17th Gyalwang Karmapa on The Life of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje
March 17, 2021
The last day of the 2021 Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings began with the customary opening prayers. Then the Gyalwang Karmapa gave special greetings to all the monks and nuns in attendance and his Dharma friends listening to the webcast. On this the last day of the teachings, His Holiness noted that although he had not been able to cover the entire texts of the autobiographical “Good Deeds” and “He Searched Thoroughly . . .” as planned, he was glad for the opportunity to explain the beginning verses in some depth. Reiterating his intention to teach the rest of the verses next year, he said this would probably happen after the Tibetan New Year. His main purpose in presenting Mikyö Dorje’s teachings was to give lay and monastic students a deeper understanding of the 8th Karmapa’s activities of body, speech and mind. This has been his aim. He added that whether reading a great guru’s liberation story or a biography of an ordinary being, we shouldn’t do so just to learn about a particular individual. We should try to develop an understanding of that individual’s whole world at that time. His Holiness said that although he hasn’t investigated history in depth, he has studied Lord Mikyö Dorje’s life story and teachings quite deeply and therefore feels close to the world in which the 8th Karmapa travelled.
Throughout this year’s teaching, it appeared to His Holiness that the events he described were new to his students, but they have particular resonance in his own life. For him personally, studying Mikyö Dorje’s liberation story helped to develop greater faith in the Gyalwang Karmapas and in the 8th Karmapa in particular. Before Mikyö Dorje was enthroned, as we learned, a succession dispute arose between two candidates. Despite the amazing signs at the time of Mikyö Dorje’s birth, many in the Encampment still doubted that he was actually the Karmapa. Most supported the rival candidate, the Western tulku. Its leaders only enthroned him as a last resort, because they feared that the Khampas, the Eastern supporters of Mikyö Dorje, would attack them. Because of his karma, Mikyö Dorje in the end had to stay in a community that included those who doubted him. And shortly after Mikyö Dorje took the throne, his greatest supporter, Gyaltsap Rinpoche, passed away—we suspect by poisoning. Sangye Nyenpa and others offered teachings, but they couldn’t actually improve the conditions for Mikyö Dorje in the Encampment. He had to live with other people’s suspicions, threats and criticism. If he had been an ordinary individual, he would have become meek and faint-hearted, conforming to what people told him to do. This might have led to anxiety disorders or other psychological difficulties. But despite his difficult situation and environment, his unstoppable resolve was as firm as a mountain; it was as powerful as the flow of a river. In addition, he worked to tear down the iron walls of bias and cast off superfluous material things, always hoisting the banner of teachings and practice. He left a legacy that was as large and broad as any of the Gyalwang Karmapas. The traces of his deeds cannot be erased.
His Holiness clearly felt a parallel between his own personal history and that of the 8th Karmapa. Although he was recognized at a young age as the incarnation of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, a huge controversy soon arose over who was the Karmapa’s true reincarnation. He explained:
I was put into a very difficult political situation and encountered many never-ending difficulties. If you wonder what I’ve learned from teaching this liberation story of Mikyö Dorje, . . . for me, what [it] teaches is that regardless of whatever someone says or what I think about whether I am—or am not—the Karmapa, if I have a lot of hopes and fears in my mind, then I should not become a slave to those hopes and fears. Instead, I don’t need to use up my entire life worrying about an empty title. . . . I need do what I can to arouse some pure motivations from my very heart. Even if all I can do is shoulder even a small portion of the burden of Buddhism and sentient beings, I think that I will not be mistaken in the path that I travel. And I think that Mikyö Dorje’s life story gives evidence of that.
Beyond teaching it to others, His Holiness’s study of Mikyö Dorje’s life story showed him a path forward for his life—to look inside himself in order to develop some experience and understanding. So for this reason, he feels extremely fortunate from the bottom of his heart for this teaching opportunity.
Then the Gyalwang Karmapa moved on to finish his discussion, started yesterday, of the Karma Gardri style. The two founders of the style were Namkha Tashi and Yartö Tulku Pende. These days, it’s said that Tulku Pende was the art teacher of Namkha Tashi, but his role in the development of the style is not well known. His Holiness’s research established that he was a very important figure. Light of the Great Sun by Rinchen Drupchok and other related histories give a clearer picture of his relevance. In the Golden Garland of Kagyu Biographies by Situ Chökyi Gyaltsen [the latter], there is a story:
Each storey of the Yermoche main temple [built by Situ Chökyi Gyaltsen] with 150 columns and a foyer with eight columns, took nine years to build. Tulku Pende and Tsebum Tende painted the murals that depicted the 100 deeds as described by Lord Chökyi Wangchuk.
Most of the paintings at the Yermoche (Karma Gön) Monastery are gone; His Holiness showed pictures of two existing lineage murals that are still in the main shrine room. Additional evidence from 1918 shows that when Kathok Situ stopped at Karma Gön on his way to Central Tibet, he saw murals there depicting the Jataka Tales in the Gardri style. His Holiness surmised that Tulku Pende probably painted them.
Further evidence of Tulku Pende’s importance exists in other texts. The 6th Gyaltsap Drakpa Döndrup’s liberation story of the 9th Karmapa says that after Mikyö Dorje passed away, Tulku Pende made a reliquary stupa for him. The Golden Garland of Kagyu Biographies records that there was no master artist during the time of the 9th Karmapa, and Tulku Pende criticized him for this. To demonstrate, His Holiness showed an illustrated representation of the Mahakala melodies made by the 9th Karmapa. It was charmingly naïve, like a child’s drawing. Since Tulku Pende was close to Wangchuk Dorje, he could be frank with him about his lack of artistic skills. (His Holiness feels that in response to this criticism, the 9th Karmapa’s successor—Chöying Dorje—became an accomplished artist.) Also, the autobiography of Situ Panchen mentions paintings of the eight close sons by Tulku Pende. He commissioned copies of Tulku Pende’s work; other artists applied color to these copies. His Holiness then showed one of these works, a beautiful and skilled depiction of Manjushri in the Karma Gardri style, originally conceived by Tulku Pende.
Tulku Pende may have initially painted in the earlier Mendri style, but he eventually became a Karma Gardri innovator. To compare his work to Namkha Tashi’s is difficult, until we can actually examine the paintings. It does seem clear that his technical skills were equal to Namkha Tashi’s.
Turning to Namkha Tashi, His Holiness established that this artist was considered an emanation of Mikyö Dorje, and therefore he developed his skills easily. He also was an innovator in establishing the Gardri style. The 9th Karmapa and his heart sons treated him very well, and he worked on many of their projects as an artist and a supervisor. If we look at the Golden Garland of Kagyu Biographies, and in particular, the story of the 5th Shamar Könchok Yenlak Rinpoche, we learn that Namkha Tashi was asked to make a copy of a work by Mentangpa depicting the amazing deeds of the Buddha. Shamar Rinpoche told the artist to draw one like that, and he did it very well. The artist also wrote the Twelve Deeds and the Qualities of Removal and Ripening of the Buddha in gold letters on silk, attaching them to the sides of the central thangka.
In fact, the 5th Shamarpa was the first person to patronize work in the Karma Gardri style, and Namkha Tashi appears to have been very close to him. Gyaltsap Drakpa Döndrup wrote in the 9th Karmapa’s namthar that in 1582, when Wangchuk Dorje went to Tsurphu Chökong Gön (which later became the residence of many of the Gyaltsap Rinpoches), Namkha Tashi painted the murals in that shrine. In 1583, when the 5th Sharmapa passed away, Namkha Tashi supervised the construction of his silver reliquary.
Likewise, when the 9th Karmapa was young and studying philosophical texts, many other intelligent students gathered around him, including Namkha Tashi. Because he was in the Karmapa’s entourage, he was called ku-kor, which means “near the Karmapa.” In 1591, the 9th Karmapa founded Kushok Okmin Ling Monastery (Yung Okmin Ling Monastery in modern day Shitse City, Rinpung District). There Namkha Tashi executed the thangkas of the lineage masters. It took him eight years; in 1599, he offered them to the 9th Karmapa. His Holiness showed us the remains of the monastery in the present day. Despite its ruinous state, the walls still stand and some of the murals remain. Because the monastery was built at the time of the original Gardri style, these murals are precious early examples of that style. They are in danger of being completely destroyed, so it is important that they are recorded and studied to determine the original characteristics of the style.
His Holiness then showed two murals in the Gadri style depicting the Kagyu lineage masters, including Wangchuk Dorje, from Lhalung Monastery in Lhodrak, Tibet. These also were painted in the original Gadri style so it is possible that Namkha Tashi, Tulku Pende, or one of their contemporaries painted them. A depiction of the 9th Karmapa is in the middle, surrounded by the Kagyu gurus. Hidden in a cave during the Cultural Revolution, the works got wet and were damaged, but the traits of the early Gardri style are evident.
His Holiness next discussed a recent discovery concerning Lhodrak Nyidey Monastery in Thimpu, Bhutan—now a branch of Thrangu Monastery, and once the seat of the 5th Sharmapa Könchok Yenlak. The monastery used to house old thangkas depicting the Kagyu lineage, but it now seems that they were among a collection of sacred objects taken to Tashi Gephel Gön monastery in Lhodrak. This is where Kathok Situ saw them in 1918. He described twenty-five paintings with silk brocade frames in the old Gardri style, painted during the time of Shamar Könchok Yenlak, Contemporaries felt that no other works could compare with them. Because these thangkas are associated with the 5th Sharmapa, there is a good chance that Namkha Tashi painted them. They are among the oldest remaining examples of the early Karma Gardri style—ancestral jewels that also deserve to be studied and researched.
With this, His Holiness concluded his discussion of the early masters of the Karma Gardri—Tulku Pende and Namkha Tashi.
The Gyalwang Karmapa then briefly turned to the work of the 10th Karmapa Chöying Dorje. In the Light of the Great Sun, Rinchen Drupchok says that the 10th Karmapa first studied the Mendri style, and later, Chinese and Kashmiri painting traditions. An unparalleled innovator, no one in Tibet was as skilled as he in poetry and art. Chöying Dorje felt that he had pleased Avalokiteshvara and declared that his life’s purpose was to make paintings. He also sculpted, creating a new image daily, not missing a single day. According to foreign scholars who have studied his work extensively, the 10th Karmapa ranks among the greatest of all Tibetan artists.
Many of Chöying Dorje’s works survive, but His Holiness only had time to show one example, The Deeds of the Buddha, which depicts Shakyamuni sitting under the Bodhi Tree subduing the maras. The Karmapa plans to continue speaking about the 10th Karmapa’s paintings next year.
Then His Holiness listed many of the important texts on Tibetan art. As already mentioned, Rinchen Drupchok (b. 1664) wrote the Light of the Great Sun, one of the oldest texts to discuss the Gardri style. It includes mention of how to determine the proportions of the deities. This was formulated by Drogön Chopak’s student, Sönam Öser—or Jamyang Drakpa—of Tsawa Rongpa. There are also other important texts concerning artistic practice: The Flower Motif, by Yonten Jungne and Rikpay Raldri; Mirror for Viewing Reflections, by Tsongkhapa’s student Tashi Tsultrim; Wish-fulfilling Jewel of Proportions by Menla Döndrup; Proportions of Deities: the Mirror that Shows the Sutras and Tantras, by Tsang Tanak Rikhar Tulku Palden Lodrö; and The Proportions by Taranatha, among many others. The Karmapa encouraged the study of these texts to determine their most important features.
The Gyalwang Karmapa continued his consideration of the Karma Gadri style by discussing a few more examples. There were several early thangkas in Gardri style depicting the Gyaltsap lineage. His Holiness chose to show one old thangka depicting the 6th Gyaltsap Rinpoche Norbu Sangpo by one of his students, probably Gelong Rinchen Sangpo. During the lifetime of the 3rd Khamtrul Kunga Tenzin [1680-1728], an artist named Chö Tashi—one of the three great artists named Tashi in the Karma Gardri school—painted thangkas depicting the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage, including Vajradhara. And in the 18th century, Situpa Panchen, a figure well versed in all fields of knowledge, studied painting thoroughly and sponsored a revival of the Karma Gardri style. With this, His Holiness concluded his consideration of a remarkable artistic tradition.
The Gyalwang Karmapa mused that in past times, the Karma Garchen didn’t stay in one area—it moved from place to place in order to reach as many people as possible in remote regions. These days, because of technological advances, it’s not necessary to go to different places. We can travel via a webcast and reach the entire world. The Karma Garchen is now the “Internet Encampment!” It doesn’t need horses and pack animals and tents, as before. All you need is a computer. “So from this year onward, I thought I shouldn’t hide all of my experiences and what I’ve understood. . . I should teach as much as I can to you,” he explained. Before, people had to come to him. Now, through the internet, he can teach all that he knows, and his students can receive his wisdom in their own homes.
Then the 2021 Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings concluded with several beautiful and moving ceremonies. A representative from Palpung Yeshe Rabgyeling read a statement of gratitude, which began with an homage to the omniscient Mikyö Dorje and included heartfelt thanks to His Holiness for his clear, extensive teachings and sincere wishes for his long life and continued efforts to propagate the Buddha’s teachings.
His Holiness then instructed the Sangha to combine the ganachakra offering of the mandala with devotional songs taken from the Rain of Wisdom, a collection of dohas composed by the Kagyu masters. He added, “This teaching has been completed very well in the beginning, middle and end. So now I’d like to make an auspicious connection with all of you. I’m very grateful and feel thankful to all of you.”
As the nuns’ choir from Karma Drupdey Nunnery chanted verses of offering and dohas composed by Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa and Düsum Khyenpa, heartfelt devotion pervaded the closing ceremonies. With eyes closed, His Holiness joined in, appearing to chant the complex verses from memory. Tibetan speakers could pick out Milarepa’s repeated refrain, “I remember the guru once again,” and Gampopa’s command, “Sons, don’t go any further down, come back up!” The monastics presented elaborate offerings to all the gurus, a fitting end to a precious month of teaching. The Gyalwang Karmapa’s final words were “Sarva Mangalam!”[May all be auspicious!]
17th Gyalwang Karmapa on The Life of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje
March 16, 2021
His Holiness began by stating that this was the longest teaching he had ever given. He explained, "Because of the pandemic we are unable to travel so I thought everyone would have time, and also, because of the pandemic, people are turning more to the Dharma with the wish to be liberated from samsara." He had not finished, so he intended to continue his exposition of the Good Deeds next year. To conclude this year's teaching, he would concentrate on aspects of the Great Encampment.
The Eighth Karmapa decreased the pomp and elaborate ceremonies associated with the Great Encampment, and curbed the celebration of Losar. He also declined many invitations from wealthy sponsors in Amdo and Kham. He preferred to stay in poorer regions of Tibet, where there would be fewer opportunities for misdeeds and fewer obstacles to practice. It was a time of many factions and conflicts between the lords of different regions. To live amongst them, he had to be skilled at accommodating them all. He chose to stay in isolated places and mountain retreats in Ütsang, where, generally, there was less fighting or problems. However, many members of his entourage disagreed with his decision and criticised him. They thought:
In Kham and Kongpo, people have more faith in us, and there is more freedom there, so why does he stay in Ütsang, where the officials have little faith and there are few offerings? In both respects, this is a much worse area than Kham and such areas, so why stay? Not only is his activity not flourishing, he also has no freedom and has to accommodate others. He is just making things hard for himself.
Some voted with their feet, deserted the encampment, and returned to their home areas.
The Karmapa reflected on Mikyö Dorje's motivation. His followers accused him of lack of wisdom and being disinterested in furthering the Kagyu teachings. Was this the case? From childhood, Mikyö Dorje demonstrated how very independent and single-minded he was. When the Ming Emperor invited him, even though everyone, including the changzö, insisted he should go, he declined the invitation. He chose to follow authentic gurus such as Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche. He made firm decisions. Once he was in charge of the Great Encampment, he brought in strict reforms to root out the excesses and misconduct that had grown since Chödrak Gyatso's death. This was a significant turning point for the Great Encampment. During the time of the Eighth Karmapa, the encampment gradually improved and became a thriving centre for the Karma Kamtsang. He established Karma Shungluk Ling, a shedra [for the study of sutra and Buddhist philosophy] and Rigdzin Khachö Ling, a tsokdra [for the study of tantra and ritual]. There were 300-400 solitary retreatants staying in one-man tents. There were also extensive shrines.
It was also a time of burgeoning creativity. In particular, two people, who were said to be emanations of Mikyö Dorje, Töpa Namkha Tashi and Dakpo Gopa Nangso Sidral Karma Gardri, started two new artistic styles: Gardri, "Encampment Painting", and Garluk, "Encampment Sculpture".
Thus, we can see that he was not interested in the external aspects of the Great Encampment or his own aggrandisement. Instead, he worked hard to maintain the traditions of scripture and practice while furthering Tibetan culture. He did not simply follow old traditions though; he started new traditions. Consequently, he was criticised for not keeping the old traditions. Mikyö Dorje maintained that this did not make his activities impure. Because he had to accommodate the needs of infinite sentient beings, he needed different ways in which to tame them, according to the place and time.
In his Instructions for the Lord of Kurappa and His Nephews in the Hundred Short Instructions, he explains his purpose:
Also, if some guides who are sources of refuge benefit sentient beings in ways that do not fit with the examples or manner of dharma practice from their own previous gurus and previous True Dharma, some might say, "These gurus follow examples and dharma practices that do not fit with those of their Kagyu predecessors, so these individuals are impure," and not hold them to be sources of refuge. This is a terribly wrong view. When gurus in their example and methods of dharma practice carry on activity in ways that are incompatible with some aspect of the provisional customs of earlier masters, their activity does not become impure. Sentient beings have infinite different capabilities and inclinations, and in order to tame them, the gurus have inexhaustible examples and methods of dharma practice. Since they tame them in these ways, it is logical to generate even stronger faith and respect for their wisdom, love, and power, because all the gurus'examples and methods of dharma practice are solely for the purpose of purifying the realms of sentient beings.
In order to benefit sentient beings, he reformed things to match a new time and new students, His Holiness commented. Additionally, he was criticised because he described the view of emptiness in a different way from his predecessor. Whereas the Third and Seventh Karmapas had primarily taught the shentong view (empty of other) and the teachings of the Third Wheel of Dharma [the Mind-Only school], Mikyö Dorje primarily taught the rangtong view (empty of self) and, in particular, followed the teachings of Chandrakirti [the Middle Way school —PrasangikaMadhyamika]. People said this was inappropriate and wrong. Even among his students, there were different explanations of how Mikyö Dorje explained the view; some said that his view was rangtong, while others maintained it was shentong. Many of his texts, however, emphasised the rangtong view.
Introducing the Karma Gardri Style of Painting
His Holiness first explained his preferred pronunciation of the term Karma Gar-dri. as Karma Gar-ri. In Tibetan, the word dri can refer to calligraphy as well as to drawing and painting, so he found it less confusing to call the painting style Karma Ga-ri; otherwise, when people heard the term Karma Gardri, they might presume it meant a style of calligraphy in the encampment.
The Karma Gar-ri style of painting became an exceptional Tibetan style, developed within the Garchen under the instructions of the Karmapas and their Heart Sons. It emerged as a new Tibetan artistic style augmenting earlier Tibetan art forms with techniques and styles from other cultures. It spread widely and continues to this day.
The Development of Tibetan Art Forms
How did Tibetan art forms develop? They are evident from the 7th and 8th centuries onwards, with the first establishment of the Buddhist teachings in Tibet, when the Tibetan kings founded various monasteries: Rasa, Pekar, Samye, Khamsum Midok and so forth. For example, at Rasa Trulnang Shalre Temple [built c.652 CE], an extant mural bears the words:
Khenpo Gor Yeshe Yang, Gelong Tak Yönten De, and Ge Namkay Nyingpo Yang drew these figures and dharma as merit for the king and all sentient beings.
[The 'king' in question is Songtsen Gampo. He built the temple in Lhasa to house the Akshobhya Vajra image, brought from Nepal by his Nepalese wife, Princess Bhrikuti. The temple was renamed fifty years later as the Jokhang, and remains to this day as the oldest part of a much more extensive temple.]
So, from that time, there was an established tradition of art in Tibet. These days, within Tibet, many modern scholars believe that the famous Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha image in the Jokhang was made in Tibet itself, rather than brought from China by Songtsen Gampo's other wife, the Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang dynasty. Similarly, there are carvings done in 804 CE at the Vairochana Cave in Drakyap Ra in Kham, and in 806 CE at Kyekundu in Kham, which can still be seen; they are under the protection of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.
Also, during the Tibetan empire, artists began to sign their work. The earliest example is from Dunhuang, a silk painting of the Medicine Buddha and 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara from 836 CE, now in the British Museum. It is signed:
In the Year of the Dragon, I, the bhikshu Palyang, as service for his body, have drawn the Medicine Buddha, Samantabhadra, Youthful Manjushri, 1000-Armed Avalokiteshvara, the wish-fulfilling jewel, and dedications
During the time of the later transmission of the teachings, Lochen Rinchen Sangpo (958 – 1054 CE) built several monasteries. He built Toling in 996 CE, and it is still possible to see the murals at Toling. There are also murals at Dungkar Sargo Cave and Wachen Cave. [At this point His Holiness showed two of the murals at Toling monastery, some of which may originate from the time of Lochen Rinchen Sangpo, others later.]
Continuing to give examples of murals that still exist, His Holiness next mentioned the monk Ngönshe, a very famous tertön. He was born in 1012 CE and in 1081 CE, he founded Pal Dratang Monastery. His nephews Jungne and Jungtsul finished the construction in 1093 CE. His Holiness showed photos of an 11th-century mural that has survived there, alongside one from Shalu.
In the 12th century, at the time of the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa, there was a famous artist from Ga in Kham called Kyura Lhachen. Although he did complete some paintings, he was primarily a sculptor who made moulded images. One of his works was the statue known as "The Seven Wonders of Dusum Khyenpa", which was at Karma Gön Monastery. It was destroyed during the time of the cultural revolution, but some fragments were rescued and returned to the monastery
At some time after 1263 CE, during the lifetime of Karma Pakshi, the artist and sculptor Pakshi from Phayul was invited to Tsurphu Monastery and made the Buddha statue "Ornament of the World". Cast from copper and brass, it was 13 arm-spans high and the largest cast statue in Tibet. It was such a solid piece that they were unable to destroy it during the cultural revolution. During the 1970s, however, a craftsman visiting Tsurphu realised it had been cast and used fire to smelt it down and destroy it that way.
In the 14th century, from 1306 CE onwards, Shalu Drakpa Gyaltsen painted the murals at Shalu Serkhang.
The Gyangtse Palkhor Chöde monastery was built between 1370–1425 CE, with many different statues and murals. Then, in 1427 CE, Gyangtse Kumbum Stupa was constructed with its extensive murals and statues which can still be seen. His Holiness showed two images of Tara from Gyangtse Palkhor Chöde. These were painted by two artists, Pachen Rinchen and Sonam Paljor, who were teachers of the great master artist Menla Döndrup.
Until the 15th century, most of the paintings and sculptures in Tibet were in either Indian or, primarily, Nepali/Newari style. How then did a distinctive Tibetan art form develop?
Bhikshu Rinchen Chok (born in 1664), from Milk Lake in Gyaltang, Kham, gives an account in a text entitled the Light of the Great Sun: A Commentary on the Presentation of the Characteristics of Bodily Forms Called the Essence of Goodness, which he composed at Tsurphu monastery in 1704. He describes how generally in Tibet, there was the style of the time of the kings, which had spread widely. Then, not long after that, an emanation of Manjushri, Menla Döndrup, was born in Mentang in Lhodrak. At that time, there was a large deposit of vermilion in that region, which was essential for making paints and inks. He was a married layperson but was forced to leave the region because of difficulties with his wife. He went to Tsang, where he studied art from Dopa Tashi Gyalpo. At Dratang, there was one particular Chinese-style painting, and when Menla Döndrup saw it, he immediately remembered his previous life as an artist in China. Using this recall of his previous life, he started using a unique, fully-developed artistic style. Additionally, he determined the measurements and proportions according to the Kalachakra and Samvarodaya, tantras which describe the proportions, costumes and accoutrements of the different deities. This style became known as the Great Mentang style.
Gyalwa Gendün Drubpa, the First Dalai Lama, had a dream that he would meet an emanation of Manjushri the following day, and the very next day Menla Döndrup came to see him. From this the Dalai Lama determined that Menla Döndrup was an emanation of Manjushri. When Gendün Drubpa founded Tashilhunpo Monastery at Shigatse, he commissioned Menla Döndrup to paint the murals of Vajradhara and the Sixteen Arhats. The murals still exist but are very faded, His Holiness commented. A few years ago, a thangka was found at Sakya Monastery in Tibet and on the back it says “painted by Menla Döndrup”. [His Holiness showed photos of the thangka and the inscription written on the back.] Consequently, His Holiness suggested, more research is needed into Menla Döndrup's style and working methods, which became known as the Menluk tradition.
One of his companions and a fellow student of Dopa Tashi Gyalpo was Khyentse Chenmo from Upper Gang in Gongkar. He also developed a particular artistic style which became known as the Khyenluk. His Holiness showed photos of extant murals by Khyentse Chenmo which can be seen at the Sakya Dorjeden monastery in Gongkar. After the break, he showed two more paintings of the Drukpa lineage which may also be by Khyentse Chenmo.
Thus, by the end of the 15th century, the two earliest Tibetan artistic traditions existed, the Menluk [also called Men-ri] and Khyenluk [also called Khyen-ri].
Then came a third, distinctive style developed by Tulku Chiu. He studied art very diligently, travelling around with his paintings and art supplies, studying with various masters. Hence, he earned the sobriquet chiu, which means 'little bird' in Tibetan, because, just like a little bird, he was constantly flitting from place to place. The first part of his name, Tulku, does not mean a reincarnation or emanation in this context but is a title given to artists who make statues and paintings of buddhas and bodhisattvas. He was noted for his superior use of colour.
There were, of course, many other different styles in Tibet, but most of them can be included in one of these three major styles. In his text, the Light of the Great Sun: A Commentary on the Presentation of the Characteristics of Bodily Forms Called the Essence of Goodness, Bhikshu Rinchen Chok describes the origins of these three styles.
Lord Sangye Gyatso's Catalogue of Offerings of the Ornamentof the World, written in 1697 CE, is the primary source for historians of Menluk and Khyenluk. It mentions Dopa Tashi Gyalpo, his students Menla Döndrup and Khyentse Chenmo, and the Chiu style. However, there is not a single mention of the Gardri style. The reason for this is unclear, but Sangye Gyatso was writing at a time when the Karma Kagyu were being suppressed, so mention of the Garchen would also be suppressed.
Geshe Tenzin Phuntsok of Marshö Gojo [born 1673] was skilled in Tibetan medicine and astrology. He also wrote about techniques of colouration in a text called Giving Hues to Flowers and Bringing Out the 100,000 Colours of Rainbows. In this work, he wrote a history of Tibetan art similar to that of Sangye Gyatso. In 1716, he wrote the Long Explanation of Consecration: The Smile that Pleases Maitreya, Eight Parts of Excellent Auspiciousness. This again reiterates what Sangye Gyatso wrote about "the three great styles".
The Development of the Gardri Style
The first text to speak about the development of the Gardri was the Light of the Great Sun: A Commentary on the Presentation of the Characteristics of Bodily Forms Called the Essence of Goodness. Its author was Bhikshu Rinchen Drupchok from Gyaltang, who, as a boy of eight or nine, met Karmapa Chöying Dorje.
Many modern art historians who have researched Tibetan art say that Karmapa Chöying Dorje was one of the most important Tibetan artists. In the earlier part of his life, he painted in the Menri style, then later in life followed the Kashmir style and the Chinese style. He melded these two styles into his own unique technique for drawing figures and colouration. His work is very distinctive. When you see it, you know immediately that it is the work of Karmapa Chöying Dorje.
When the young Rinchen Drupchok met Karmapa Chöying Dorje, the Karmapa told him to draw images of the Buddha. The Karmapa consecrated them and predicted that in the future, Rinchen Drupchok would become skilled in drawing and painting and become a great artist. Later, when Rinchen Drupchok reached the age of 20, the Sixth Gyaltsap Norbu Sangpo told him, "There is no one else who is continuing the Gardri style, so this is a very difficult situation for the Gadri style…other than Tulku Awo Netso, no one is painting in the Gardri style, so you must go and study painting with Tulku Awo Netso."
At the time of the Eighth Karmapa, there was a student of Könchok Pende (a contemporary of Namkha Tashi), called Yangchen Tulku Töpa. He was an attendant of the Sixth Shamar Chökyi Wangchuk. It was said he could remember seven former lives during which he had been an artist. In particular, in his previous life, he had been Cha Netso, a parrot (Tib. netso means "parrot"; cha netso means "parrot bird"), and he had heard many teachings on painting from the Fifth Shamar. Because of the imprints from that lifetime, he remembered them from an early age, and he was nicknamed Tulku Awo Netso. He lived to the great age of 71. However, no one had been taking care of him, and he was having a very difficult time, So Gyaltsap Norbu Sangpo sent supplies of food and clothing. Rinchen Drupchok spent nine months studying art with him and learnt the fundamentals of the Gardri style. Not long after that, the teacher died.
Later, another artist, named Tsepel, encouraged Rinchen Drupchok to write about the Gardri style and proportions. Subsequently, seven years later, he wrote the Light of the Great Sun: A Commentary on the Presentation of the Characteristics of Bodily Forms Called "The Essence of Goodness". This was in 1704 CE when he was 41 years old and staying at Tsurphu monastery. His Holiness said that no one knows who wrote the root text, The Essence of Goodness, so it is essential to continue to search for it. Rinchen Drupchok's commentary gives the proportions of the Gardri style and is the earliest and most respected source. His Holiness stated this text is one that all Gardri school artists should study and research.
Awo Netso is mentioned in the collected works of the Thirteenth Karmapa:
During the time of the Fifth Karmapa, Könchok Yenlak, There was one named Netso, Who later became a monk called Tulku Awo Netso, He became known as skilled in art.
His Holiness commented, "During the time of Könchok Yenlak, there was Awo Netso, a parrot. That parrot had a very nice voice, and later, in the next life, he became a monk and an artist, and so he was called Tulku Awo Netso."
Rinchen Drupchok's commentary, the Light of the Great Sun contains a detailed history of the Gardri tradition. His Holiness paraphrased the text with additional comments:
Now, what is our own tradition? In the Gardri style, there is Tulku Namkha Tashi; he is the one who founded the Gardri style. Tulku Namkha Tashi was born in the region of Yartö. When he was a young child, Mikyö Dorje said that he was his own emanation. Not only did he say that he was his own emanation, but said that he would perform the activity of his body, so that Namkha Tashi would have the intention of engaging in artistic activity; that is why Mikyö Dorje recognised him as an emanation. He put him under the direction of Shamar Könchok Yenlak.
There was also a fortunate easterner called Könchok Pende from the region of É. Regarding this region of É, there were many artists who came from that region, particularly many painters. Many of the greatest painters in Tsang came from the region of É. It was said that Könchok Pende was an emanation of Gyasa Kongjo—the Chinese call him Wong Chong Kung.
Namkha Tashi was put under the instruction of Shamar Könchok Yenlak, and Könchok Pende was put under the instruction of Gyaltsap Drakpa Döndrup. These two together used the Indian lima tradition of painting and the previous Tibetan Mentang tradition as a basis, and drew landscapes with colouration like Sitang during the time of the Ming emperors. During the time of the Fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa and the Chinese emperor, Yongle, there were many wondrous events, and these were drawn in a painting. There were two copies of this painting. The emperor himself kept one, and one was given to the Karmapa, and then to the monastery at Tsurphu, and is still extant today. That painting shows the Ming style. Namkha Tashi and Könchok Pende used this style of painting from China, and they developed the artistic style called the Gardri. Likewise, there was an expert sculptor called Karma Sidral, nicknamed "Crazy Go", and he had a student Po Bowa who was also said to be an emanation of the Eighth Karmapa. There were many other people, such as Karma Rinchen, who were experts in this style of sculpture, but by the time of Rinchen Drupchok, this style of sculpting had already disappeared. So, at that time, there was not a lot to be seen.
His Holiness continued that although Namkha Tashi is generally credited with founding the Gardri style, he was working with Könchok Pende as well, so they should both be credited as founders of the style.
More recently, the main source that is used for the history of the Gardri style is Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye's Treasury of Knowledge. Itreads:
There was Tulku Namkha Tashi from Yartö. Mikyö Dorje said that he was his own emanation and would propagate artistic activity. With instruction from Shamar Könchok Yenlak and Gyaltsap Drakpa Döndrup, the fortunate easterner Könchok Pende from É studied the Menluk style from Gyamo Sa Konjo's emanation. Using the proportions from the Indian limaand Mentang traditions as a basis and drawing landscapes with colouration like Sitang from the time of the Ming emperors, this became known as the Gardri style.
Once more, His Holiness emphasised that Tulku Könchok Pende should be credited as well as Namkha Tashi.
Finally, he pointed out that although many people paint in the Gardri style in Tibet these days, there are still many blank areas in its history. It was, therefore, important to clarify the topic of the Gardri style by identifying the Gardri style of painting and proportion, and differences between the original and the modern style.
17th Gyalwang Karmapa on The Life of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje
March 14, 2021
After offering prayers, His Holiness sincerely welcomed Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche Chungsi, Khenpo Rinpoche, all of the khenpos, geshes, and teachers and all the monks. In particular, His Holiness greeted the nuns in the nuns’ shedras as well as all the male and female lay students watching the webcast around the world.
Part One: All Sentient Beings are as Kind as Our Parents
His Holiness began the eighteenth day of teachings by returning to Mikyö Dorje’s Good Deeds. He reminded us that the text is into two main parts and the ninth verse falls within the second part: The main part: how he practiced the paths of the three types of individuals. This second part is comprised of three parts: 1) How he practiced the path of the lesser individual, 2) How he practiced the path of the middling individual, and 3) How he practiced the path of greater individual.
Within the third section on practicing the path of the greater individual, there are three additional topics. The last topic is how he practiced the path of the greater individual which includes: a) the intention: rousing bodhichitta, b) the action: meditating on the two types of bodhichitta, and c) how he trained in the precepts of the two types of bodhichitta. Verse nine reads:
All beings, without distinction, are the same as my parents. It is illogical to group them into factions of friend and foe. With uncontrived love for beings in intolerable states, I thought, when can I bring them the benefit of true enlightenment? I think of this as one of my good deeds.
His Holiness proceeded to provide a more in-depth explanation of the intention to rouse bodhicitta. First, he explained that we all say we are Buddhist and call ourselves Mahayana or Vajrayana practitioners. We identify ourselves as Buddhist, wear the clothes, and so forth; however, when it comes to the actual practice, do we actually act as a practitioner should? On the one hand, if a friend experiences a loss or something inauspicious happens, then we worry and feel miserable for them. On the other hand, if something goes well for people who are against us, then we cannot bear it; we think to ourselves that it should not go that well for them.
His Holiness emphasized that we forget about having love and affection for all sentient beings. We consider anyone we do not like as our enemy. Even if we have something good to say about them, we cannot even bring ourselves to do it. When we think this way, it is impossible to have love and compassion for all sentient beings.
To truly bring any amount of benefit, we have to turn our thinking inward. It is imperative we examine our thoughts and ourselves. Before we do any Dharma practice, we have to analyze and check if our intention and our motivation aligns with the Dharma. Only then we can understand what we have in our hearts, and we have to examine this to decide what actions we need to take or what to give up.
Mikyö Dorje’s life exemplifies what it truly means to rouse bodhichitta, as he always acted with love and compassion. His Holiness emphasized, “From the bottom of his heart, he thought of all sentient beings as his kind parents; that is how he acted and thought.” His Holiness proceeded with several examples: Whenever Mikyö Dorje saw any sentient being committing the cause of suffering by performing misdeeds, he could not bear it, and everyone could see his worry. From the moment Mikyö Dorje heard of anyone stricken by illness, bad crops, famine, armed conflict resulting in death, masters and disciples not getting along, and so forth, it was as if he experienced the situation and any of these difficulties himself. His Holiness emphatically shared, “He felt that suffering. He would always ask what could he do?”
During Mikyö Dorje’s lifetime, in Ütsang each lord or minor king’s responsibility included protecting everyone in the region. To illustrate his worry and concern for these well-known leaders and gurus who had bad intentions and conduct, Mikyö Dorje would say: “What they should do is to protect many people, but the way they think and act ignores helping all others. In the next life, which lower realm will they fall into?’”
His Holiness continued:
Mikyö Dorje would say, ‘You are harming your own everlasting aims. When the sky has fallen without you noticing, what point is there to any other meaningless concerns?’ This is a sign of how he worried that the other person would be permanently unhappy.
Mikyö Dorje always had the pure intention to cherish others and never forgot that all sentient beings had been his parents. While we have to intentionally strive for this intention, it automatically arose in his mind; it was something he never had to strive to produce. He lived this through his teaching. For instance, after a relative died someone came to ask Mikyö Dorje, “’What virtuous action should I do on their behalf?’ And, he would reply, ‘If you have so much love and compassion for the deceased, shouldn’t you love all beings who have been your parents?’”
His Holiness emphasized several key points that demonstrated how Mikyö Dorje roused bodhichitta. He never differentiated between who was helpful or harmful, friend or foe; he recognized that we have known all sentient beings through countless rebirths. Mikyö Dorje exhibited this by not having any bias as he wanted everyone to do well and to be equally happy. His intention was evident in how Mikyö Dorje interacted with anyone who came to speak with him, for he never had the idea he was close to some and not to others. He was happy with whatever work anyone did for him. He was very easy to serve. The attendants and the workers of the encampment would do the jobs they were given. He would not criticize. Sometimes people made mistakes but he would not embarrass them in front of others. He would speak of them lovingly and that influenced everyone in his entourage.
The reason for this is evident from the time Mikyö Dorje received bodhisattva vows from Sangye Nyenpa Denma Druptop Rinpoche. At that time Sangye Nyenpa said to him, “’I have the feeling that for innumerable past lives, your bodhichitta has not weakened.’” Sangye Nyenpa’s comment is surprising since he did not flatter people. As a mahasiddhi and a yogi, he used only very direct, forceful speech. His Holiness pointed out that if we look at the way Sangye Nyenpa spoke, it is immediately clear that Mikyö Dorje had deep imprints of bodhichitta from previous lifetimes.
Whether Mikyö Dorje was writing, reading, studying, teaching, giving transmissions of Dharma, or making connections with others through mani mantras, he would make a pure intention. For this reason, people placed high hopes in him as he was free from any selfish thoughts or intentions. His Holiness noted:
From the time he was little, he would say, “Now, I have this title of Karmapa. I do not have any hope of being a great lama or an influential person in this lifetime just because I have been given the title of Karmapa. Because of this title, I have become a Lord of Dharma or great lama, and, because of that, innumerable people have placed great hopes in me and depend on me. To benefit those people and to tame their mind streams, just knowing how to teach a short text, knowing how to give them a short instruction, or doing a few years or months of meditation retreat will not lead to anything. The beings to tame are infinite and the afflictions are infinite. So, I also need infinite methods for taming beings. I need to train myself in listening, contemplating, and meditating to benefit them.” He said this from the time he was very young.
He was never distracted when he had to take a lot of empowerments and transmissions. He followed the main four great teachers. He took responsibility himself to read great texts. He always spent his time listening, contemplating, and meditating on the scriptures. When he gained a bit of understanding, he was as delighted as if he had found a jewel in a garbage heap. If he did not quite understand something, he would say,
“I am an obscured being deprived of true Dharma!” He would worry and suffer so much that his health was disturbed and he could not sleep at night. However, because of the power of his training in previous lives and the blessings of the gurus and Three Jewels, he was able to understand the textual meaning of scriptures.
When you read the liberation stories of Mikyö Dorje, some people would criticize him because he spent so much time reading all these texts and taking notes about issues. Others would ask, “What point is there to doing this?”
Some people in his entourage thought, “We are staying here in Ütsang so he can, without any benefit, read texts, take notes about issues, and edit carefully, but there are few people who make offerings. Instead of toughing it out here, it would be better to go a place like Kham where it would be as if food and drink showered on them like rain and he could have tens of thousands of followers? The way His Holiness does it is like a child’s game,” they thought. There were people with such wrong thoughts who denigrated him. In particular, most of the students and entourage who liked material things did not stay with him in Ütsang, but went off to their own homelands where they busied themselves with worldly concerns and gaining food tainted with misdeeds.
Mikyö Dorje would never denigrate them; instead, he would give them as many gifts as he could before sending them off. On the one hand, it is depressing because the student is giving up the guru. But, the way Mikyö Dorje studied texts and subsequently gave us the scriptures, opens up the eye of prajna for everyone. This is all due to Mikyö Dorje’s kindness. His Holiness relayed how Gyaltsab Rinpoche had noted to him, “If we look at how Mikyö Dorje went through a hard time, we should really rejoice in it.”
In brief, no matter what task or action Mikyö Dorje undertook, he did not engage in it with any ties of selfishness or the eight worldly concerns. Instead, he solely had pure intentions and actions to benefit the teachings and beings. Due to this, sometimes he would say things such as this:
“There is no one worse or more obscure than me.” He also said, “Just as Lord Götsangpa said, I have undergone all the hardship, so it is nice for all of you who place your hopes in me. Supplicate me, and follow my example, and I will not deceive you.” In this way, he gave them the great relief of fearlessness.
Part Two: Vegetarianism and the Environment
The Karmapa then continued his discussion on meat from the previous days’ teaching. Today, he put an emphasis on how animal agriculture and husbandry has great detrimental effects on land and water environments. His Holiness distilled the main points regarding the effects on oceans and forests.
Regarding oceans, His Holiness noted:
We catch between approximately ninety and one hundred million tons of fish. This includes 2.7 trillion living animals.” This is such an incredibly huge number of animals caught from the ocean each year. “There is a danger that by the year 2048, there will be no fish left to catch in the oceans,” he said. When you are fishing, if you catch a pound of fish, you are also catching so many other types of marine species. While you have the pound you wanted to catch, the others are discarded carelessly. Most of them die at that time. Every year forty percent of fish caught in the ocean are just wasted and are discarded. In terms of kilos, it is probably twenty-eight billion kilos of fish which are just thrown away. This figure is really scary. And, this is only fish. There are shrimp and other types of seafood, but it is really difficult to account for all the other sentient beings.
When we talk about animal agriculture or husbandry, in terms of forests, there is also great detriment. The largest forest in the world is the Amazon. Because of livestock production, over ninety percent of the Amazon Rainforest has been destroyed. In each second, between an acre and two acres is destroyed and converted to plant crops to feed cattle. Due to destruction of the forest, many different plants, animals, insects, and so forth go extinct every day. Not only do one hundred and thirty seven different specifies go extinct every day, but also due to livestock production, one hundred and thirty six million acres of the world’s forests have been destroyed.
His Holiness then distinguished between nomadic and commercial livestock production. He clarified that there are traditional ways of raising animals in the Himalayas which are quite distinct from commercial animal husbandry. The animals in Tibet must think they have been reborn in the pure realm of Sukhavati. Nomads only raise enough meat for a family in accord with what is needed for one’s life – slaughtering one yak will last for one year. Current livestock production, however, is quite different. It is only a business where the focus is on reducing expenses while selling larger quantities in order to get bigger and better meat. Since the emphasis is on production, it is significantly more dangerous and destructive than traditional ways of meat production.
His Holiness highlighted the correlation between taking up vegetarian or vegan diets as a means for environmental sustainability. First, His Holiness clarified distinctions between vegetarianism, not eating meat, and veganism, not taking or using produce from an animal. His Holiness emphasized that a single vegan can reduce water usage throughout the world by five thousand liters and twenty kilos of grains. Such a person protects thirty square feet of forest land by not eating any animal products. They can also decrease nine kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions and protect the life of one animal. By this person being vegan every day, the benefit and reduction in harm is that great. If we are vegan, then it is an even greater benefit to the world. His Holiness clarified, “The choices a single person makes definitely have a result and a connection to what happens in the world.”
His Holiness also gave several examples and resources for challenging common notions that eating meat is a source a strength. For example, the 2018 documentary about vegetarianism, The Game Changers, illustrates the health risks of eating meat from livestock production including: inflammatory diseases, heart disease, and cancer among others. Per this documentary, the research suggests that a vegetarian diet reduces heath risks and actually increases your brain power. Through examples of ancient Rome to contemporary Olympic athletes, the documentary demonstrates the numerous benefits of vegetarianism. For instance, many Roman gladiators were vegetarian and unbeatable due to their diet. Other examples included the champion ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek who linked his achievements to his vegetarianism, and nine-times Olympic gold medalist, Carl Lewis, who won track and field events between1984–1996. Lewis was the first person to break the ten-second barrier for running one-hundred meters. He is also vegetarian and was listed as one of the strongest men in the world at the age of thirty.
His Holiness spoke of the idiom, “strong as an ox.” Using this example, His Holiness reminded us that even these animals such as oxen and gorillas, known for their strength, eat vegetarian diets and get all their protein from plant sources.
He also emphasized the importance of nutrition. Because of the number of monastics in the monasteries, it is important to pay attention to whether the food is good and nutritious. The Karmapa mentioned that he had been vegetarian for ten years. Since becoming a vegetarian, he pays a lot more attention to the nutrition in the food eats. In fact, he has been learning how to cook. He joked that when he returns to India, he will be able to hold a competition with the cooks and nyerpas [the storekeepers who buy food].
His Holiness ended with some kind and encouraging advice:
When we talk about giving up meat, there is no need to worry. When I say it is important to not eat meat, we think it is important to not eat meat. But that is not the case. What I am saying is that if we cannot give up meat entirely, that is okay. But, if we can do something to reduce eating meat, then that is okay too. We just need to do what we can to decrease the amount of meat we eat.
In conclusion, His Holiness advised that vegetarianism should neither be a debate nor complicated, “If we make something easy into being difficult, there is no point.” In brief, when we talk about giving up meat or being vegetarian, it should be in a measured way. We should think carefully about what we want to do and gradually put it into practice. Instead of thinking, the guru or the scientist said this, we should examine it for ourselves, think about it well, and take our time.
17th Gyalwang Karmapa on The Life of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje
March 13th, 2021
Following the opening prayers, His Holiness extended his warm greetings to all the teachers at the various monasteries, lamas, tulkus, students from the shedras, and,in particular, the nuns in the nunneries, as well as all of his male and female dharma friends who were watching the live webcast.
Continuing yesterday’s teaching, His Holiness went on to speak about the topic of whether it is appropriate to eat meat and the three ways in which meat is considered pure.
Buddha established rules and taught his monastic students that their food should not be too luxurious and that they should live off alms. Going for alms entailed the danger that faithful sponsors would kill animals for the sake of the Sangha. Henceforth, Buddha set up certain rules regarding eating meat that is pure in three ways, such as not allowing his students to eat meat from an animal that had been specifically killed for them.
In Indian society at that time, the Buddha faced criticism for allowing his monastic students to eat meat. The criticism came from those who were vegetarian, such as the Jains, other non-Buddhists, and even from some of his own followers. And the main person making this dispute was Devadatta.
Devadatta was the Buddha’s cousin, the son of his uncle Amritodana. Having joined the Buddhist monastic community, he later became competitive with the Buddha and eventually separated from the Sangha. He established his own monastic community and philosophical school, and even after he had passed away, his followers continued to uphold his tradition. During the 4th and 5th century, when the Chinese monks Faxian and Xuanzang went to India, Devadatta’s dharma tradition still existed. In their travel notes they wrote that in Devadatta’s tradition people went for refuge to the three Buddhas of the past Kanakamuni, Kashyapa and Krakucchamda, but not to Buddha Shakyamuni. That tradition was still present until the 8th century.
While the Buddha was still in this world, Devadatta caused a schism in the Wheel of the Sangha, which means that the Buddhist monastics split into two fractions. Moreover, Devadatta drew blood from the Buddha’s body with malicious intent, which means he actually intended to murder the Buddha, which he tried to accomplish in different ways. He thus had committed one of the heinous acts – which lead to immediate karmic retribution. Hence, according to the Foundation Vehicle scriptures, as soon as Devadatta passed away, he was reborn in hell. However, according to the Mahayana Avatamsaka Sutra, there is a prophecy that Devadatta would awaken to buddhahood in the future. Some of the Mahayana sutras state that Devadatta appeared as the Buddha’s competitor in order to show the Buddha’s greatness, and that he was actually an emanation to show beings what would happen to them if they committed any of the heinous acts. However, Devadatta suggested that the Buddha should instate five additional precepts, including a total prohibition on eating meat; the Buddha did not accept them and consequently the Buddhist monastic students split into two fractions. The majority followed Devadatta.
Regarding the five austerities, there are different assertions according to the Vinaya tradition of the different schools. One can find clear descriptions of them in the Fifty Verses of the Vinaya in the Tibetan tradition as well as the great commentaries on the Vinaya.
Although there are different ways in which the five austerities are listed, they all include vegetarianism. While the Buddha was still on this Earth, he did not say to his monastic students that they should not eat any meat at all but that they should only eat meat which is pure in three ways. Devadatta, on the other hand, said that they should entirely refrain from eating meat and practice pure vegetarianism.
Bhavaviveka in his Blaze of Reasoning and later masters, too, said that if one followed the Foundation Vehicle, one should eat meat, because by not doing so one might practice austerities in the same way as Devadatta had suggested.
His Holiness then recalled a text on the Vinaya by Amalamitra and the Great Exposition, one of the root texts of the four philosophical schools [Great Exposition School, Sutra School, Mind Only School and Middle Way School]. What it basically says is that among the Buddha’s disciples, Mahakashyapa was the one with the greatest contentment and the greatest attainment. And the one who was the most careful about food and had the strongest conduct, was Bakula. The difference between the two was that Mahakashyapa would eat any alms, no matter whether they were good or bad, whereas when Bakula received better food, he would give it up and eat only the worse food. Later, the great masters of the Great Exposition School explained this in different ways. They gave the reason why Bakula would not eat the better food as this type of food would include meat or elaborate preparations. And if food included meat, then this entailed the killing of sentient beings, which is to say that they were made from the flesh and blood of animals. Out of his compassion, he would decline to eat those offerings.
The question in this regard is: When Bakula went on alms round, did he accept those better food offerings and throw them away later or did he just not accept them in the first place? If he did not accept them, then he would have gone against the Buddha’s rules, according to which his monastic disciples were not supposed to make any choices when receiving alms. If, on the other hand, one would accept an offering but later throw it away, then there would be the fault of wasting it.
So, what did Bakula do? Bakula is said to have had the divine eye and during alms round, he could - with his clairvoyance – see those donors with the worst alms and go straight to them. Therefore, he did not accumulate any fault for wasting food and so forth.
Likewise, it says in the Angulimalasutra that Mahakashyapa dwelled in the twelve qualities of training and also had a pure vegetarian practice. When we look at different quotes, we can understand that during the time of the Buddha, many monastics had a vegetarian diet. For instance, the Sangha members from Brahmin families had for generations not eaten meat and thus were unable to eat it. His Holiness does not think that the Buddha ruled that those uncomfortable eating meat would have to eat meat.
Devadatta established the rule of entirely abstaining from meat primarily because of his motivation. Devadatta, being the Buddha’s cousin, was proud and thought that he was his equal. Feeling very competitive towards him, he disputed the rule of the Buddha’s rule of allowing meat that is pure in three ways. He thought to make an even better rule and out of pride and competitiveness established his own. Did he make them out of compassion for the animals? This is difficult to say. Devadatta thought that he would not allow his followers to eat meat in order to be regarded more highly by the people, as the eating of meat was considered to entail the harming of sentient beings. Thus, some of Devadatta’s motivation for giving up meat was mistaken and making this new rule was hardly done out of a great sense of compassion for animals.
During the time of early Buddhism and the spreading of the eighteen philosophical schools, most Buddhists said that one should only eat meat that is pure in three ways. Later on, from the time when the Mahayana tradition flourished in India, especially during the period of the Great Parinirvana Sutra, the Travels to Lanka Sutra, the Sutra of Benefitting Angulimala, the Noble Cloud of Jewels Sutra, the Elephant Strength Sutra, the Great Cloud Sutra, andin particular the essence sutras that teach about buddha-nature — mention that eating even meat that is pure in the three ways is inappropriate. Thus, the teachings about practicing vegetarianism became prevalent.
In Mahayana, we should think about all sentient beings as if they were our parents, and if you really think of them as your fathers and mothers, not just mouthing it but feeling it within your heart, then it would be really difficult to eat their flesh. Likewise, if we eat sentient beings’ flesh, then this would stain our minds and our minds would become more hardened and eventually, we would have less loving-kindness and compassion.
Particularly in the essence sutras, it is taught that all sentient beings have buddha-nature and for this reason one should not eat their flesh. His Holiness the Karmapa suggested at that point that if one wished to read more about that topic, one might want to refer to the above mentioned Mahayana sutras.
In Chinese, there is a sutra called The Omniscient Sage not Eating Meat out of Compassion. That means that during the time of Maitreya, compassion was primarily emphasized, and if monastics at that time ate meat, they would incur a defeat and lose their vows. That is a prophecy that the Buddha is said to have made.
In the Mahayana tradition, most sutras that prohibit the eating of meat were taught during the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma. Maitreya is the one who teaches buddha-nature and who wrote treatises such as The Sublime Continuum.
When we look at the MahaparinirvanaSutra, the reason eating meat that is pure in three ways was permitted was in order to become vegetarian in stages instead of doing it immediately. It is not a rule saying that one should eat meat. Whether it is a historical fact that people actually practiced accordingly, is difficult to say. However, followers of the Foundation Vehicle Schools would not accept that, according to the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, one should not eat meat after the Buddha’s passing away, because it was a Mahayana sutra.
In Questions and Answers with Jangdak Namgyal Draksang, (aking in Tibet, particularly learned in the astrology of Kalachakra; an emanation of Pema Karpo, or White Lotus.), Lord Gendun Drup states that in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, monastics were not allowed to eat meat after the Buddha’s passing into Nirvana and that the sutra was primarily meant for Mahayana monastics.
According to the Mahayana, meat was prohibited out of compassion at that time. The counter-argument is that farming itself kills many sentient beings such as insects. In the Angulimala Sutra Manjushri, puts this argument to the Buddha: As many people maintain you should not eat meat because it harms sentient beings, then surely one should also not be allowed to plough fields. And one should also not be allowed to use water for cooking because it would harm sentient beings. Buddha replied that this is a worldly way of thinking. If this were to be the case, then - lay people need to engage in farming in order to produce food – without them, no one would not be able to achieve buddhahood. There are living beings in the ground, in the water and in the air. It would be impossible to avoid incurring a misdeed and harming sentient beings.
One thing to consider in this context, His Holiness stressed, is the fact that for the sake of meat, sentient beings are specifically killed, whereas insects are not killed intentionally when ploughing fields; this difference needs to be understood. Thinking too narrowly, we would not be allowed to do anything and could not actually put that into practice.
In brief, in the Mahayana the emphasis lies on love and compassion for sentient beings, and in the respective Mahayana sutras, the eating of meat is prohibited, because of which most monastics in Mahayana countries became vegetarians.
For example in China, the practice of vegetarianism began about 500 years after Buddhism spread to China. Before that, monastics practiced vegetarianism if they wished, they did not necessarily have to give up meat. Subsequently, there was a great movement to give up meat and the person who was leading that movement was the Emperor Wu of Liang, who lived in the 6th century (502-549 CE). He had great faith in Buddhism, went forth as a monastic three times and spent a lot of time reading Buddhist scriptures. When he was reading the Mahayana sutras, he saw many of those statements that emphasize abstaining from eating meat out of love and compassion for sentient beings. This influenced him greatly and he established rules that prohibited the sacrifice of meat in temples and medicine made from animal products. Moreover, he used the Mahayana sutras as a basis for writing a letter that said that monastics should not eat meat. He also specifically invited 198 male and female monastics to come to the palace in order to discuss the issue of whether, according to the Mahayana, eating meat was appropriate. The emperor had prepared over fifty questions and asked the upholders of the Vinaya to respond. Because of him, vegetarianism spread greatly throughout the country and among the monastics.
In Tibet, some people argue that vegetarianism is a Chinese Buddhist practice not a Tibetan one. However, vegetarianism in Tibet is not something new. Generally, problems of geography and altitude and lack of technology have made it very difficult to give up meat and grow vegetables in Tibet. The primary practice among monastics was to eat meat which was pure in three ways.
Later on, after many generations and years had passed, the rules grew lax, and people started to eat any meat that was available. Monasteries had slaughterhouses or ordered animals to be killed. Thus, there were many situations that were inappropriate and contradictory to the Vinaya. That was the main reason why many great beings, such as Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo, Shabgar Tsogdruk Rangdrol,, Nyala Pema Dundul, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen, the 14th Dalai Lama, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok and others gave up eating meat and spoke out in favor of a vegetarian diet .
Now, in the 21st century, most monasteries in and outside Tibet have stopped serving meat in their community kitchens, many members of the Sangha have become vegetarians, and there are different vegetarian movements in Tibetan society.
Of course, people have different opinions in this regard and many issues need to be researched. In any case, His Holiness thinks that vegetarians criticizing meat eaters and meat eaters speaking badly about vegetarians, even getting into disputes, is not good. Thus, if we practice vegetarianism but our motivation is not wholesome, we become just like Devadatta whose act of giving up meat became a non-Dharmic action. We should be careful about our motivation!
After the break, His Holiness continued by speaking about the innumerable Kagyu forefathers who gave a good example, such as Milarepa. The collected works, tell how he was at Nyanang Belly Cave with Rechungpa, who would not listen to his advice. Rechungpa had thoughts of the eight worldly dharmas, and when Milarepa told him to give them up, Rechungpa argued that the Dharma texts say that if one has given up his homeland, which he already had done, one would have accomplished half of the Dharma practice. Milarepa replied that these were just words and did not have much benefit; he gave him many instructions but they did not help Rechungpa very much.
One day, Milarepa and Rechungpa went to a market in the Nyanang valley in order to beg for food. The market was primarily butchers so there were stacks of meat, piles of animals’ heads, blood, animals to be killed and so forth. In the centre was a butcher. One way to slaughter animals is to suffocate them, the Karmapa explained. Another method id to slit their bellies open and sever the artery to the heart. While the butcher attempting to slaughter a sheep using the latter method, the animal escaped, running around with its intestines hanging out. It ran to Milarepa for protection, and died right there. Milarepa felt such great compassion that he wept. He immediately did transference of consciousness for the sheep, placing it onto the bodhisattava path. Out of his great compassion he sang this song:
E MA! Sentient beings of samsara, Look to the path of liberation. Alas! These here with such negativity—such a shame! Ignorant of karma in this human birth with leisures, How devastating is this killing of beings! How regrettable to have such self-delusion! How shameful, indeed, to kill one’s parents! What’s to be done with this stacking of killed flesh? What to do with all this pooling of blood? Eating meat, however hungry one is; Such confused perception, thinking anything; Such negativity without any compassion; Delusive ignorance that’s obscured everything; What can be done with such cultivation of negativity? Giving torment however they please; Such wickedness of those who act this way; How shameful! Oh, such sadness and heartache! So busy with negativity in all that they do, Later, they won’t remember a single moment. When I see such people, I fear for them. I think of those with such negative conduct, and I am disturbed. Rechungpa, doesn’t it make you think of the sublime dharma? If it does, then give rise to sadness and disillusionment. If you meditate, go to mountain retreats. If you contemplate, contemplate the guru’s kindness. If you escape something, escape from the root of nonvirtue. If you let go of something, let go of mundane deeds. If you keep something, keep your promise to practice. If you understand, then bring your life to the dharma.
Essentially, His Holiness commented, the song is telling us to look at all sentient beings with compassion. We have to stop fooling ourselves. We need to realise these are our parent sentient beings that are dying. People eat meat with no compunction at all.
His Holiness shared that he had found this song very helpful personally.
After Rechungpa had seen that sheep dying in the market, he felt some world-weariness and the wish for liberation. He told Milarepa that now he would really give up the eight worldly dharmas, give up wicked food and stay in the mountains.
There were many people at the butchers’ market who felt faith and who gave them many offerings; but as the offerings were mainly meat, Milarepa and Rechungpa did not accept them and subsequently went to Lachi.
When we think about the Kagyu forefather Gampopa and his students, such as Pakmodrukpa and his disciples, many Kagyu forefathers practiced vegetarianism. Likewise, in the Karma Kamtsang tradition, from the 4th Karmapa Rolpai Dorje up until the 10th Karmapa Choeying Dorje, there was a strict rule against eating meat, in the Garchen and also in the Kamtsang monasteries. Vegetarians were considered very highly and praised.
The non-sectarian master the First Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye wrote:
For me, the weight of offerings is definitely a large burden, but by the kindness of the teachings of the Great Sage, and in particular because of encountering this Secret Mantra Vajrayana, my root vows and samaya are unbroken. There is no way not to violate the secondary ones, but it is illogical to think the methods of confession are unimportant. Though there is no hope of totally purity, it is possible to achieve a mere human body, and I have prayed that at that time I be reborn in a land where it is not necessary to eat meat.
He made confessions again and again. Having no hopes to be born in a pure land, he nevertheless thought it possible to achieve a human body, and he made aspirations to be born in a place where it would not be necessary to eat meat. There are many such examples, His Holiness commented.
During the Buddha's time, monastics practiced exactly as had been taught in the Vinaya, as they had all the facilities needed to do this. But these days the monastic way of life has changed greatly from how it was during the time of the Buddha. Other than in a few Theravada countries or countries of the Southern Transmission, in Tibetan Buddhism and the traditions of the Northern Transmission, the tradition of daily alms rounds ceased a long time ago. Meals are prepared in the monasteries for the Sangha. Consequently, a lot of provisions need to be bought and stored as well, and if a monastery needed to buy a large amount of meat for the monastics, it would be difficult to say whether it was pure in the three ways or not.
During the time of the Buddha, however, when the monastics went on alms round, they would just take what had been offered to them and they had no control over it. When we buy food for the Sangha these days, it is under our control; we have the choice.
In the past, when the monks and nuns in the monasteries ate meat, butchers’ shops were opened near that monastery and when the monastics stopped eating meat, the butchers’ shops would close quickly. Thus, the lifestyle of the monastics at the Buddha’s time and now has hugely changed, and we need to understand this.
His Holiness then shared that when he was a young nomad, he really liked meat. Once a year, Chinese butchers would come and slaughter the animals. Yet, when His Holiness saw the animals being suffocated, because they did not die immediately sweat broke out all over their bodies, he would scream and jump up and down. So later, when they were going to butcher the animals, they knew to take him somewhere else, away from the scene. When the meat was cooked and served, he would eat it because it was the custom to do so; not only did he eat it, His Holiness admitted, he enjoyed it. Tshurpu monastery, His Holiness went on to share, had delicious dried meat. And when he got to India, he thought that Indian meat had not much flavor. In Tibet, he never ate goat, yet in India he was served goat meat a few times.
His Holiness explained that his attitude changed after he saw a video in which animals were slaughtered. It was no longer possible for him to eat meat, and he made the decision to give it up entirely. He realised that in this lifetime he is in the position where he does not need to take the life of another sentient being in order to live. As there is no guarantee that this state will continue into future lifetimes, His Holiness made the aspiration that he would never be born in a body where he needs to take the lives of other sentient beings, and composed a verse which said. If we think of the sufferings of sentient beings under the sky, then I do not want to separate them from my life, and I need to give up eating meat.
He did not intend to encourage people to eat a vegetarian diet and thought it best for people to decide for themselves rather than telling them to do so. Then, in Bodhgaya, on the last day of the Kagyu Monlam in 2004, a vegetarian group asked His Holiness to speak about the importance of a vegetarian diet and encourage people to give up meat. In his talk, the Karmapa advised that the best option was to give up meat entirely for life. Alternatively, if that is not possible, try not to eat meat at least once a week, or at the very least, once a month. He stressed the importance of showing some interest in giving up meat. His Holiness did not think that many people would be keen to follow his advice, yet after he had spoken on the subject, half of the people attending the Monlam raised their hands, wanting to give up meat for the rest of their lives.
Reaction to His Holiness’ vegetarianism was mixed. He was told that to give up eating meat would damage his health, because he was from a country where the consumption of meat is widespread. Others argued that being the Karmapa, he would make an important connection with those living beings whose meat he consumed, and that he would be able to guide all those sentient beings to the pure land of Sukhavati or another good rebirth. His Holiness wryly commented that as he was not even able to guide himself to a pure realm, how could he possibly bring anybody else there?
It has been at least ten years now, His Holiness continued, that he has been eating an entirely vegetarian diet. And when it comes to the difference to eating meat versus a vegetarian diet, His Holiness stated that due to a vegetarian diet, his compassion and empathy for other sentient beings has grown and that he has more feelings for the suffering of sentient beings. Eating meat, one would generally not really think about how that affects those living beings whose meat one is consuming.
There is a Tibetan saying: The compassionate eat meat and those with samaya drink alcohol. It reflects the idea that eating the meat of an animal and reciting the mantras of the buddhas as well as making aspirations for them, would benefit those sentient beings. There are texts that describe how to recite mantras and the names of the buddhas when eating meat. However, Drukpa Kunley said that it is best not to eat meat and that it is difficult to eat meat compassionately. His Holiness then shared a story about Drukpa Kunley:
At one time, Drukpa Kunley went to a region in which there was a great drought, the crops did not grow properly and the people there had a difficult time because of a great famine. One family—father, mother and son— had a really difficult time as they had nothing to eat. The parents initially thought that as they were already quite old, if one of them were to die, their son could eat their flesh and be able to live a little longer. The son, however, could not bear the thought of either of his parents dying, so he decided it would be better to die himself so that his parents had his flesh to eat. Finally, the son committed suicide and left a note which said that he had died so that his parents would not need to die of hunger, and urged his parents to eat his meat, otherwise there would be no point in his death. Thus, the parents had no choice but to eat their son’s flesh. While they were eating, the flesh was tasteless and they wept continuously.
Making the connection to the Mahayana tradition, His Holiness stated that there are no sentient beings that have not been your mother. Thus, one has to think of all sentient beings as one’s father and mother. If we think in this way, it becomes impossible to eat one’s father’s or mother’s flesh, even in the most desperate of situations. And even if there were no other choice, how could there be any taste to it? Tears would flow down our cheeks. We might claim to eat compassionately, but where is our compassion? We might initially say a short prayer, but then immediately we start wolfing down the food, without any feeling or restraint.
On the other hand, it is not necessarily true to say that someone lacks compassion on the grounds that they eat meat. There are in fact many great beings who eat meat and we certainly cannot say that they lack compassion. Sometimes, we take those great beings as a model when it comes to eating meat, but our actions are not the same as those great beings. We cannot know what qualities of abandonment and realization great beings have. We are not at their level yet so we cannot take them as a model for our own actions, it would just not be the same. The saying “the compassionate eat meat” may sound good, but in fact it is not easy to both feel compassion and eat meat.
Giving up meat does not need to depend on Buddhist texts or logic. Even ordinary people who do not practice the Dharma become vegetarian; they do not need quotes from scripture and can give up meat easily. To illustrate this, His Holiness jokingly said: “If you need to go to the bathroom, do you need any scriptures and logic to prove that you need to go to the bathroom? You don’t!” If an ordinary person thinks well, they understand why they should practice vegetarianism. On You Tube, for example, we can find videos in which little children aged four or five state they do not eat meat. When they understand that animals need to be killed in order to produce meat, they refuse to eat it. However, nowadays, because the meat is wrapped up and sold in supermarkets, many children do not realise that meat comes from killing animals. But if they learn that animals were killed to produce the meat, most children will not eat it. His Holiness pointed out that if we need to use scriptures and logic as proof to make us do something that ordinary beings can easily understand, it is actually a bit of a disgrace.
His Holiness then explained that there are basically two types of people who do not eat meat: those who refrain from eating meat for their own sake, and those who give it up for the sake of other living beings and the environment.
In general, Buddhism is often associated with loving-kindness, compassion, non-violence and peace. That is the impression most people have of Buddhism or Buddhists. If, as a Buddhist, one eats a lot of meat, then people may wonder what is going on. We need to know what others’ opinions are and not merely focus on our own thoughts and habits. Particularly, in the Mahayana tradition, the primary work is to liberate all beings from suffering and bring them to happiness which shows in the aspirations that we make, such as, “May all sentient beings be free from suffering andthe causes of suffering …” Harming sentient beings for food is in contradiction with those aspirations and is something we really need to think about, His Holiness stressed. To eat meat or not is nothing complicated or profound like the concept of emptiness or selflessness; anybody can easily understand it.
Going back to the topic of meat that is pure in three ways, His Holiness explained that if we look at the Vinaya, there are specific reasons given why meat should be pure in three ways. Rice, on the other hand, is never mentioned. A piece of meat and a cup of rice are very different. When it comes to eating meat, the way we usually think is that we ourselves have not killed the animal, nor do we think that we ordered someone else to kill that animal for our sake. At that point, His Holiness emphasized that apart from not doing any misdeed ourselves, we also need to consider others who commit misdeeds and think about what we can do for them.
The impact of eating meat on living beings and the environment
His Holiness used statistics and information he had gleaned from various sources.
He first mentioned the Oxford University website www. Our World in Data in which data collected from 1968-2018 is summarized. The data shows that during a period of fifty years from 1968 to 2018, the world production of livestock tripled. In 2018, just one single year, there were 346 million tons of livestock production, that is, for the purpose of meat. That includes 69 billion chickens, 1.5 billion pigs, 574 million sheep, 479 million goats, and 302 million cattle.
If we explain those totals differently, if we count only the livestock slaughtered in the year 2018 and do not consider fish and seafood, the number of animals slaughtered was ten times greater than the total human population in the world.
In a single day in the entire world, a minimum of 190 million animals are slaughtered. At least 4.1 million pigs are slaughtered. At least 1.57 million sheep are killed, most of which are killed as lambs less than a year old, and some before they even reach two months. 1.3 million goats are slaughtered. As goats are primarily raised for milk production, billy goats are slaughtered as soon as they are born. Similarly, 1 million cattle are slaughtered every day.
According to the website www.cowspiracy.com, a total of 6 million animals are slaughtered for human consumption every hour.
This is just livestock, not counting seafood and fish. According to the World Economic Forum, in 2016, the total world production of seafood was 155 million tons. This does not include ‘by-catch”, fish that are caught and thrown back into the sea, and it does not include molluscs and shellfish.
If one thinks that all the tens of millions of animals slaughtered were used properly and destined for human consumption, then that is a childish way of thinking. In actual fact, how many animals die meaninglessly? According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2015 annual report, 1/3 of the total world food production is spoiled or wasted. Within that, 1/5 of all meat is wasted.
This, His Holiness commented, was just to give a summary of how many animals are being slaughtered.
The cruelty of animal husbandry
His Holiness added that we also need to take into consideration how all those animals are being raised and cared for before being slaughtered, when and how they are killed. These are all terrifying thoughts, their suffering is hard to describe and we may not even dare to talk about it. We might assume that these animals are well-looked after before being slaughtered, that they are well-fed, can roam around freely like in Tibet and so forth, and think that they have some freedom; however, this is not the way it is for the majority. If we could actually see with our own eyes how those animals are being raised and slaughtered, His Holiness is convinced, we would then not dare to eat meat or meat would have no flavor.
The environmental impact
Water: Moreover, His Holiness stressed that it is also very important to think about the impact that meat production has on our environment. For example, in the entire world, almost 345 trillion liters of water are used for livestock production in the entire the world. The entire human population uses 8.6 trillion liters of water for household use. So the amount of water used for livestock would provide drinking water for the entire human population for forty years.
To produce one pound of beef requires 11,000 liters of water. To explain that from another angle, it requires 3550 liters of water to produce the beef for one hamburger. That is the amount of water it takes for one person to shower daily for half a year.
1/3 of the drinkable water on the Earth is used for livestock. Every day, all the humans on the Earth drink 25.6 billion liters of water, but the water drunk by all the cattle kept on the Earth is 250 billion liters. Thus, the total amount of water drunk by cattle is more than nine times the total amount drunk by humans. Each day, the human population of Earth combined eat 9.5 billion kilos of food, but just the cattle on the Earth eat 61 billion kilos of animal feed, so more than 6 times as much as humans.
Land use: Over half of the entire Earth’s available land is used for livestock.
In brief, livestock is the primary destroyer of wildlife, the source of the depletion of oceans, water pollution, and the destruction of biodiversity.
Waste: A feedlot with 2500 cattle produces as much waste as a city with a population of 410,000 people. In the US, the amount of waste from livestock is 130 times as much as the waste produced by humans. The waste produced by livestock in the US alone is probably 52,600 kilos per minute. That is the weight of 35 cars.
Food Inequality: There are many children in the world who do not have enough food and are malnourished. These children live in countries where most of the food is fed to the animals, which in turn are used to supply rich western countries.
Greenhouse Gases: When we look at the data from the World Environmental Organization, we have greenhouse gases around the world, causing global warming. 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions come from animal agriculture and livestock. These are more greenhouse gases than those that are produced by all the cars, airplanes, trucks, trains, boats, and other forms of transportation in the world. Thus, there is a lot of environmental destruction caused by livestock production.
Concluding today’s teachings, His Holiness made these final remarks:
There are many different reasons for giving up meat and becoming vegetarian. Whether or not you have faith in the Dharma, there is a lot to think about when looking at the actual situation in the world. However, you have to be very skillful about giving up meat and practice vegetarianism. You have to look at your own physical health and need to practice in a way that matches your health. To give up meat and become a vegetarian should be something that you want to do and decide for yourself; to think that the Buddha or the guru said you should become a vegetarian and follow that tradition without really wanting to, is not the way to go about it, because you should see the reasons and the purpose to give up meat for yourself and really wish to do so.
The crux of the matter is that a lot of people are really attached to the taste of meat, because of which they think they cannot give it up. In the Vinaya, it is primarily about giving up attachment, while in the Mahayana there is the danger of harming sentient beings out of one’s attachment to the taste of meat, thus it is prohibited.
In general, giving up meat is good. Whether one is able to give it up, depends on one’s health, environment and so forth. One should practice in accordance with one’s situation. Also, giving up meat and becoming attached to that, is not good either. Giving up meat for the sake of protecting other sentient beings is something we should do, but there is no reason to become conceited about it. Nor should we look down on or disparage others who have not given up meat, as there lies the danger of turning towards the austerities as proclaimed by Devadatta, who wanted to diminish the Buddha, and had a mistaken motivation. Likewise, those who are not able to give up meat should not disparage those who follow a vegetarian diet and get into arguments. We should not only consider the way we think about things but also take others’ viewpoints into consideration.
Gyalwang Karmapa on The Life of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje
March 12, 2021
After giving his auspicious greetings, His Holiness continued his presentation on the Great Encampment’s traditions and rules for not eating meat. In addition, His Holiness discussed how the Vinaya addresses meat consumption.
Part 1: The Fourth Karmapa Rölpai Dorje prohibits meat and alcohol in the Great Encampment
Referencing the Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje’s Great Rule Book for the Great Encampment, the Ornament of the World, His Holiness explained that the Fourth Karmapa Rölpai Dorje and successive Karmapa incarnations prohibited the consumption of meat and alcohol in the Great Encampment:
those who were included in the encampment could not have any meat — not even the hair of a deer — or drink any alcohol, not even as much as the tip of a blade of grass.
Similarly, Karma Könshön, who was one of the Fourth Karmapa’s direct disciples, wrote a namthar of Rölpai Dorje called Delighting the Scholars. In this text, he reported that Rölpai Dorje and his entourage lived off of the three “white foods”, and that if the bones of a slaughtered animal were found where masters and disciples had stayed, they would be reprimanded. Moreover, “not even the scent of alcohol was allowed to waft into the confines of the encampment. [Rölpai Dorje] brought everyone into pure conduct.” Another of Rölpai Dorje’s students, Tsurphu Kangpangpa, concurred. He said of his teacher:
There was no way that even the tiniest amount of meat or the mere scent of alcohol could be in the encampment. His conduct was the perfection of purity and the power of his compassion extremely great.
Successive Karmapas upheld, preserved, and spread Rölpai Dorje’s tradition of vegetarianism. His Holiness believes that this prohibition on eating meat was a distinctive feature of the Great Encampment. In Karma Chakme’s The Words of Guru Pandita Jamyang from the North: The Faults of Meat and Distinguishing What is Allowed and Prohibited, it is written:
There were always 500 bhikshus with outer robes around Rölpai Dorje, and he perfected the example of not allowing meat, not even the hair of a deer, to come into his sight. From that time on, most of the dharma organizations founded by Lord Mikyö Dorje had strict rules against meat. At Nyinling Monastery, there was no rule against meat, but a separate soup with a vegetarian stock was made for the vegetarians. The Karmapa and Heart Sons only ate vegetarian food and never allowed meat in their sight. In ganachakras, the meat offering was eaten by everyone, and even the Karmapa and Heart Sons ate a small amount so as not to violate samaya.
Rules against meat and alcohol consumption in the Great Encampment were clearly quite strict. Prohibitions included the slaughtering and butchering animals in or near the Encampment, and meat was not to be offered during regular pujas or during times of celebration such as Losar (Tibetan New Year). People who butchered animals or did not heed these rules could be expelled from the Encampment – which meant being expelled from the Karma Kagyu entirely – or demoted, depending on the severity of the wrongdoing committed.
There were many reasons why meat was prohibited so strictly in the Encampment. However, the primary reason, His Holiness explained, was to prevent numerous sentient beings from being killed in order to feed the Encampment’s many people. If eating meat had been allowed, eating meat from animals that had died naturally was impractical due to the number of people living in the Encampment; you wouldn’t be able to wait until you had enough animal corpses to feed everyone. As a result, animals would have had to be killed. According to the Vinaya, this meat would be considered impure and there would be great harm from eating it.
Part 2: Mikyö Dorje encourages all Tibetans to give up meat
As His Holiness explained in a previous session, by Mikyö Dorje’s time, the Great Encampment had become much larger and more organized. After the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso passed away, many of the Great Encampment’s regulations were disregarded and many animals were offered, killed and eaten. The Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, recognizing the difficulty and suffering this caused, reinstated the rule strictly prohibiting meat in the Great Encampment once he was old and influential enough to do so. In addition, many of the monasteries he founded adopted strict rules against eating meat and he started a movement promoting vegetarianism throughout Tibet. The Fifth Shamarpa’s Catalogue of Collected Works includes Mikyö Dorje’s Letter to my Defenseless Mothers Primarily in the Land of Snows, an announcement disseminated in Tibet about the inappropriateness of eating meat. Although His Holiness doesn’t have this text, he was able to ascertain Mikyö Dorje’s position on meat-eating from the title. His Holiness hopes one day we will be able to obtain a copy of the Letter to my Defenseless Mothers.
The Eighth Karmapa avoided going to regions for alms where large quantities of meat were eaten. From Sangye Paldrup’s commentary on the Autobiographical Verses “Good Deeds”:
No matter what region he traveled to, he skillfully prevented people from eating meat. In Kongpo, because of the region, he was unable to prevent it, and it was due to this that he did not go for alms in Kongpo, Mongol regions, or other regions where they only ate meat, it is said.
We can see from his text Great Commentary on the Vinaya that Mikyö Dorje was quite insistent about not consuming meat or alcohol. In it he wrote:
Further, if you put meat, alcohol, and so forth into the Gutor and other certain kinds of torma, you are not taking me as a teacher. You are not appropriate to be my disciple. You are not taking me as a guru.
In addition to meat and alcohol, there were eight impure things that must be given up upon ordination which Mikyö Dorje listed in his 100 Short Instructions. They are: armor, weapons, riding animals and pack animals, business including interest, crops and houses, and milking and animal husbandry. These were not new orders created by the Eighth Karmapa. Rather, Mikyö Dorje was citing Lord Gampopa.
On a personal note, His Holiness has heard from many people, “the Karmapa said that if you don’t give up meat you’re not a Kagyupa”. His Holiness clarified that he doesn’t have the ability to tell or decide whether someone is a Kagyupa or not. The confusion may have arisen out of a talk he gave in 2004 where he quoted some of Mikyö Dorje’s texts concerning giving up meat. His Holiness pointed out that he was not the one making this statement but rather it was what previous Karmapas had instructed.
His Holiness reminded listeners that being vegetarian in Mikyö Dorje’s time was quite challenging as there were not many foods one could eat. In an old book he had read that enumerated Tibetan foods, he said there were only about 100 foods named and over 90% of them were meat. His Holiness, born to a nomadic family, said that aside from meat, there was only butter, cheese, and tsampa to eat and milk to drink, and there were no vegetables. Consequently, great Tibetan masters of the past did not tell people to stop eating meat in particular. However, past Kagyu masters considered it to be very important and taught about the problems of and reasons for giving up the consumption of meat and alcohol. He would discuss this further tomorrow.
Part 3: Meat that is pure in the three ways
The Bhagavan Buddha paid great attention to food and the conduct of the monastic community, and gave them substantial advice. Some of his advice can be located in the Vinaya scriptures of different schools. With regards to today’s instructions on meat that is pure in the three ways, His Holiness referred primarily to quotations given from five of the 18 original schools of Buddhism, most of which he had translated from Chinese. The texts have slightly different explanations on determining which meat was pure or impure for whom ( bhikshus, bhikshunis, novices, or lay people).
His Holiness started this portion of the teaching by reflecting on the earlier ascetic practices of Prince Siddhartha. At that time in India, many philosophical and religious traditions promoted practicing austerities, sometimes quite severe ones. These were very difficult for ordinary people to practice, but Prince Siddhartha did so for six years. He then had an experience where he realized that practicing austerities alone would not lead to enlightenment. The Bhagavan Buddha later taught to his monastics that they should neither have a lifestyle that is so severe it is unbearable, nor one that is so luxurious that one becomes careless.
As food is a daily necessity, we have no choice but to eat. However, the Bhagavan Buddha established codes to encourage eating in moderation. Food should be thought of as medicine, and thus eating in an uncontrolled way was not considered acceptable. Monastics went on daily alms rounds and therefore had to rely on the food they were given. Although India, from ancient times until the present, has had a large number of vegetarians, there were some people who offered meat to the monks. The Bhagavan Buddha thought accepting alms from both the rich and the poor, who may or may not be vegetarian, would help monastics make connections with all levels of society. They would therefore have to accept offerings of meat at times.
However, monastics were not to eat all of the meat given to them. Meat that was considered pure after examination could be eaten while impure meat could not. The Uttara Grantha Vinaya text of the Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition found in Tibet lists several types of animals that one should not eat. They include consuming the meat, fat, and juices from different bird species such as owls, reptiles and amphibians such as toads, and carnivores such as lions, tigers, and bears. In addition, meat should not be raw or killed specifically for the particular recipient in question.
The Bhagavan Buddha offered ways to determine whether the meat was pure in the three ways, and these teachings applied primarily to monastics and occasionally to lay people. Slight variations occurred between different Vinaya manuscripts and Buddhist schools, but they agreed that three types of meat should be avoided: by seeing, by hearing, or through suspicion. According to a Sri Lankan source brought to China in the fourth century, the Bhagavan Buddha explained the definition of impure meat to his bhikshus and bhikshunis:
Seeing means actually seeing the killing yourself. Hearing means hearing from a credible individual that it was killed for your sake. Suspicion means suspecting it was killed for your sake.
He gave them this teaching following a meal served by a man called Captain or General Lion, during which the monastics expressed doubts about eating the meat being offered. The Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition’s Vinaya Vastu, which is found in Tibet, recounts this story similarly and the meaning is the same, explained His Holiness. The Mahīśāsaka texts existing in China differ but slightly. The important thing, His Holiness noted, is that when monastics were offered meat on their alms round, they were to ask questions to the donor about what kind of meat it was and whether the animal was slaughtered for his or her sake. They were responsible for investigating and ascertaining whether that meat was appropriate for them to eat or not. According to His Holiness, if they were not careful, there would be the danger of animals being harmed for their sake.
In the Mahāsāṇghika Vinaya, the definition of what constituted impure meat was wider and it applied to both monastics and laypeople. This text, brought to China by a Chinese monk named Faxian (法顯) and translated with the Indian master Buddhabhadra, says that, regardless whether an animal is killed for a specific bhikshu or a layperson alike, no bhikshu, bhikshuni, novice, or layperson may consume that meat. In other words, if an animal was slaughtered for a bhikshu, bhiksunis and laypeople were also not allowed to eat it. Similarly, if an animal was killed for a layperson, it was impure and neither laypeople nor monastics could eat it.
The Tāmraśāṭīya scriptures, which were originally in Pali but have been translated by His Holiness from the Chinese, offer a detailed description of the three pure meats. The Tāmraśāṭīya is one of the 18 original schools of Buddhism, developed mostly in Sinhala (Sri Lanka), and is considered part of the Theravada tradition. Excerpts from its text called The Great Treasury of All Seen to Be Excellent (Samantapāsādikā) were read. In addition, His Holiness presented his translations of texts from the Daśa-bhāṇavāra-vinaya of the Sarvastivada tradition and the Dharmaguptika Vinaya, which had narrower definitions of the three-fold purity of meat. In their texts, impure meat also included meat from an animal that did not die naturally, from a butcher or from a household that killed for your sake, from a household that sold meat, or from an individual who acted on the ten nonvirtuous actions. To note, Tibetan and Chinese Vinaya practice came from the Sarvastivadan tradition, which in turn developed out of Theravada.
In brief, in all of the traditions of Vinaya, it is important for monastics and lay practitioners with householder vows to only eat meat that is pure in the three ways. This means not seeing, not hearing, and not having any suspicion or doubts that it was slaughtered for you. Moreover, for monastics, this means only eating meat that was offered (that is not ordered from the donor) and determined to be pure. Remembering that the Sarvastivada and Dharmaguptika Vinaya were quite strict, this could be difficult at times. Even if one’s stomach was burning with hunger, he or she was not to eat impure meat.
Tomorrow, His Holiness will continue by speaking about how meat was prohibited in the Mahayana. In addition, he will address the impact of eating meat on the environment and our health. He then mentioned his plan to begin summer teachings that will focus on tsokdra, the rituals and practices of the yidam deities. Because these will be related to Secret Mantra Practice, they will be open to monasteries and nunneries but closed to the general public.