Day 12: Living the Dharma

Day 12: Living the Dharma

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

April 15, 2022 

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

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

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

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

How to act when you are disrespected and scorned

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

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

How we use social media to confirm self- importance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This beggar’s aim will be fulfilled. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Your Own Judge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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