalmo Tsen after she became a bhikshuni. These two bells were evidence that she was a very important historical figure, Karmapa pointed out.

In any case, whether the khenpo who ordained them was Wa Ratna or Khenpo Mahayana, the source for the ordination was the male sangha—it was clearly not a dual sangha. Another source that indicated that there were both male and female bhikshus at that time was the Letter Summarizing What to Cherish Sent by Ba Palyang which wrote:  

Now give instructions to the bhikshus, novices, and bhikshunis who have gone forth.

It instructed that advice should be particularly given to the bhikshus and bhikshunis, making it clear that there were bhikshunis in Tibet during the ancient spread of the teachings. 

Returning from the intermission, His Holiness continued his overview of the historical background regarding Karmapa Mikyö Dorje giving bhikshuni ordination.

II. In the tenth century, as the later spread of the teachings to Tibet began, there was also an ancient inscription by Lha Lama Yeshe Ö, which said that if ladies were able to become bhikshunis, instead of stopping them, they should be sent to liberation and a dharma house should be built for them. 

Karmapa elaborated, “This means that all the wives of ministers and people of high status who were able to become bhikshunis should not be prevented; they should be allowed, and temples and nunneries should be built for them. There is this inscription giving this edict.” 

Likewise, the liberation story of Rinchen Sangpo by Jñāna Śrī also supported the presence of bhikshunis. Rinchen Sangpo had three siblings, among whom the youngest was his little sister Sherap Tsomo who became a bhikshuni. She studied tantric dharma and attained siddhis through her practice, becoming known as Naljorma Chökyi Drönma. This account clearly shows there were bhikshunis at that time. 

III. In the thirteenth century, the third wife of Drogön Chöpak’s father Sangtsa Sönam Gyaltsen, the oldest daughter of a king, was ordained by the female master Sönam Bum. She founded a nunnery called Chomo Ling. It was said that she had taken bhikshuni vows, and Drogön Chöpak himself said: 

I was the abbot for 4425 bhikshus, bhikshunis, novice monks, novice nuns, and people who went forth from Nepal, India, China, Western Xia, Mongolia, Kaule [Korea], Jangu, Uighur, Shusen, and other places.

This was found in Taktsang Paljor Sangpo’s Treasury of Documents to Please Scholars, compiled in 1434. “In any case,” Karmapa emphasized, “this proves that there were bhikshunis in the thirteenth century.”

IV. In the thirteenth century, Kashipa Rigpe Senge, one of the five scholars from Minyak, followed the vinaya master Sönam Drak, from the same lineage of Butön Rinpoche’s guru, Jamkya Namkha Pal, and Tsi Dulzin. He helped to spread the dharma widely, in central Tibet and in Western Xia [Tangut Empire 1038 to 1227]. According to the liberation story by his direct disciple Seng Sang, his students included one hundred bhikshunis.

V. The vinaya master Namkha Sönam, born in the latter part of the fifteenth century, was very well-known at that time. He was the khenpo who ordained Chuwar Rangjung Wönmo as a bhikshuni, according to Gorampa’s dialogs The Blossoming Lotus.

VI. Toward the end of the fourteenth century, according to a letter in the Collected Works of Redawa Shonnu Lodrö called Advice to the Lady of Yardrok, Chöpal Sangmo, it was written: “Geshe Yeshe Pal brought the letter of the Lady Bhikshuni along with the cape, and I rejoice.” At the end it also said, “This is advice from the child of snow Le to Bhikshuni Pal Sangmo.” Thus it was clear there were bhikshunis at that time, indicated Karmapa.

VII. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the first Samding Vajra Varahi Chökyi Dronme, or Shelkar Dzommo, first took novice ordination from Bodong Panchen Choke Namgyal and was named Adrol Chökyi Dronma. Later, she took bhikshuni ordination from Bodong Panchen, who acted as the abbot, and the complete sangha of bhikshus. This topic was described in detail in Jetsunma Chökyi Dronme’s liberation story. 

Karmapa related that the next day after she had taken the bhikshuni vows, she was invited to lunch by Bodong Rinpoche. She brought her alms bowl and brought along her attendant who was a novice nun. Bodong Panchen was inspired by her and said, “A female arhat has come down to Earth from the heavens.” This was described very clearly in her liberation story.

VIII. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, a woman named Sangdawa Shakya Budrenma went forth under the vinaya master Lobsang Pukpa and was named Shakya Die. Later, she took bhikshuni ordination from Goyap Khenpo Sangye Sangpo and was given the name Shakya Sangmo. When she took dharma teachings from the Khenpo, she experienced a crystal made of light appearing repeatedly inside her body, so she asked the Khenpo about it. Karmapa remarked that the Khenpo was probably a practitioner of pacification. The Khenpo rested in meditation and replied, “You will bear or give birth to a great being who will uphold, preserve, and spread the teachings of the Buddha. It will be just as how in the past in India, the Brahmin lady Salway Tsultrim, who was first a nun and became a laywoman, bore Asanga with someone from a Kshatriya class and Vasubandhu with a Brahmin. So do not stay here; return to your homeland.” Later, she returned her vows and became the mother of Panchen Shakya Chokden. Karmapa added that this was explained in two liberation stories of Shakya Chokden, the Precise Account and The Illuminator of the Buddha’s Teachings. 

IX.  In the middle of the fifteenth century, when Panchen Shakya Chokden was sixty-two, it was said in his liberation story The Illuminator of the Buddha’s Teachings:

Gyama Chödrup Palmo was ordained a bhikshuni with Shakya Chokden as khenpo, Chennga Drupgyal as the ritual master, Kungyal as the private questioner, Je Drakmar as the master assisting the private questioner, Drung Palsangwa as timekeeper, Chöje Samten as the assistant, and four masters to fill out the ceremony.  

These historical documents support the case that Mikyö Dorje did give bhikshuni vows. Karmapa emphasized the importance of this, “When we research the above accounts, we see that most people who took bhikshuni ordination in Tibet in the past were of high status, from the families of lamas or the noble. That is primarily the type of woman it was. Thus, it could be that the lineage was later broken since there were few commoners who took bhikshuni vows, or it could have been due to other circumstances. We cannot say definitively, so we need to continue to research this topic.”

Not only were there bhikshunis in Tibet prior to the sixteenth century, it seemed that at one point during that period, there were an equal number of monasteries and nunneries in Ütsang. Karma Chakme said in his text Important Dharma Teachings for Nuns to Be Self-Sufficient in Dharma:

In the pure land of Ütsang, 
The monasteries and nunneries
Are neither more nor less. 
In some nunneries, the nuns
Are three or four hundred in number.
There are many nun gurus and discipline masters.
They established strong discipline,
And the nunneries were good. Thus most
Were able to become self-sufficient in the dharma. 
I have not heard of such happening
Here in Kham and Ngomshi. 
Protectors of dharma are like stars in the daytime. 

At that time, there were equal numbers of monasteries and nunneries. In particular, Karmapa mentioned that there were many lamas and discipline masters who were nuns in these nunneries and had rules to keep men from outside coming in. Many of the early Kadampa monasteries in Penyul were later converted to nunneries. On the other hand, in Kham where Karma Chakme was from,; nunneries were rare. “However, later there were political changes in Ütsang and there began to be hostility toward nuns; people started to look poorly on the nuns and there was a decline in the nunneries. But up until the seventeenth century, the nunneries were flourishing,” exclaimed Karmapa. 

He added, “Looking at the situations I have already mentioned, from the introduction of bhikshuni vows in Tibet, probably about ninety-eight percent of the bhikshuni ordinations were performed by the bhikshu sangha.” The vows of a laywoman, vows of going forth, and novice nun vows may be taken from individuals. The first and last of these are taken from a female master, and the vows of going forth from an abbess. The nun in training, celibate upavastha, and bhikshuni vows are taken from the sangha; the nun in training vows are taken from a sangha with the female master, and the celibate upavastha vows must be taken from sangha with an abbess.

Karmapa explained that in the vinaya, among the ten ways to be fully ordained, there are primarily three for women: 

1. Gaining full ordination by accepting the eight heavy dharmas

2. Full ordination by messenger

3. Full ordination by the dual sangha

In places where there is a male bhikshu sangha but no female sangha, there is a way to have a faultless and complete ordination. The Minor Topics of the Vinaya said:

Know that the woman named this went forth with the bhikshus and was fully ordained and became a bhikshuni. 

Regarding the meaning of this, the extensive commentary by Master Gelek Shenyen explained:

Saying “bhikshus” excludes bhikshuni… The full ordination of bhikshunis depends solely upon the sangha of bhikshus. 

Likewise, the auto-commentary on the Vinaya Sutras stated:

If a nun in training is fully ordained with the ritual for bhikshus, because the bhikshu sangha is the primary sangha, the gathering of the bhikshuni sangha is merely in accord with tradition.

In Tibet, the most well known vinaya commentary by Tso Ngawa said:

If there are not four, it will not arise here, because the motion is not passed. If the bhikshunis are not found, it is permissible for the male bhikshu sangha to give the precepts of a nun-in-training. 

Karmapa explained that it is commonly accepted in all four schools of Tibetan buddhism for men to act as the abbot for going forth and the master for novice nuns and give vows. If there were no way for women to receive vows from male bhikshus, or if they could receive the ordination but it would not be faultless and perfect, there would be no way to ordain women in Tibet; thus there would be the danger of saying that there were no nuns in Tibet. He reminded us this was another point to keep in mind.

In the Chapter on the Rains Retreat, it was mentioned that bhikshus would go out to ordain nuns in training and the celibate upavastha. 

Similarly, the Sutra of Mahaprajapati translated into Chinese in the fifth century wrote: 

After the Buddha passes to nirvana, if there were a woman who seeks the spiritual way, is it appropriate for bhikshunis to be the abbess and master? 

The Buddha said to Ananda, “If she is an elder bhikshuni with the qualities of discipline, it is appropriate. Even so, it depends upon the bhikshu sangha. If the assembly is complete, it is appropriate, but if it is short one bhikshu, she should not be ordained.” 

Again, Ananda asked the Buddha, “In that case, is it logical for bhikshus to be the abbot and master?” The Buddha replied, “It is not. Great bhikshunis are allowed to act as the abbess and master. If there are no bhikshunis, then it is logical for the bhikshu sangha to do so.” 

This practice seemed to have been present with early Tibetan vinaya masters. Karmapa pointed out that we can know this from the scholar Sherap Gyatso, from the great Kadampa monastery of Narthang, who wrote in his commentary on the vinaya that, “If there are no bhikshunis, the bhikshus may give all the vows.” 

In brief, he summarized that if one had not previously taken the nun in training vows and was ordaining as a bhikshuni, the vow would still arise. Butön Rinpoche also said, “The actual vow arises from the male sangha.” Most scholars agree that the bhikshuni vows actually arise from the bhikshu sangha. Therefore, the lineage of the vows was thus transmitted from the male sangha, not from the female, explained Karmapa.

Likewise, in China in the fourth century, the earliest bhikshuni was Jing Jian. She was probably ordained by a male sangha alone, he remarked. It was difficult to find examples of such during the time when buddhism flourished in India, since there were both bhikshus and bhikshunis in India. 

“These days, we could say that the world has shrunk, or that travel has become easier,” Karmapa observed. “Even though bhikshuni vows can be given by the male sangha, that does not always necessarily mean it is best to do so. If we invite bhikshunis from other regions to give ordination, I think there is less basis for dispute and there are great benefits to doing so. A few years ago, I invited a sangha of bhikshunis from Taiwan to the sacred site of Bodhgaya to give the novice nun vows, and it turned out well.”

His Holiness expressed that in the future, when the epidemic has ended and we can once again travel easily, he would like to invite the bhikshuni sangha from another country again to give the novices the nun-in-training vows and then later the bhikshuni ordination. Within the practice lineage of Karma Kamtsang, this topic of bhikshuni ordination was not something he had decided alone, Karmapa clarified. It was a result of several conferences held during the Kagyu Gunchö among the khenpos, geshes, and students. At that time, the khenpos and geshes told him, “You should institute bhikshuni ordination in the Kamtsang Kagyu,” and he heeded the requests. 

His Holiness then mentioned that some people argued that ordaining women would shorten the Buddha’s teachings by five hundred years, but a response was given in the second century in the Great Exposition.From the one hundred and eighty-third fascicle of the Great Exposition:

From the vinaya: “My teachings should remain over one thousand years, but it will be shortened by five hundred years because of women going forth.” As this says, the Bhagavan taught the true dharma in many places but did not define what true dharma is. Thus, that sutra is the basis for treatize, and this treatize has been written to explain what was not taught there…

The Buddha said to Ananda, “If women do not go forth in the dharma vinaya I have taught well, my dharma will remain one thousand years or even longer. Because women are going forth, my true dharma will be shortened by five hundred years.” As this says, if the teachings are to remain one thousand years, why would the Bhagavan have said that?

The treatize appeared after the first period of five hundred years, yet the teachings remained. Thus, why did the Buddha say this, and why are the teachings still here? His Holiness elucidated that there were two different explanations.

1. The teachings referred to the dharma intending stable liberation, of achieving the result of arhatship; it did not refer to the duration of teachings shortening.

2. Others explained that this was said in terms of not accomplishing the eight respectful dharmas, and Karmapa favored this explanation. If women did not accept the eight respectful dharmas, then the teachings would be shortened by five hundred years. But since they did accept them, the true dharma will remain in the world for a full thousand years.

If we did not understand the basis of this saying, then it would not be in accord with the teachings of the scriptures. “In the future, we need to be able to respond that it is inappropriate to say that women going forth will harm the teachings,” reminded Karmapa. “At that time in Indian society, women were looked down on and in a very low position. If the Buddha were to put women in a high place in society, it would have changed and decreased the level of respect people had. By taking the eight respectful dharmas, it does not reduce the teachings by five hundred years.” 

Words of Advice

His Holiness emphasized that it was important for all our nuns to both study and practice. He said that even though traditionally monasteries were separated into different sections [shedra and tsokdra], for someone who is seeking liberation, study and practice have to be unified. This could be understood through the analogy: A bird which uses only one wing cannot fly. Likewise, we need to unite both study and practice to attain liberation. “Studying the texts is extremely important; if we do not know what we should and should not do, we will not know how to do the practice,” explained Karmapa. All nuns need to study, regardless if they are in the centers of study or practice.

Karmapa reminded us that in the past in Tibet, nuns did not have many opportunities. One reason was because many of them did not take much interest in studying. He explained, “They stayed in the form of nuns, and did not look for opportunities. It is important that we study the texts and philosophy. The aim for this is to practice, to tame your mental continuum and bring benefit to others.” Karmapa specified that this benefit does not refer to helping with food or clothing, but with the dharma. This is the responsibility of all dharma practitioners, he urged.

“When we think of studying philosophy in the shedra, we think it is like going to school. We think we are staying in a dharma community, and we are listening and contemplating the dharma, but we don’t really feel that, do we? I do not think that is good at all. It is extremely important for us to have study and practice together. In this way, our nunneries can be like great ornaments for the teachings of buddhism, and a great fertile field for the happiness of sentient beings,” he concluded.

After the usual dedication prayers, various monasteries and nunneries made mandala offerings to His Holiness, and a representative from the nunneries expressed gratitude towards His Holiness and the teachings in a short speech. The last session of this year’s Arya Kshema Spring Teaching ended with a recitation of The Aspiration of Mahamudra.

Day 12: Living the Dharma

Day 12: Living the Dharma

2022 Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings: 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje's Autobiographical Verses

April 15, 2022 

There are many examples of taking on the suffering of others, said the Karmapa on Day 12 of Mikyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses. Although we think they’re all in the past there are still great lamas in these times. His Holiness then described in detail the extraordinary example of Tenga Rinpoche’s final days and his inspiring capacity to practice tonglen in the most excruciating circumstances. 

Tenga Rinpoche had a rare form of diabetes. If there is a cut the wound won’t heal and gradually the flesh rots. When he cut his foot, eventually they had to amputate it. In hospital he was aware the foot was being amputated and did the practice of tonglen – exchanging self and others -  to make it meaningful. 

Normally he did a lot of writing. When I was in Tibet he wrote me letters by hand. Then they amputated his index finger. After they amputated his finger he had to hold the pen between his middle finger and thumb but he kept on writing. 

Rinpoche came to the 900th Karmapa celebration. We were reciting the Dusum Khyenpa Guru Sadhana and he was writing notes in the text while reciting. He had a lot of enthusiasm even though he had lost a finger, a foot and his eyes were bad. He was still active, He had the inspiration to do it. An ordinary person would just get depressed. 

How to act when you are disrespected and scorned

There is another type of harm which comes from feeling you have been disrespected and looked down upon. We feel scorned. Many people don’t like admitting that they have been scorned. Still, such situations happen all the time in our society. Many feelings of sadness, anguish, the suffering of loss, or anger come from the thought that we have been looked down on. 

For example, in our lives, we might think that our parents treated our other siblings better than they treated us. When we are at work, we feel like our boss pays more attention to other co-workers. In romantic relationships, we think that our partner does not consider us the most important. When practicing dharma, we think the guru treats other students better and considers them more important. We feel disrespected or ignored. In brief, our lives are filled with episodes when we think, “No one thinks well of me. No one pays me any respect.”

How we use social media to confirm self- importance

These days there are more and more people who want to become well-known, to be the center of attention, and to be praised as good people. When we look on the internet at social media, people put a lot of effort into this. From one perspective, it shows that they have a great attachment to being well-known; from another, it shows that their idea that “I exist” is growing stronger and they are seeking more attention. 

You can post your videos and pictures on WeChat or Facebook, Fundamentally, it is a way to get people to pay more attention to you, a way to confirm the idea that “I exist,” and a way to gain acceptance form others. That’s why we put effort into it. Sometimes people do not hope for others to praise them but think that it is acceptable if people insult them, point out their faults, or criticize them. What they need is to think, “I’ve caught on. More people are paying attention. I’ve become someone many people pay attention to.” As long as they go viral, they’re worthy. Notoriety is also being famous. It’s cool. 

There’s a story about this though it’s just an allegory. Once there was a man who wanted to show off and make a spectacle. So he led an elephant strutting and swaggering through the streets. It wasn’t often that you saw an elephant in that town, so a lot of people were eager to see the spectacle and flocked in great crowds, with the elephant following behind. Suddenly a tiny Apso dog popped out from nowhere. As soon as it saw the elephant, the dog jumped and thought, would it be better to bite the elephant, or to yelp, or to face it down? It acted as if it could fight the elephant. 

A shaggy stray dog said to the Apso, “My Friend, don’t embarrass yourself. How can you take down an elephant? Wait and see. Your barking will stop. The elephant just keeps coming straight at you. No matter how much you bark, the elephant isn’t even glancing at you.”

The Apso said, “Aha!’’ I got what I wanted. Look at this. Without fighting at all, I’ve become the most courageous dog. This alone will make tomorrow a good day. Now all the dogs will say, ‘That Apso, he’s really something. Look at how strong he is. He even dared to bite an elephant.’ “

That is how we function to get attention. Rather than being embarrassed when others try to chasten us, we think of it as something to boast about. We become so incredibly attached to attention-seeking, that we think maybe it will help people everywhere to believe in our importance. Why do we act like this?  It comes down to certifying that “I exist.” To gain acceptance from others we have to believe, I am special, because deep down we do not really have self - confidence. Deep down we think why was I born? We think there is no clear reason that I exist. Many people don’t believe in themselves. This creates a lot of problems; depression is one. For example, many young girls feel they are too fat so they stop eating and get anorexia; some even commit suicide. It all comes from not believing in oneself, not giving any space, and not seeing oneself as being important enough. 

The Karmapa then related a true story about Milarepa to illustrate that outer appearances are deceptive and worldly people’s views are not reliable. 

Milarepa subsisted only by eating nettles and as the years went on, his body grew weak; eventually becoming decayed and emaciated. He turned so green no one could look at him. He pushed himself so close to the breaking point, that people could hardly believe he was alive. When he walked he would fall over. When people came and saw Milarepa in the cave, they thought they had seen a ghost and ran away. Milarepa said, ‘’Don’t be afraid, I’m human.’’ A few days later, an older man named Shendorma, offered him some tsampa. Milarepa added it to his nettle soup and his body became very healthy. So he sang the “Song of Interdependence.” 

At a beer festival, Shendorma spread the word about the yogi Mila Töpaga (Joy to Hear). ‘’It would be good for everyone to gather the accumulations. We should make offerings to him.’’ Among the guests was Milarepa’s aunt who was encouraged to bring provisions to her nephew. The aunt took a hunk of meat and a lump of butter and went, accompanied by a servant. Milarepa was so absorbed in his practice he could not be interrupted. His aunt got annoyed and left the provisions on the ground. Milarepa did not even see it, and the foxes and wolves ate it.

His aunt reported her story to Milarepa’s younger sister. She gave the sister directions and the sister set out to see Milarepa. When she got there she called out to her brother from the opening of the cave. When she saw him, she was so shocked at the skeletal frame, she could hardly recognize him, but when he said, “Come in,” she recognized his voice. She looked carefully. All his body hair was green. His nose had fallen in and his eyes had sunk into their sockets. He didn’t have enough energy to speak. His face and tongue had also become shriveled.  “There’s no one in this world more miserable than us, brother and sister,” she said, collapsing her head between his knees, and sobbing profusely.

He had her cook some nettles.  She said, “We need meat and fat for the nettles,” and he replied, “If there were meat and fat in the nettles, it would be food. For meat and fat, add nettles.” Feeling sad, she added nettles three times and served it. Milarepa ate it as if it were delicious. Even though she was a beggar, she found it revolting. She shed many more tears and said, “If we brother and sister stay like this, we’ll never live like humans. You should beg for some alms.” 

His sister went begging and on the way saw Bari Lotsawa teaching dharma, surrounded by horses, robes, and parasols, “A dharma practitioner should be like that. What will become of my brother whose dharma won’t allow him to live a life?” She continued begging up and down the valley and gathered enough fabric out of woolen rags from old bedding, dog hair, and goat wool to make a blanket. She gave it to Milarepa to cover his naked body. 

 “A dharma practitioner should be like Bari Lotsawa. Nothing will come of your dharma. Make some clothes out of this fabric, and be an attendant to Lama Bari Lotsawa,” she said. Milarepa responded by singing a song about giving up the eight worldly concerns, and she said, “It would be nice if it were like that, but is it?” She went begging again and came back with a bit of tsampa and beer to offer a ganachakra. 

How good and bad we are cannot be decided by others alone, the Karmapa concluded. Of the two judges we are the principal one. It’s not others’ opinions. The belief in ourselves comes from bodhicitta. We recognize that. Our own intentions are what we look at. The way society sees things is not true dharma. It’s nothing to do with the clothes we wear or the food we eat.

Here is the song Milarepa composed on the fulfillment of his wishes:

I supplicate my lord guru.
Bless this beggar to stay in mountain retreat.

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
My joys unknown to my enemies
And woes unknown to my family,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled. 

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
My cold unknown by my father
And hunger unknown to my mother,

This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled. 

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
My aging unknown to my friends
And sickness unknown to my sister,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled. 

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
Ants sucking on my flesh and guts
Bugs eating my muscles and tendons, 
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled. 

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
My death unknown to any people
And rotting corpse unseen by birds,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled. 

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
No trace of humans at my door,
No sign of blood inside, 
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled. 

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
No pallbearers to carry my corpse,
No one to weep upon my death,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled. 

If I can die in this mountain retreat,
With no one to ask where I have gone
And nowhere to point that I have come,
This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled. 

May this beggar’s prayer to die
In a cave in an uninhabited valley
Be made for the sake of wanderers.

Be Your Own Judge

From the perspective of a dharma practitioner, we cannot live only by the way others see us. Our own level and how skilled we are cannot be decided merely by whether people think we are important or not, whether they pay attention to us or not, or whether they accept us or not. As it says in the Seven Points of Mind Training: “Of the two judges, hold the principal one.” Our belief in ourselves, our self -confidence must come from the true dharma and our practice. In terms of a dharma practitioner, the main project for this life is to examine our intentions and actions carefully and see whether they are in accord with dharma or not. Looking to others to see whether they like us is not the main thing. This is crucially important,” the Karmapa emphasized. 

Taking greed as the path, or the 20th good deed 

Since time without beginning, samsaric birth and death
Have, with their agonies, wearied my body and mind.
Therefore, I strove in order that I might have
A strong body and mind forever until enlightenment.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (20)

Generally, most people have cycled through the three realms time after time, experiencing every kind of suffering. They have not faced the fact that the unbearable suffering of birth, aging, sickness, and death will certainly come but continue to cherish their own body. They are unable to sever the ties of food and clothing and the craving for pleasure. Even when practicing dharma, they say that one mustn’t destroy the body and busy themselves only with obtaining food and clothing. 

Mikyö Dorje was easy to serve in every respect—clothing, food, or shelter. He was easier to follow than other gurus, so he personified the teaching: “A spiritual friend should be easy to nourish and fill.” In particular, he was fine with whatever food was served. Without regard for whether the sponsor was a high or low person or whether the cooking was good or not. When some strange food he had never seen before appeared, he would look at it and take it in his hands, like a baby taking bread. Generally, he had very poor food. In any case, he never accepted or rejected food because it was good or bad. 

In fact, his face was full and his complexion good. He looked healthy. Even if he did not have tea for an entire day, his health would not be affected. He was never seen to lie down in the daytime. Regarding clothing, aside from not wearing rags, he would wear anything. Sometimes he would wear a cotton outer robe, wool zen, and any old hat. He would keep offerings for a short time to show respect for the faith of the devotees, but he had no attachment or craving. He would encourage those who sought liberation to cut through attachment to the body, to food and clothing. He was truly pleased by people who lacked craving for sensory pleasures, stomped on the eight concerns, and gave up on this life. 

The Karmapas were never short of wealth because they had received offerings from the emperors of Mongolia, China and Tibet. But Mikyo Dorje wasn’t interested in the sensory pleasures of wealth at all.

In conclusion His Holiness Karmapa announced three days of prayer recitation. 

There’s the war in Ukraine which is still going on. This war could lead to an even larger war. It’s not impossible. Recently, there was also an airplane that crashed in Tibet. [Flight MU5735 from Kunming to Guangzhou.] It was a very unusual crash. All of a sudden, the plane fell out of the sky and everyone was smashed to smithereens. For the sake of pacifying the war and for all the people who have passed away, we will recite prayers. It would be good to do the Amitabha puja.

The puja was later changed to the Akshobhya Ritual scheduled to be held for three days immediately after the teachings concluded.

Day 11: Taking Hostility as the Path

Day 11: Taking Hostility as the Path

2022 Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings: 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje's Autobiographical Verses

April 11, 2022 

On the eleventh day of the Arya Kshema Spring Teachings, the Karmapa said he would speak about the nineteenth good deed from Mikyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds.”  

According to the outline from the commentary on Good Deeds by the attendant Sangye Paldrup, there were the two parts regarding the meditation on relative bodhicitta: 

a. Exchanging oneself for others in meditation. 

b. Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation. 

In terms of the second, the Karmapa would continue to discuss the ten sub-topics, explaining the conclusion to the third point to the eighth sub-topic: 

8. Taking things going well or badly as the path.

After that he would discuss the ninth: taking hostility as the path. 

9. Taking hostility as the path.

The best opportunities for practice are when things are going well or badly

The Karmapa had already spoken about the first two points that were part of the eighth sub-topic: when things are going well or badly, they are the best opportunities to practice. These two were: (a) how to take things going well or badly as the path; and (b) how to take things going well as the path. He would now explain the third point: (c) when things are going badly, how to take bad situations as the path. 

Even when we are in the worst time in our lives, we need to think of these times as the best opportunity to gather the accumulation of merit. Water flows downhill and not uphill, and similarly with merit. When you are in a low place or a bad situation, you have more opportunities to gather merit. 

The Karmapa then gave analogies:

When you make an investment, later the value will grow exponentially. These days you have bitcoin and other electronic currencies. It used to be cheap but now a single unit of bitcoin is worth tens of thousands of dollars. Likewise, during the worst times of our lives, we experience terrible physical and mental suffering, but through that suffering we can enhance or improve our practice. 

Think about the mani mantras we recite when we meditate on Chenrezig during the normal times when we are healthy, and then think about the manis we recite when we have illness and suffering. The manis recited are the same, but the feelings behind them are different. In a crisis, your state of mind is different, your focus brings especially intense prayers and wishes. You supplicate more fervently: your state of mind is not like your ordinary state of mind. The manis are the same, but your state of mind is different. The beneficial power and results are also different and not the same. When we experience suffering, we should not be oppressed by it. If we continue our practice, we can improve, like a bird taking flight.

When we have headaches, stomach aches, and body pains, we cannot focus well, are unable to recite mantras, and unable to recite prayers and aspirations. But if we compare this to the time of death, the terrifying, pitch-black darkness that awaits us, the pain and fear of dying, then we see our present sufferings can hardly be considered suffering. When we encounter suffering or misfortune, or when things do not go as we wish, these situations are like preparations and training for facing the suffering of death. 

When we recognize that all hardship and suffering are opportunities to practice and to train our mind, then our practice improves amidst our torments and sufferings. If you can endure hardships, you can move forward. These events are like the hurricanes and tornadoes in our lives that can make our thinking broader, clearer, and more focused in the long term. Only then can we improve ourselves and become wiser. When we think like this, it is good.

One of Jamgön Lodro Thaye Rinpoche’s writings, probably a quotation from Jangchentse Wangpo, says: “The most significant events of our lives are birth and death, and everything else is not important.” 

And just as he said, when we experience misfortune, defeats, and highs and lows, the amount of difficulty we have in that situation depends on the level of our own mind, our state of thinking. If you build a stone wall, if an ant sees it and wants to cross it, it will see it as high as a mountain, the same as us climbing a mountain. But a dog will see the wall as something to jump over with a bit of effort.

When there are ups and downs in our lives, some people lose hope, they give up, seeing them as insurmountable hardships. But other people see those hardships like the dog sees the wall. They do not see hardships as great difficulties. They put effort into overcoming the obstacles. These people do not see difficulties as obstacles or as bad, but like a stone staircase that might allow their lives to be better. If you can get on top of the wall, you can look around and see things in perspective. The hardships seem like methods for improving themselves or are the circumstances that allow them to improve themselves. The hardships are an opportunity for us to increase the breadth of our mind and the level of our abilities. 

When you use a good knife, it becomes sharper, but left unused, there is the danger it will corrode. Similarly, the previous great beings did not achieve accomplishments because they had some ability that we do not. They did not have some special power. The great beings of the past disregarded hardship. No matter how difficult the hardship, they were able to surpass them, gain victory over the māras, and achieve realization. The greatest difference between us and the great masters of the past is whether we have the courage and confidence. The great masters had the courage and confidence to overcome the difficulties. 

When we hear stories of the great masters of the past, heroes like Ling Gesar, they seem to have had great power, courage, and persistence. No matter how many battles they fought, they always won. We think, if only I could be like that. 

This shows the difference in their thinking from ours when faced with difficulties and enemies: if there were no difficulties, there would be no persistence; if there were no enemies, there would be no victory in battle. We think of the great beings and heroes as being incredible. They triumphed over hardships, enemies, and māras. They were never discouraged or hung their heads or tried to appease anyone. There were no words like “procrastination” and “depression,” let alone avoidance and appeasement. No matter what hardship or danger occurred, they were able to transform it into achieving results and improving themselves. That is what distinguishes ordinary and great people and is very important to understand.

When you think about the previous incarnations of the Karmapa, some people might think it was impossible that a Karmapa could have misfortune and suffering, but the actual situation was the opposite. Other than in a pure realm like Sukhavati, there is no place in the world where there is no suffering and hardship. Especially in this world, in such a time when the five degenerations are rampant, someone who thinks they might spread the Dharma will have innumerable obstacles from the māras and attackers. A quotation by the Buddha says, “The obstacles are much more plentiful than the Dharma that is so rare.” The attackers and obstacles are like rain, so you must face up to many hundreds of dangers and sufferings. It is like being in a battlefield surrounded by thousands of enemy soldiers. There is no escape; you need to do what you can to get out, even if it means taking a path that sheds blood to escape. You are surrounded by the māras and the obstacles. That is the reason bodhisattvas are called heroes, the word sattva can be understood to mean a hero or warrior. If there were no hardships or obstacles, there would be no need for courage, there would be no reason for bodhisattvas to have heroic minds. 

Likewise, the hardships that each of the Karmapas encountered were different in degree and form and in the way they appeared. In the future, if I have an opportunity, I would like to speak about that. 

During their entire lifetimes, the Karmapas endured hardship and loss, but they have left us a treasury filled with light and jewels, taking the suffering onto themselves. There is a saying in the world, “The greater your skills, the greater your responsibility. The greater the responsibility, the greater the pressure.” The various incarnations of the Karmapa knew how much pressure they were under, and how great a responsibility they bore. 

Since we do not carry the same responsibility, we do not know the difficulties they had and the pressure they were under. What we can know is that they had such great responsibility and were under great pressure, yet they were never afraid or discouraged, never tried to avoid hardship. They transformed all the hardships and difficulties into conditions to improve themselves and grow, and with great courage they faced these hardships, gathered the accumulations, and brought benefit to others. 

It is important for us to learn from them. There is no point in complaining about our suffering. For most of our lives, things will not go as we want, because the nature of life is suffering. In the future when something goes wrong, we should immediately think, “I have had this difficulty, the difficulty did happen, if there was some way to prevent it but it did happen, so I just got an opportunity to practice and accumulate merit.” In the very least, even if we face great dangers every day of our life, we can use them as conditions for improving and advancing ourselves. The degree to which we can face hardship and keep moving forward and not give up no matter how much loss we have in life, this is the amount that will make us grow stronger and more courageous. As a result, we will not get discouraged or lazy, much less give up. We need to see how we can transform difficulties and hardships into circumstances as aids to the Dharma and to improve ourselves. Here the Karmapa concluded the discussion of the third point.

The Nineteenth Good Deed: Taking hostility as the path (v. 19)

Although I couldn’t bear it, I did not scorn
Suffering sentient beings for being vile.
The faults and obscurations are their nature.
Knowing this made it even less tolerable. 
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (19)

There is a saying in the Fine Explanations of the Sakya by Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen:

Exalted beings are brought more harm
By their retinues than their enemies. 
Aside from the parasites in its body,
What other beast could eat a lion? 

The main point here is that when you talk about a great being, a great person, or a great lama, more of the harm comes not from their enemies, but from their retinues, their students, and their attendants. The people who harm them the most are those who serve them. The line, “Aside from the parasites in its body,” means no other living being would dare harm a lion, but all the parasites living on its body can harm the lion. This is what it is like. It also says in the sūtras of the Buddha:

The Buddhadharma cannot be harmed 
by any outside people or any outside religions, 
but who can harm the Buddha’s teachings?
They are the people who say they uphold 
the Buddha’s teachings and that they are Buddhist, 
these are the people who can harm the Buddha’s teachings.

For that reason, when you think, how will the Buddha’s teachings be destroyed? The Buddha prophesied, “In the future, my teachings will be destroyed when the people who uphold the teachings, the people who say they are Buddhists, the monks and nuns argue and dispute each other and say, ‘I’m in accord with the Dharma and they’re not.’ They will always be disputing each other, and disagreements cause a schism and will destroy the teachings.” The main point is that the teachings of the Buddha Śākyamuni are weakened by internal disputes. The teachings of Buddha Kaśyapa were destroyed by the laziness of the bhikṣus and brought the teachings of Kaśyapa to disappear. The greatest harm came not from outside but from the inside, from the students who said they held the Buddha’s teachings.

When thinking about Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, he treated people with unbounded kindness and love, but many people did not appreciate his kindness and began to harm him. Not only did Mikyö Dorje not respond to harm by causing harm, but he continued to treat them with great love. He cared for these people greatly both with dharma and materially, but in the end, they would say, “He wasn’t kind to us at all.” They would not say anything good about him. But for ordinary people that was understandable.

But some people, geshes or scholars, would come to Mikyö Dorje giving material gifts without reserve. In terms of the Dharma, he fulfilled all the wishes they had, but later he taught something that didn’t quite satisfy their hopes and wishes, so they would criticize, scold, and abuse him, thinking, “The Karmapa did not treat me compassionately, he didn’t think I was important, so I’m going back to my homeland to do a scholar’s work, one day I’ll become a well-known scholar, he’ll see.” Not only did they not repay his kindness, but they behaved badly and thought of him as even worse.

But Mikyö Dorje did not get angry. He did not have the slightest wavering or change in the way he thought about them, he was still relaxed, spoke in a carefree way, and looked upon them kindly. He still gave them whatever things were appropriate. By acting in this way, he was able to tame the mind streams of those who had a bit of merit, and they became more receptive to the Dharma. For some people though, no matter how much he tried—he saw that nothing he did would be of any benefit—still, even for those with no fortune and no merit, he never gave up on them, protecting them compassionately. He always prayed for them; he still brought them benefit. He never gave up on them. 

The Karmapa announced the break and after reconvening he continued: 

Karmapa Mikyö Dorje always responded to harm by bringing benefit, he saw enemies as friends, and never had bias toward another school. He was never stingy and always he gave away things without reserve. He never had attachment to friends or aversion to enemies. He never kept things, giving them away without any reserve, and was never attached or averse to help or harm. Some people said he was mercurial—that he was without stability, easily swayed, and gullible—that he had a limited way of thinking, no matter what he did, he was always too extreme, he did not know how to practice for the proper occasion or time. They would say, yes, he was a lama but, in worldly terms, he was shunned in society. But even with the people who disparaged him this way, Mikyö Dorje never blamed them and never looked open them badly. He said, it was one way of looking at him. The reason why Mikyö Dorje was never ruffled with others’ bad behavior was probably because he did not have such high hopes for ordinary individuals, so he never felt really offended by them. How do we know this? His attendant, Sangye Paldrup, witnessed this himself.

Sometimes when students came to see Mikyö Dorje, they were not able to say things the way they wanted to, fearing they would offend him or cause him to worry. Mikyö Dorje always said to those people, “There’s no need to worry about me getting embarrassed. I don’t get embarrassed. I don’t get upset. I don’t feel problems about it. These are ordinary individuals, so they cannot transcend that nature of being ordinary individuals. It is as said in the Way of the Bodhisattva, ‘Unruly beings are as vast as the sky’.” 

He understood why sentient were untamed, uncouth, and bad people, so Mikyö Dorje never could see sentient beings badly. In the Maitreya Aspiration, Maitreya said, “The Buddha never vilifies beings whose minds are stained.”  

When buddhas and bodhisattvas saw beings do terrible things, obscured and controlled by their karma and obscurations, even when these beings did terrible things, the buddhas and bodhisattvas never got embarrassed or thought these beings were bad. Mikyö Dorje felt the same way. Until people could abandon their natures and continued to harm him, or repaid his kindness inappropriately, he did not feel particularly upset. Sangye Paldrup heard him say this.

Then the Karmapa returned to summarizing the main point of the nineteenth stanza: 

Taking Hostility as the Path: When people harm you or have a grudge or resent you, how should we see them and what methods should we use? 

This main point contains the following:

1. Think about it in terms of the eight worldly concerns: 

(a) There are people who harm and threaten us. When we think about them, even if we had no connection to them before, or they are people whom we have treated kindly but then they harm us pointlessly, or intentionally harm us, at that point what should we do? 

(b) When other people insult and criticize us, what should we do?

The Karmapa explained (a):

When someone intentionally tries to harm us, the way we need to think is that we can probably guess what type of karmic ripening they will experience in the future. If we think in terms of karmic cause and effect, if they return our kindness with harm, they will experience a bad result. If we have that understanding—they will experience an unbearable and terrible result because they are controlled by their strong afflictions—when they fall into that state, we should feel great compassion. 

From another angle, when someone causes us harm, most people get angry or have mental suffering. Most people think, they insulted me, blamed me, mentally injured me, so we get angry and get upset. But how is it that we are harmed, how are we injured? 

There are basically four types of injuries. (1) Losing something or someone we treasure; (2) Someone lists our faults and criticizes us; (3) Causing physical or mental pain or discomfort; and (4) Giving scorn and insult. 

When we look at the eight worldly concerns, these four injuries fit in exactly. There are the four positive dharmas and the four negative dharmas. The injuries are basically the same as the four negative dharmas and can be included in these four concerns. 

These concerns ultimately come down to our own attachment. If we do not get delighted or upset about things, it immediately affects our mind. 

Taking the first of the four dharmas: losing or not getting what you want in terms of something or someone; and second one: losing what you already possess—these bring mental suffering and consist of two different parts. 

In terms of losing or not getting things, or being separated from someone you love, we have mental suffering. What do you do during these times? 

If we lose our wallet and money or possessions or suffer a financial loss, consider this as the practice of generosity. If you can think in that way, it is good. This is because generosity is when we give someone something we would not ordinarily be able to give, something that is precious to us and that we are reluctant to give. We should think, “If I don’t have this, I will miss it, but this poor person has nothing so I will give it away.” 

Giving someone something we do not need or have no use for is like getting rid of old things—it cannot really be called generosity. We should give others whatever things we treasure and cherish. If we give up something we will miss, that is the practice of generosity. As said in the Way of the Bodhisattva, “Generosity is the wish to give.” Generosity is the antidote to stinginess. Also, if we are able, we should not think about the person who took it, we should have a benevolent attitude—may they receive some benefit and may they never have any bad result—that is extremely beneficial. That is the practice of the bodhisattvas.

Your initial thought that you have lost something dissolves, and it becomes the thought that you have made a gift. This becomes a cause for gathering merit. It is like the saying: the stone that kills two birds, one method accomplishes two great purposes. 

Second, if there are people you love or who are close to you, and they harm you by leaving or betraying you, how should you think? We have to think about this carefully.

The Karmapa said to consider this in terms of yourself. If the person you love has discovered that you left or betrayed them, the person who really believes in you would still believe in you, even when the situation occurred. No matter how much someone else would try to split you from your beloved or slander you, the person who loves you would still believe in you and would not leave you. It is like a loving mother: there are only a few people who will be behind you in your life. Many people might say they are your friends, but if you are in a bad situation, only a few people will back you up. When you are in difficult situations, only a few people will believe in you. 

We can look at the stories of the great beings, who were slandered or set up for people to suspect them. Devadatta made false accusations and even tried to kill the Buddha Bhagavān. Also, many non-Buddhists became jealous, slandering and creating suspicions to make others doubt the Buddha, even trying to kill the Buddha. But great beings do not get unhappy, have resentment, or think of revenge against those who have betrayed them. In place of that, they meditate on sympathy and compassion for the person wanting to cause harm. 

For example, a loving mother whose child becomes a teenager. The child stops listening to the parents, then stops coming home. The mother still loves her child regardless of what the child does. She does not feel distanced from her child but rather feels more responsibility for them. There is no reason to feel upset or grieve over someone who has abandoned us. That person will gradually change over time, and one day that person may possibly understand and think about what happened. 

First, as a dharma practitioner, it is not correct to expect those we treat well to return that respect.  If you have been treating someone well thinking  there will be a beneficial outcome, when it does not happen, it will cause a lot of pain. 

Second, bodhisattvas need to work for the sake of sentient beings. They need to benefit sentient beings: both good and bad. They have to work for the sake of bad people too. It would be unrealistic to expect a good return from someone of bad character. If you did,  you might feel discouraged when they treated you badly. 

There is a story from the Mahāyana—not the foundation vehicle—where during one lifetime Śāriputra did rouse bodhicitta to achieve buddhahood. He made the resolve to bring all sentient beings to buddhahood and practiced in tis way. But one day a māra came and thought, “I need to make an obstacle and change into a brahman to cause a problem.” 

Then the māra said, “Please give me your hand.” 

Śāriputra immediately cut off his right hand and gave the hand with his left hand. 

When he did this, the māra said, “You just gave this to me with your left hand! This is disrespectful!” It was considered disrespectful because in India, the left hand is used for cleaning when going to the toilet. 

It was at that point that Śāriputra said, “If it's this difficult to benefit a single sentient being, there is no way I can benefit all sentient beings!” This was how Śāriputra gave up on sentient beings and lost his bodhicitta. 

This is the general idea of this story. When a bodhisattva is working for all sentient beings, the biggest obstacle is expecting something in return. Expectation becomes an obstacle to enlightenment. From the perspective of a dharma practitioner, especially one practicing bodhicitta, you need to accept all sentient beings with loving kindness and compassion, and treat them all with equanimity. You must understand that includes not only the ones who treat you well, but also the ones who oppose and harm you. 

Think about and understand what causes beings to behave the way they do, and do not have calculating thoughts about them. Treasure and love them, just as a loving mother will care for her children with love. That shows we have loving kindness and compassion. If we do not, if something does not quite match our wishes, does the person become a hostile enemy? Is that how it is? When something does not happen as you like and you get upset, if someone does not do what you want, do you treat them as an enemy? That is the loving kindness that is attached to your own selfish interest, only to your own needs. It is not the loving kindness of only thinking of other sentient beings’ needs. 

Then the Karmapa discussed: (b) when other people insult and criticize us, what should we do?

In the Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshe Langri Thangpa, the great Kadampa master said:

When others out of jealousy, scold, insult, 
and treat me in other unreasonable ways,
may I take such defeat upon myself 
and offer the victory to others.

When someone else, out of jealousy, criticizes, scolds, or insults you, and does other inappropriate wrongs, you take the defeat upon yourself and give the victory and benefit to others. When other people are verbally insulting and criticizing us, what we need to think is: the person who insults us has the fires of hatred and winds of jealousy blowing in their minds, because they have less merit or such strong afflictions or because they say various harmful things verbally. 

If we think carefully, it is because they do not have any control over themselves; the afflictions are stronger than they are. They are controlled by the afflictions. It is like someone who beats us with a stick. We don’t get angry at the stick —someone uses it to beat us, but the stick doesn’t beat us on its own. When others disparage, criticize, or insult us, from one angle, it happens because of a fault of our own, the other person turns up the volume and makes it big. Ultimately, it is our attachment that makes the fault become very big. 

We need to use that opportunity to turn our attention inward and examine ourselves well. Ordinarily people cannot see clearly what their own thoughts are. Although you see others with your eyes, you can only see yourself with a mirror. We have two eyes to see other people but to see our own face, we don’t have eyes to see our own face, we need a mirror. Such is the case with our own faults. Otherwise, we only see other people’s faults. We are always looking outward, and because of that, it seems that all the mistakes are made by other people, and we don’t see our own mistakes. 

The great beings think the opposite of that. They say, “All the faults are my own, all the qualities are someone else’s.” Geshe Langri Thangpa said, “No matter how many texts I read, I only see one point, and that point is, ‘All the faults are mine, and all the qualities are sentient beings. No matter what book, I don’t see any other critical point but that.” 

The old Kagyu forefathers said, “Whether we know how to take up good deeds and give up bad deeds in karmic cause and effect, it comes from seeing your own qualities and others’ qualities. Only when we can see our own faults will we able to properly do what we should do. If you are not able to see that, when you are mistaken you can’t give something up, this is an important point to understand.

When others criticize us, we should think that it is through others’ kindness that I am able to see my faults. I can find a way to correct and improve myself. If we think we are completely innocent when we have received accusations—at this point, we may think we have done nothing—but in the past lifetime, we did something wrong. By looking at karmic cause and effect, when we think we are getting wrong accusations, we should think of the accusations as karma from the past lives. 

When other people criticize us, we should know fix these faults and not to let them happen. We should be peaceful, measured, relaxed, and examine ourselves well. If we can correct ourselves, we can become a new person. 

At this point the Karmapa said he would tell a story. He had not been able to discuss every the four dharmas, he had only been able to describe two, but said he would talk about the remaining two the following day. 

He began to tell a story of Milarepa: 

In Tibet, everyone recognized Milarepa as an example of a Dharma practitioner. All dharma legends accept this. But even for a practitioner like Milarepa, people tried to harm him. When he passed away, he was given poison and died. But who gave it to him?

There are different explanations. As taught in the Liberation Story of Milarepa by Tsangnyon Heruka, he said that there was a Kadampa Geshe Tsagpuwa who poisoned him. 

The oldest stories were by Milarepa’s closest eight disciples. 

In the liberation story by Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, in his Black Treasury, it said that Geshe Tsagpuwa was not the poisoner. 

In the area of Nyanga and Ting, there was a bönpo, or shaman, named Tingtön Jangbar. His income depended on his work as a shaman, giving treatments to the locals for illness and warding off famines. When Milarepa stayed in that region, the blessings of Milarepa resulted in very few famines and epidemics. The bönpo then lost his income, no one invited him to come, and he had nothing to do. Milarepa was the cause, so the bönpo tried to murder Milarepa by offering him poison. Although he tried repeatedly, Milarepa would not accept the poison. 

One day Tingtön Jangbar met a leper woman. She had a very difficult life, so he said he would give her a turquoise if she would offer yogurt to Milarepa. At that time in Tibet, turquoise was very valuable as Tibetans traded turquoise for gold when they went to India, so she agreed. 

The bönpo said, “I will give you this turquoise, but beforehand you must give this yogurt to Milarepa.” Without her knowing this, the shaman put poison into the yogurt. The woman took the yogurt and  went to Milarepa. Milarepa looked at her, opened his eyes wide, and said, “Oh… I will eat this so you can get the turquoise.” and he ate the yogurt. 

After eating it, he said, “Poor thing, you are in such a terrible state. I am a yogi who has abandoned ego-clinging, so you will have no misdeed or ripening. But it is not right for you to use this cup.” He washed the bowl before giving it back to her.

Milarepa got very sick and all his students, the repas, wept. But Milarepa looked in the sky and sang a song. The main point of the song was, “May all illness, spirits, misdeeds and obscurations be like jewelry for a yogi, may they be more valuable for us, and may they be the situation for us to improve.” He prayed for the bönpo to be freed from his evil intentions and the woman to be freed from all her problems. None of the repas knew he had been poisoned. They did not know the bönpo had poisoned him and Milarepa did not tell them. 

That night, the bönpo was punished by the dakinis and died. To purify the bönpo’s misdeeds, Milarepa sang a song:

The poor bönpo! He died before me. He thought I would kill him, but he died first, a very bad situation. May all my virtue and happiness and the virtue in the three times purify the bönpo’s misdeeds. May I take on all his suffering and purify him of it. In all times and all situations, may he meet virtuous friends, and may he always be parted from negative friends, may he always meet virtuous beings. May he rouse bodhichitta for all beings.

Then one of his students, Drigom Repa, asked Milarepa why he had made the prayer for the bönpo. Milarepa replied, “That bönpo killed a lama in the past and so is going to hell. He also poisoned me.” 

Whether this was about the killing of a lama in the past or Milarepa himself, Drigom Rinpoche asked, “If you knew he was giving poison, why did you take it?”

Milarepa said, “I took it and prayed, thinking maybe it would liberate him.” 

Drigom Rinpoche asked, “Is it possible it would liberate him?” 

Milarepa said, “It probably is.”

From Milarepa’s own perspective, whether he had been poisoned or not, when it came to the time of passing away, it made no difference, so he drank the poison knowingly. 

The Karmapa concluded: 

When I think about this, even when other people have an evil intention towards you and harm you, Milarepa would do whatever he could to help, not only to bring temporary benefit but the ultimate benefit. This is the kind of great good deed that Milarepa did. These are things we all need to study and learn for ourselves. So that is enough for today. Now we will have the dedication prayers.

Dedication prayers were made. 

Day 10: Authentic Dharma Practice

Day 10: Authentic Dharma Practice

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

April 9, 2022 

The Karmapa continued his discussion of the second part of the passage about meditating on relative bodhichitta according to Sangye Paldrup's commentary:  Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation. This section has ten sub-topics and today's teaching began with the eighth sub-topic: Taking things going well or badly as the path. 

Infinite are the kinds of barbaric beings.
When things go well, since things are going well,
They're ignorant of the means for liberation.
When things go badly, since things are going badly,
They're ignorant of the means for liberation.
I could not bear the thought of their deluded acts.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (18)

During Mikyö Dorje's lifetime, the Karmapa explained, most people were uneducated. They hadn't been trained how to think. Their mindstreams were untamed and they were rough and often incorrigible, so it was difficult to change them. They included some "people who upheld, protected, and spread the teachings", people in whom others placed their hopes,  some of whom "were given lofty names". When things went well for them and their group, they had everything they needed and weren't concerned that there were few monks in the monasteries. Their work for their monasteries kept them busy day and night and acted as a distraction. Consequently, their characters became intractable and rigid, so it was extremely difficult for them to mix their mindstreams with the dharma. 

When things went badly for them and their group, they did everything they could to restore what they had lost. They were so distracted by their thoughts and busyness that they had no time to think about the means to achieve liberation and omniscience, nor were there many people who knew the path to liberation. When people had leisure time, they would relax and enjoy the pleasures of food, drink, sleep, and lolling about—very few thought about practising the dharma. 

When people came to see him, Mikyö Dorje would invariably ask questions in great detail about how old they were and what they had been doing. He grew immensely concerned when it seemed from their replies that they were wasting their lives. He would speak to them very directly with words that hit the mark. The Karmapa gave an example. Mikyö Dorje would ask, "Do you smell the scent of rot in your nose or mouth?" The students would be surprised and reply that they did not. Mikyö Dorje would say, "That’s really amazing! Everything inside you has rotted, and you don’t even smell it. That’s really strange.” He was pointing out to them very clearly that they had wasted the facilities of their human life.

Many people would come to ask for dharma teachings. He would admonish them:

Years, months, and days have gone by already. You are getting closer and closer to death. Likewise, this body, composed of the four elements, is changing. You used to be youthful, but now you are getting old and bent. Your close friends haven’t been of much help, other than fooling you, and up until now, you’ve only been focused on this lifetime. You haven’t thought about your future lives. You have come under the control of these negative friends who won’t bring you to the way of virtue. You have been distracted and deceived by temporary needs. Even if you only have a little wealth, you become really attached to it, and this prevents you from working for the benefit of others. Even when you’re practising dharma, you’re unable to stand; it’s as if you have lost all your control to the Maras. 

It was as if these people were trapped in quicksand; their dharma practice was questionable and they were under the control of their sponsors, the Karmapa commented. They might have accumulated some merit previously, but now they were losing it, and though they might be called “dharma practitioners” or “renunciates”, this was actually not true.

There are three main aspects to the eighteenth good deed:

  1. The understanding and way of thinking necessary for practice.
  2. What practising dharma really means.
  3. The best opportunities for practice are when things are going well or badly.

1. The understanding and way of thinking necessary for practice. 

Many people continue to think that practice means reciting prayers, offering pujas, reciting mantras, life releases, and so forth. Moreover, people often believe that practice only happens in the shrine room or sitting in front of the household shrine. Of course, the Karmapa clarified, reciting prayers, pujas and life release are part of dharma practice, but if you think that they are the sum of dharma practice, you have misunderstood. Practising the dharma goes much deeper and should not be confused with the external appearances of practice. While you are reciting prayers, your mind can be elsewhere and you might be harbouring a myriad of thoughts. Truly practising dharma is far more profound.

Some people think of dharma practice as a high-level activity and approach it as if it were similar to work, demanding application and meticulousness. Others believe that dharma practice is boring and have little interest in it. Some see practising dharma as very complicated and difficult activity that can be both challenging and boring, like having to read an old, historical document, so it’s difficult to be enthusiastic. Alternatively, they think it’s like studying mathematics which can be extremely demanding, so you have to work really hard and think hard—you have to meditate and focus on complicated visualisations. All these misconceptions put many people off practising dharma.

Then there are some people who say they want to practice the dharma but they need perfect conditions in order to practice. They need to feel comfortable; it mustn’t be too hot, like in India sometimes, or too cold. However, before they can begin, there’s a lot of work to be done. They need to check all their WhatsApp or WeChat messages, and their Facebook, count the number of ‘likes’, and write replies. Then, they must also eat because their stomachs have to be full. Basically, after everything that needs to be done has been done, when they have a little bit of free time, only then do they sit down on their meditation cushion and try to do a little dharma practice. It seems as if they lead really busy lives, when, in fact, they are not doing much of value. Yet, they never have time to practice the dharma.

There are several faults to seeing dharma practice in this way, the Karmapa warned, and illustrated his point with two stories. 

During the later spread of the teachings in Tibet, the one with the greatest activity on behalf of the Buddhadharma and the broadest influence was Jowo Atisha. He had many students, but one in particular was known as Naljorpa Chenpo [Great Yogi]. He was a fully ordained monk and served as Atisha’s attendant. 

Shortly before Atisha died, Naljorpa Chenpo said to him, “After you have passed away, I’m going to practice the dharma just as you have taught. I’m going to dedicate the rest of my life to meditation.” 

Usually, if someone told a lama that they would spend the rest of their life in meditation, you would expect the lama to be happy and commend them, but Atisha didn’t praise him. Instead, Atisha posed this question: “Can your meditating actually become dharma?” 

Naljorpa Chenpo reflected on this: ”If meditation cannot become dharma, then perhaps I should teach others dharma. How would that be?”

Atisha replied, “It’s fine to teach dharma, but will teaching dharma really become dharma?”

Confused, Naljorpa Chenpo asked, “So what is the best thing for me to do? What can I do that would actually become dharma?” 

Atisha told him, “All of you should follow Geshe Tӧnpa as your teacher.” 

This was an extraordinary command because Geshe Tӧnpa  [Dromtӧnpa] was a layperson and only held the lay vows, whereas Naljorpa Chenpo and many of the other students were bhikshus. 

Atisha gave him a second piece of advice, “You have to give up on this life.” 

This is the crux of whether what you are doing is dharma practice or not: if you haven’t given up on this life, nothing you do will become dharma. If you put this life out of your mind, whatever you do becomes dharma.

The second story concerned Dromtӧnpa. 

After Atisha died, Dromtӧnpa went to the Reting Tsampo Valley north of Lhasa, where he founded Reting monastery, the monastery which became the seat of the Kadampa tradition.

A certain monk came to stay at Reting. Each day this monk would perform the longer more-demanding outer circumambulation of the monastery. One day, while he was performing his circumambulations, Dromtӧnpa came outside and met the monk.

“It’s very good that you are circumambulating,” said Dromtӧnpa, “but would it not be better if you actually practised the dharma?” This seems a very strange thing to say, because many people viewcircumambulation around a sacred place as dharma practice.

The monk pondered Dromtӧnpa’s comment and decided that prostration must be better and more beneficialthan circumambulation. So, he found a spot within the monastery and began prostrating all day long. “Like we do when we complete the 100,000 prostrations in the ngӧndro,” the Karmapa added. Then, one day, Dromtӧnpa came by while the monk was prostrating. “It’s very good that you are prostrating,” said Dromtӧnpa, “but would it not be better if you actually practised the dharma?”

The monk was very puzzled. If prostration wasn’t dharma practice, what should he do instead that was dharma practice? He decided that it must be better to study the great sacred texts, so he went to the monastery library and began reading the Kangyur and Tengyur. Then, one day, Dromtӧnpa came by and saw the monk sitting there reading. “It’s very good that you are reading the sacred texts, said Dromtӧnpa, ”but would it not be better if you actually practised the dharma?”

By now, the monk was totally confused. Circumambulation wasn’t dharma practice. Prostrating wasn’t dharma practice. Reading the sacred texts wasn’t dharma practice. He decided that the best dharma practice must be meditation, so he began to meditate, hoping that Dromtӧnpa would now commend his dharma practice.

And finally, one day, Dromtӧnpa passed by while the monk was meditating.

“It’s very good that you are meditating,” he said, “but would it not be better to actually practise the dharma?”

By this point, the monk had no idea what he was supposed to do. He had done everything he considered to be dharma practice, yet Dromtӧnpa had said categorically that they weren’t dharma practice. The monk begged Dromtӧnpa, “Please tell me what dharma practice I should do.” And Dromtӧnpa replied, “You need to put this life out of your mind. Put this life out of your mind. Put this life out of your mind.”  He repeated it three times.

External forms are not dharma practice. The important thing is your state of mind. If your way of thinking is correct, no matter what you do, everything can become dharma practice. If your state of mind is not correct, though there might be the external appearance of dharma practice, it is not dharma. The question is whether your practice is transformative, whether it can transform your mind, and whether it can benefit your mind or not. Judging by the external appearance can be misleading. Someone chanting manis seemingly with devotion could be wishing harm on others in their minds.

A significant fault arising from a mistaken view of dharma practice is that it minimalises dharma practice. When your life is going well, when you are enjoying life, you won’t have much wish to practice. The converse is also true. When things are going badly, when you have great physical or mental suffering or great sorrow, you do not want to practice dharma, and you may seek out other ways to alleviate your pain such as drugs and alcohol. It’s difficult to remember to practise dharma or even to find the energy to practise dharma in these situations.

Sometimes, people finding themselves in a hopeless or desperate situation, when there is nothing they can do, remember that they should pray to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. As the Chinese saying goes, “When there’s nothing to be done, you cling to the Buddha’s feet.” Normally they don’t remember the buddhas but now they recite mantras, pray, and hope that the buddhas will grant their power and blessing to remove their difficulties. When their backs are up against the wall, they will resort to anything —divinations, astrology, or the like. They search the Internet or look for books that might help, and they read what the Buddha said, looking for comfort in his words. It’s as if they are using the Buddha’s words as “chicken soup for the soul”: something that will give them relief in times of suffering. 

Then, one day, life gets a little better and they are no longer suffering so much. Now they have a little time and leisure to practise dharma but it’s not certain that they will. If they do decide to start practising dharma, they will often find excuses to delay: “It’s best to begin on an astrologically auspicious day”, or “Today I’m a little tired; I’ll rest a bit; I can start tomorrow.”  They find so many excuses for postponing that in the end they never practise. 

There is a famous ancient Chinese poem that says: 

There’s a tomorrow after tomorrow:
There’s never an end to tomorrows. 
If you say “tomorrow” and wait,
All your actions will fail. 

If you postpone things until tomorrow, you will never accomplish anything.

2. What “practising dharma” really means.

Having explored what genuine dharma practice is not, the Karmapa now discussed what dharma practice actually should be.

The first thing we have to understand is that dharma practice is not just a cure-all to make yourself feel better, he explained. The buddhas and bodhisattvas are not like first responders or paramedics giving treatment in a medical emergency. Nor does practising dharma mean performing rituals and traditions. Nor is it a duty that you are obliged to do without any choice. And it’s not like travellers in old Tibet who would happily sing folk songs along the road on the plains until they reached a dangerous route over a pass. They would immediately begin to chant prayers to Guru Rinpoche for protection. 

If you really and truly want to practice dharma, you first have to understand what we actually mean by “practising dharma” —what the way is to practise dharma.

His Holiness said that he had already spoken about this at length previously so there was no need to say much more. 

The main point you need to know is that practising dharma is not something you do in the shrine room or sitting on a meditation cushion. That’s not how you should think. Practice should be understood as something to be done all the time, day and night, twenty-four hours a day. It should be something which is able to change and improve your mind. That’s what we mean by practice.

The first step is to identify the reasons we need to go for refuge and become a dharma practitioner. Across the Himalayas, many people grow up in a Buddhist cultural environment, so they never ask such questions; they simply follow the family tradition, but we need to consider the reason for ourselves. Although everyone has their own particular reasons why they need to enter the gate of dharma and go for refuge, we should all share a primary aim—to take Lord Shakyamuni Buddha as an example and have the intention, “Someday may I become someone like him who has realised the true nature.”  That should be the greatest hope for all of us. In order to accomplish this aim, we need to become an even better person than we were before, and then, gradually, become a good dharma practitioner. Then we need to become a bodhisattva and finally a buddha. 

The true dharma is the method by which we can become someone who can better help ourselves and others. That is why we need to study the true dharma and then put it into practice. If we do this, we will naturally become a better person and we won’t be so foolish either. We will know how to think and use our intelligence. Why? Because the Bhagawan Buddha possessed the prajna that realised the true nature and he taught the true dharma on that basis. Because he had that experience, he was able to teach the true dharma. If we are able to study the dharma and put it into practice correctly and assiduously, we will definitely  achieve a good result, without any doubt. We can become happier and more content. 

The main point, however, is that everything depends upon mind. We have to be in control of our minds; we have to take ownership of our minds. There’s no point just going through the external appearances of dharma practice. Nor should dharma practice be rigid and intractable. It should be flexible and open to change according to the time and situation. Similarly, it should be connected to our daily life and the nature of the world in which we live. The dharma can bring us infinite benefits, like a treasure chest that is never empty no matter how many jewels you take.

3. The best opportunities for practice are when things are going well or badly

No matter who we are, life sometimes goes well and sometimes goes badly. It is constantly changing. Within a single day even, we might feel depressed in the morning, but by the evening we are happy. 

At times such as when someone wins the lottery or gains promotion to a powerful position, they might become arrogant, as the Tibetan saying goes—"The sky is their scarf and the clouds are their headband”. They become very proud and look down on everyone. Or else their greed increases, or they lose any caution and self-control. Many such problems can occur. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you want to test a person’s character, give them power.” When a person’s power increases, their true character is revealed and their faults begin to show. 

But from the perspective of someone who practices dharma, it is said that when things are going well, it is an excellent opportunity to practise the dharma. The more external wealth and connections you have, the more opportunities you have to be generous. You can also be generous with the dharma. For example, during Ashoka’s reign in ancient India, he used the power of being a great emperor to spread the dharma throughout all of India, neighbouring countries, and even as far away as Greece. He used his position, power, and fame to be very generous with the dharma. We are not like Ashoka, but we can use our power, wealth and influence in our monasteries and communities to prepare plans and methods for helping people and creating benefit.

To think about it in terms of the mind, when we gain status, wealth, and so forth, we need to turn our attention inwards and examine ourselves even more closely than we did before because of the danger that we might develop new faults. Are we getting prouder? More arrogant? Careless? Do we want even higher status or more power? Is our greed for wealth increasing? In brief, the time when everything is going well also affords the best opportunity for close scrutiny of ourselves. 

Here, “Things going well” does not only mean becoming powerful or wealthy. Ordinary people never have much power or wealth. However, when our lives are going well and we feel happy and are enjoying ourselves, we should not neglect our dharma practice out of carelessness or laziness. 

How then should we practice dharma? His Holiness advised that it is critical at such times to contemplate impermanence. We should not be deceived by our happiness and excitement, because one day the situation will change and we may lose that happiness. If we are not mentally prepared for such a time, it will be as if heaven and earth are turned upside down and we won’t know what to do. 

The coronavirus pandemic is a good example of this. Because of the pandemic, many people in the developed Western world, who were leading very comfortable lives, were faced with previously inconceivable difficulties. How hard has it been even to get them to wear a mask? In the Asian world, the habit of wearing masks was already established, but in the West some people became quite upset about it. We were completely unprepared mentally for the coronavirus pandemic because we had not taken on board the dharma teaching that everything is impermanent and subject to change. 

The Karmapa clarified he was not saying that we shouldn’t have happiness or enjoyment.  Rather, it is essential to maintain mindfulness and awareness at all times. We must not let ourselves think that these times of pleasure and happiness will continue permanently and unchanged; otherwise, if they change suddenly and we encounter unforeseen difficulties, we will not be prepared and it will be a great shock.

In his concluding remarks, the Karmapa briefly mentioned that there were other difficult incidents in the life of the Eighth Karmapa that he hoped to cover. One was a little-known part of Kamtsang history. It concerned the controversy over which of two candidates was the true reincarnation of Mikyӧ Dorje’s principal tutor, the Fourth Shamar Rinpoche, and how Karmapa Mikyӧ Dorje was able to reinstate Kunchok Yenlak as the rightful Fifth Shamar Rinpoche. 

Day 9: Taking Acting Upon Good Intentions as the Path

Day 9: Taking Acting Upon Good Intentions as the Path

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

April 8, 2022

His Holiness began the ninth day of the Arya Kshema Spring teachings with an explanation on the seventeenth good deed from Mikyö Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds.”  

According to the outline from the commentary by the attendant Sangye Paldrup, the passage on meditating on relative bodhicitta has two parts: 

(a) Exchanging oneself for others in meditation 

(b) Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation 

The second part has ten different sub-topics, and we have arrived at the seventh—taking acting upon good intentions as the path.

The stanza reads:

To gain enlightenment to benefit oneself and others,
One must leave self-disparagement, despair,
Anxiety, and weariness far behind
And strengthen one’s unstoppable diligence.
How could I, in this life, let my practice fluctuate?
I think of this as one of my good deeds. 

Returning to Milarepa

Before explaining this stanza, His Holiness elaborated on the story of Milarepa from the previous teaching. He explained that although there are many liberation stories of Milarepa, the most well-known one written by Tsangnyön Heruka, the oldest and one of the best sources is The Twelve Great Students, prepared by twelve of his great disciples. He added that there was also one called the Black Treasury, compiled by the third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. 

When Milarepa passed away, he told his students, “I don’t have many important possessions to give away. Please give this black aloeswood staff, cloth hat, and piece of cloth to the Physician from Dakpo (Gampopa). If Rechungpa arrives on time, please give him these, and if he does not arrive, send him this walking stick and piece of cloth.” The flint and steel that Milarepa had used to light fires was reserved for Drigom Repa, and his tattered pandita hat was for Seben Repa. He also instructed his students to cut the cotton robe that he wore himself into pieces, and to give a bit to each of the repa. 

Milarepa then explained, “These are not of great monetary value, but they will bring each of you siddhis (accomplishments). Now, I do have a little bit of gold that I have saved up. I’ve hidden it in the back wall of my retreat hut, so after I’ve passed away, you should take it out and distribute the gold amongst all of the students.” 

There were various opinions regarding this, Karmapa elaborated. Some suspected that Milarepa must have had a lot of gold. Others exclaimed, “How could Milarepa have gold? He didn’t even have clothes that covered his entire body. Don’t listen to what others say; doing so will just end up in committing misdeeds.” Later on, when the disciples gathered together to look for the gold, they found something wrapped up in cotton fabric. They opened it up and instead of gold, there were three pieces of jaggery [unrefined cane sugar], a letter from Milarepa himself, and a special multipurpose flint that could also be used as a knife, spoon, fork, and awl. 

Karmapa then showed us pictures of a flint and jaggery. He explained that a flint was necessary while traveling, but later became used as an ornament. The lumps of jaggery were of a hemispherical shape, as depicted in the image shown. 

When the students read the letter, it said, “Cut the jaggery with the knife and there will be enough for everyone. Cut this square cloth with the knife and distribute it; the cloth will not run out until there are no more people. There may have been people who said that I, Milarepa, had gold; so stuff their mouths with shit.”

Everyone had been grieving and sorrowful after Milarepa’s passing, but at that moment everyone laughed at the funny joke and felt lighter, pointed out Karmapa. After they finished the rituals for his passing away, all the students and sponsors gathered and divided the jaggery and cloth as instructed. 

“It was really miraculous,” explained Karmapa. “When they cut the pieces of jaggery in half, the two pieces did not get any smaller. They were further split into four, and then into eight, the eight into sixteen, and the sixteen into thirty-two, but they never ran out. There was no end to the sugar. Likewise, when they cut the square of cloth with the knife, the pieces of fabric didn’t get any smaller. Each of them was like a full square of fabric.”

Everyone there got a piece of jaggery and a piece of the fabric. They immediately started to eat the jaggery, as they felt it must have great blessings from Milarepa. No matter how long they ate it, the piece of jaggery never ran out.  People took them back to their homes for their family members, but the pieces never got any smaller. Everyone in Dring and Nyanam, the region where Milarepa passed away, was able to eat the jaggery for a whole year. This became renowned and people exclaimed, “There’s nothing more amazing than these pieces of jaggery!”

There are many other events related to that. Karmapa said, “For a year after Milarepa’s passing, there were always beautiful melodies and rains of flowers coming from the sky on auspicious days at the cremation site. The little boys and girls ran off to catch the flowers, and the ones who caught flowers were chased by those who did not.” 

Even though Milarepa, worse off than most beggars, did not have any possessions of value, he gave the jaggery and fabric as gifts to everyone with whom he was connected. It was like a souvenir, a support for them to remember him by. His Holiness remarked that from this, we can tell how Milarepa was kind and always thinking of other people. “This shows that being a practitioner does not mean having a rigid, inflexible character. Some practitioners are like that, but Milarepa was not,” he explained. 

According to old liberation stories, Milarepa said, “After I pass away, don’t disturb my body for seven days. I will have something to say after that.” His students followed instructions and waited. When it came to the fifth day, some people could not wait and wondered what might have happened, but the disciples would not permit them to take a look. Eventually, they went in on the sixth day, and discovered that Milarepa’s remains had become very tiny, around one cubit in size. 

At that time, many people had different visions; some saw it as Chenrezig, some felt it was a vase. Afterwards, they all thought, “If we leave him alone, there won’t even be any remains left, and we won’t have any relics or other supports for faith to worship.” So everyone decided to cremate the remains. Karmapa expressed that usually relics appear during cremation, but there was nothing left at all—the remains had disappeared, like rainbows. Neither was there the normal smell of burning flesh during the cremation. It seemed like Milarepa intended to not leave any remains or relics, and left the jaggery and fabric as a support for faith. His Holiness believed this is one reason for his leaving those objects. 

When Milarepa said “I have gold,” it showed that he was no different on the outside or the inside. “He did not have any attachment to sensory pleasures, and that was the type of practice he did. After he had passed away, there was nothing to be found. Saying he had gold was a test to see how much belief his students had in him,” explained Karmapa.

Mikyö Dorje’s Genuine Practice 

Returning to the seventeenth of the good deeds, Karmapa explained that the way Mikyö Dorje performed his activities was to give up doing things that were called “practice and study of sutra and tantra” but that in actuality harmed oneself and others. Leading by example, he became a cause for his receptive students to also stop doing non-virtuous or neutral things that outwardly appeared to be virtuous. 

Mikyö Dorje himself also stated very clearly: 

It is best to benefit sentient beings directly. If you cannot, then focus on benefiting sentient beings indirectly, beginning with not harming them. Do whatever you can to teach dharma, contemplate dharma, meditate on dharma, gather monks, sustain monasteries, and build stupas and statues. If you do all that you can, all your intentions and actions will become causes of achieving great enlightenment. If you do not have the thought to focus on the benefit of sentient beings from the beginning, or even if you do but your actions begin to harm sentient beings during the engagement, all your listening, contemplating and meditating on the dharma and seeming accumulation of merit will not be causes of buddhahood. It will not bring you liberation and omniscience, so you need to stop doing them.

Karmapa emphasized that Mikyö Dorje was not attached to things called by the name of dharma and virtue. “He was interested in genuine dharma and practice. When he was listening to and contemplating the sutras and tantras, his meditation practice on those points improved. When he was being assiduous about meditation practice on their meaning, the extent of his knowledge from listening and contemplation also increased. Basically, whatever he was doing worked together to increase his virtue,” he explained. These days, we have a separate monastic college for studying, and a separate section for doing pujas. Karmapa remarked that from another perspective, it is as if one person cannot do both well, so we had to separate the two.

Mikyö Dorje’s time was, in Tibet, a degenerate era; people were very difficult to tame or subdue. When he was keeping discipline, the virtue of generosity increased, and when being generous, the virtue of discipline increased. “They each benefit and contribute to each other; it’s not like you emphasize one and forget about the other,” explained Karmapa. Likewise, when Mikyö Dorje was practicing listening, contemplation, and meditation; giving pratimoksha or bodhisattva vows, empowerments, instructions, reading transmissions; reciting the seven branch prayer or other aspirations—no matter what he was doing, he would not procrastinate. He never felt discouraged and thought “I can’t do this physically or mentally,” but had the confidence and enthusiasm to accomplish them.

His Holiness explained that regardless of how many adversities had occurred, Mikyö Dorje had the patience and equanimity to face and overcome them. He dedicated all he did to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment; these were dedications free of the three spheres, imbued with the realization of emptiness. “Even when he was doing regular things like walking around and lying down, he was never free of the view, meditation, and conduct of great enlightenment. All his actions were focused on the sake of the teachings and sentient beings,” said Karmapa.

No matter what Mikyö Dorje did, whether giving teachings, writing, conversing and joking, drinking tea and eating meals, giving advice, or reciting prayers and meditating in the evenings, he performed them well without letting any of these actions interfere with one another. He made people understand the right and wrong ways to benefit others, and he himself never mixed them up in his practice. With writings alone numbering over one hundred volumes, Mikyö Dorje was incredibly diligent, working night and day to benefit sentient beings. 

A Song of Mikyö Dorje

Returning from the intermission, Karmapa shared with us a song written by Mikyö Dorje:

If you look from outside, there’s nothing I do not do.
If you look from inside, I am free of doing anything.
If you ponder it, it’s not the object of mind.
Who can fathom the nature of Yangchen Sarma?

“The main point is that looking at the external appearance, there is nothing at all that Mikyö Dorje would not do,” His Holiness explained. “If you examine the inside, the actual meaning, he was free of doing anything. He was able to act without any thought at all. This was his realization, that he was always resting in equipoise. The way he performed his activities was amazing and unfathomable.”

Yangchen Sarma is one of the many different names of Mikyö Dorje. His own intent and thought is something other people would not be able to understand or conceive of. 

Next, His Holiness gave an introduction on the two main points to summarize the seventeenth good deed: 

  1. Practice is a twenty-four hour job 
  2. We must be able to combine various types of practice

Practice is a Twenty-Four Hour Job

Karmapa introduced this by emphasizing, “Practicing dharma is something we need to do both day and night. At any time, we need to use our mindfulness, awareness, and carefulness.” 

What do we mean when we say dharma practice? Practice should be understood as a system to habituate your mind, to make your mind familiar with something. What are we practicing? It is changing the way we act with body and speech and training our mind. 

“We have to correct and edit our mind, that’s what we mean,” Karmapa explained. “Only doing it one time isn’t enough; we have to repeat it over and over again. That training or habituation of our mind must be continuous. Only then can you effect any change.”

If we look at a year, there are three hundred and sixty-five days, and there are twenty-four hours in a day. The mind never stops during this whole time; it is always working. As long as it is working, we cannot let go of the work of changing our mind. There is no time to rest. “Since our mind works for twenty-four hours, we need to train our mind in those twenty-four hours. We need to make our human life our practice, and make our practice our human life,” Karmapa instructed. 

He clarified this with an analogy: “If we get really fat and the doctors tell us to lose weight, we need to put effort into it. We need to train our body, so we go to a gym and do a lot of exercise. We need to walk around as much as we can, for example, walking ten or twenty thousand steps in a day. In addition, we must limit and control what we eat. If we work hard at the gym for an hour, but for the rest of the time we sit without moving at all while eating fatty food, we will neither lose weight nor become healthy.”

Practice is similar. “Some of us sit on a square cushion practicing for a few hours, but when we get up from the cushion, we lose all feeling of the practice. Practicing like that is akin to doing an ordinary job or obligation. What we need to do is to fully involve our whole body, speech, and mind, and bring all that power into the practice.” Furthermore, His Holiness stressed that we need to be excited about and have the enthusiasm for practice. We need to have an aim and impetus, a strong desire to quickly accomplish the reason for our practice.

Karmapa elucidated with another example: “We often make New Year’s resolutions. If our plan is to not tell any lies this year, we need to always remember that and encourage ourselves repeatedly to keep that resolution. For example, if we are buying something in a store and the cashier miscounts the money, we need to remind ourselves of that aim. This includes times when we are drinking tea and having a conversation with a friend, or having a work meeting and so forth.”

Likewise when we practice, we should have that kind of thinking and feeling. “The example I just gave is only one aim, but when we say practicing the dharma, it is not that easy. It is much more complicated and vast than that,” he explained. When we practice, we need all three—listening, contemplating, and meditating—without separating them.

While we are practicing, we must have a special way of feeling and enthusiasm. Without this, there is no way we can practice the dharma, Karmapa emphasized. What is this attitude? We need to have the feeling that we want to improve ourselves, making ourselves better people. We always need to have the thought, “I’m going to work at this; I’m going to do all I can to improve myself.”

Improving does not mean increasing our knowledge or skills. “It means bringing our mind closer to the dharma and practicing continuously. We say the current of the river never ceases; just as the earlier water goes by, the later water flows. We need to practice similarly with continuous effort,” said Karmapa. We need to improve day by day, month by month, year by year. If we do that, we can become someone different than before. There can be a difference from the person last week and next week, last year and next year; there can be a change in the way we think.

But no matter who we are, sometimes we feel bored and lethargic, and want to relax and have some fun. Karmapa explained that it is important and necessary to give our body and mind some rest, when we have been working too hard and are exhausted either from work or practice. But he cautioned that we must be careful about this. “That rest can become strong lazy habits. We should never forget the thought that we are dharma practitioners. We should remember the things we should and should not do, and we need someone to teach and remind us of these.” 

The teachings often emphasize that we need to have carefulness, mindfulness and awareness. Karmapa explained that even while we are resting, we cannot stop practicing. When we look at the liberation stories of past masters, they were able to continue their practice while sleeping. Even sleep can be divided into virtuous and non-virtuous. If we have carefulness and awareness, we can continue with our dharma practice during sleep, he pointed out. 

As a dharma practitioner, we need to always have a watchman over our mind to see what is happening. The responsibility is that at all times, we need to recognize and pay attention to what are the virtues to be accomplished and misdeeds to be avoided, and differentiate between self-interest or altruism. “No matter what we do—whether we are eating, lying down, chatting on WeChat or looking at a post on Facebook, or sending others pictures and messages—we need to have that feeling that we are taking responsibility as a dharma practitioner,” His Holiness explained.

In addition to not harming others, we must also think about helping others as much as we can, doing dharma practices, working for harmony in Buddhism, and putting effort into spreading the teachings. “Once we have that,” he added, “we can put effort into these activities.”

Combine Various Types of Practice

Speaking on the second point of the seventeenth stanza, Karmapa began by mentioning there are numerous different types of practice including listening, contemplation, and meditation, along with teaching, explaining and debating. He stressed that it is important to unify them all into one.

“If we were to spend all our time listening to many teachings and taking one empowerment or transmission after another, it is possible that eventually we would get bored and feel like there’s no point. That alone makes it difficult to improve our practice,” Karmapa pointed out. 

He explained with an example of education in schools: If the teacher only talks and the students only listen without any thought or attempt to understand it for themselves, later the teacher will ask, “What did I just say, please repeat it,” and the student will be unable to answer. The teacher’s words will go in one ear and out the other. Furthermore, if the questions on an exam are slightly different and have changed a little bit, the students will not be able to answer. 

“Similarly, when the guru teaches us the dharma, if we only hear with our ears and do not think about it at all, it is like teaching a parrot to recite mani mantras. The parrot can recite the words, but the meaning is beyond their level of understanding,” explained Karmapa. Thus, it is very important that we combine all practices of listening, contemplation, and meditation. 

So what do we mean by listening, contemplating, and meditating and the three types of prajna that arise from them? Hearing the sound of the words spoken by the guru can be considered listening, but listening alone does not produce prajna. “In order to develop the prajna of listening, not only do we have to hear the words, we have to think a little bit about the meaning. Even if you do not get a good understanding, you must be able to at least get a general understanding. Only by doing so, will you have developed the prajna born of listening,” Karmapa explained.

Merely gaining an understanding of what the lama said is not enough. “If you leave it as something you just heard and understood, it is actually very dangerous,” he warned. When we think that we have read and studied so much, there is a danger of becoming proud. “It does not help to tame us, so we need to take whatever understanding we have gained, and continue to study. Ask the teacher questions, and use both scripture and logic to investigate it. What is it like? What is it not like? This is called contemplation,” said Karmapa. 

After we have contemplated and developed some certainty in our mind that it is as our guru had taught, that is the prajna of contemplation. That stable certainty is very important. It helps us to not merely follow whatever other people or society says. We need to have this definite certainty that if we do this practice, we will give up these faults and develop these qualities, and that if we do not do practice, there will be no chance to develop these qualities. Having this certainty will allow us to develop the prajna of contemplation, he explained.

His Holiness then continued with the explanation on meditation. When we have developed certainty, in addition to having examined what the guru taught, we have the decisive feeling that “this is really it.” This decisiveness is not something that we leave as it is. Day and night, we need to mix our mind with the dharma so they become unified. Doing this over and over again is meditation. 

Meditation is not thinking about something, but is actually habituation. There are two types, analytic and resting meditation. “When you have repeatedly tried to make your mind and dharma the same, then one day, you don’t really need to try too hard. Naturally, your mind and the dharma will be mixed into one. That is called the prajna born of meditation,” said Karmapa.

Thus among these three, listening, contemplation, and meditation, the first requires us to rely on someone else. But the other two are both something we must do ourselves. He pointed out that in terms of our practice going well or not, one-third depends upon the guru, and the rest upon ourselves. “Listening depends on the guru, but whether or not we contemplate or meditate is up to you. If the lama does the meditation in your place, it doesn’t help at all, right?”

Listening, Contemplation, and Meditation in Daily Life

“Generally,” said Karmapa, “these three words may seem like dharma jargon, but we can think about them in terms of daily situations.” For example, when many people first hear about America, and how wealthy, powerful, and developed it is, they think about the opportunities there and how they could earn a lot of money. Hearing this from our friends and acquaintances, that is listening. 

Then, we get interested and read books or watch videos and Hollywood movies in order to gain a certain degree of knowledge about America. But can we actually experience what America is like just from that? It is unlikely. 

“To really know what America is like, you first must go to America and spend a few years there working; then you’ll understand. But even that is not certain. I have acquaintances who have spent several decades in America who still can’t speak English and do not have much contact with society. Having your body there does not mean you have the experience of it,” explained Karmapa. 

First, we hear about there being a country called America. Then, we think about it and take interest in it. Finally, we go there and experience it. This is the same as listening, contemplation, and meditation, he pointed out. 

His Holiness gave another analogy: Many people have never eaten tofu. They hear about it and become interested, so they look it up. Only when they go to a Chinese restaurant and order a tofu dish can they have the experience of what tofu tastes like.  

No matter what we do or how we gain experience in life, it is exactly the same as listening, contemplation, and meditation. “Listening basically means you have made a connection between yourself and dharma. Contemplating is thinking in your head about what dharma is like. In the end, whether the dharma is incorporated into our mind depends upon our meditation. We need to actually instill the dharma into our heart and mind and gain experience,” Karmapa highlighted. Meditation does not only mean sitting on a cushion and breathing in and out. It is the system for developing the experience of incorporating the dharma into our mind. 

Therefore, once we have listened to the dharma, we must think about it. If we do not do so, we can listen to the dharma for the rest of our life, but without benefit. His Holiness reminded us that after thinking about it, we need to practice and gain experience. There is no benefit to doing one while not doing another. He emphasized that we need to be able to combine these into a single whole, and only then is there hope we can become someone different.

The Buddhas and the Karmapas

Not only must listening, contemplation, and meditation not be divorced from each other, we also need to have all the practices, including the six transcendences. “This is in order to achieve buddhahood, where benefiting others is effortless and spontaneous. Bodhisattvas can only benefit others if they put in effort, but the buddhas have the complete qualities of abandonment and realization. If we want to come to that level, then we need to improve in all aspects,” Karmapa explained.

In the Jataka tales, when the Buddha appeared as a bodhisattva, he practiced generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, dhyana, prajna, and so forth. Even in the life when he awoke to Buddhahood, he studied at a high level. He left the luxurious royal lifestyle for the life of a monastic. Then, he spent six years practicing austerities and then practiced dhyana meditation to awaken. He was generous in giving the dharma widely to others. He was also patient with the harm caused by Devadatta and so forth. This demonstrated that the Buddha practiced all six paramitas within that lifetime. 

His Holiness then compared the similarities between the Buddha and the various incarnations of the Gyalwang Karmapa. He said, “Mikyö Dorje himself only lived to the age of 48, but he was able to do many things that amaze and inspire us. For example, when we read his liberation story, if we look at how he listened to the dharma from others, it seems as if he must have spent his entire life only listening to dharma teachings. If we look at his writings, it seems as if he must have spent all day writing. If we look at his travels to different areas, it seems as if he must have had little time to do anything else.”

In any case, Karmapa added, we cannot know exactly how many people he met every day, how many meetings there were, or how much time he spent writing, but looking at his activities generally, what we see when we read his liberation stories is amazing.

With pure and excellent intentions, Mikyö Dorje disregarded many hardships and obstacles to work for the sake of the teachings and beings. Without any resentment or complaining, without resting, he continued doing many activities, and this was not only teaching dharma; it also included teaching, debate, and writing; listening, contemplation, and meditation. He maintained innumerable large and vast activities. Karmapa expressed the need for us to look up to him as a model.

As it is said, “The liberation stories of the past masters is the practice of their followers.” We get a little courage for ourselves when we see these stories, explained Karmapa. Seeing their hard work and sacrifice, we should do what we can to open our minds a bit. It would be really disappointing if we let their efforts go to waste. 

“We need to purify our intentions, come up with new ideas, and contemplate how we can do even more for the teachings and sentient beings. We haven’t really begun to look at that. At least we need to see what we are like, so as not to waste the kindness and efforts of the great masters of the past. Striving for this is very important,” His Holiness emphasized at the end of Day Nine’s teaching.