Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings: 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on the 8th Karmapa Mikyö Dorje's Autobiographical Verses
March 22, 2022
‘’I spoke yesterday mainly about exchanging oneself for others,’’ said His Holiness Karmapa, as he began the third day of teaching on the autobiographical verses of Mikyӧ Dorje. He continued the topic further.
Buying Suffering and Selling Happiness
Generally, exchanging oneself for others is not disconnected from the situation of our daily life. For example, if our parents, life partners, and children are dear to our hearts, we are able to sacrifice ourselves for them. When they encounter difficulties, we think, “It’s better for me to take on the suffering.” Our hearts ache for them, and we do whatever we can. That is exactly what it is to exchange oneself for others. We would be happy to take their place. That is one way of exchanging self for others. It’s something all human beings can feel. It’s not inconceivable.
However, the exchange of self and others usually taught in Lojong Mind Training doesn’t come naturally. The intention and the aim are quite different. The focus is broader, and the intention is far vaster. We have to do it for all sentient beings. We have to take the feelings we have for those we love and apply it to all beings. We need to enlarge our intention; this is the first step and it’s not an easy one.
Do we feel the wish to exchange ourselves for people we are not usually connected to, whom we don’t even know, when they face difficulties? This is a huge question. It is very unlikely. They aren’t connected to me. Why should I put myself out for them? Why should I sacrifice myself? It’s understandable to think like that. In general, everyone is so habituated to cherishing themselves that we naturally think in that way.
It’s even more difficult to do with our enemies. Why would I feel love for them? Why would I sacrifice for their sake? We feel disconnected from them. To begin with, we have to understand that person’s suffering. That’s why Geshe Langri Tangpa says, as the first stage in his Eight Verses of Training the Mind, that we should train until we see all beings as similar to a wish-fulfilling jewel. Without sentient beings there is no way to attain buddhahood, no way to purify. All sentient beings are not only as important as we are, but they are also even more significant. They are actually indispensable.
The way we accumulate merit is similar to a business model. When we have the opportunity to do a deal with a big business person and earn a lot of money, we make sure not to miss that chance. Gathering the accumulations is the same. The difference is that normally we work for someone else to earn money but when we practice dharma, we take on suffering ourselves to accumulate merit. There is no limit to sentient beings’ suffering, so our opportunities to gather merit are limitless. The dharma profits just roll right in. We buy their suffering and sell our happiness.
Just as we have to work hard to earn money because we need food and drink to live, we need good conditions to lead a good dharma life, and for that to happen we must gather the accumulations. Gaining a precious human body and meeting an authentic guru will not happen without the support of gathering the accumulations. It is the same as earning money.
Right now, we are just spending the merit we accumulated in previous lives, and if we do not continue to accumulate more, one day the merit, like money, will run out. We need to grow that exponentially. Gathering the accumulations is more stable than earning money. Money is limited but the accumulations are limitless. The currency of the two accumulations can be used in any world system at any time.
Accumulating worldly wealth is important for humans, but in terms of the wider universe it has no value at all. The power of gathering merit transcends any limit of the material and can bring immeasurable benefit and happiness. To look at it from the widest and most long-term perspective, gathering the accumulations is much more important than earning money. It is a way to eliminate all our problems and fulfill all our wishes.
The best way to become rich is to take birth in a rich family. Right now, we don’t have money like Elon Musk, and this is due to whether or not we have the merit for wealth. Thus, a good or bad rebirth is a question of whether or not we know the methods; in this sense, reincarnation is a technical matter.
Even if we cannot think that way now, we must not belittle accumulating merit. If we do so, that is the foundation for losing everything we have.
We have to think about it from the depths of the mind and with a pure motivation.
The Karmapa then turned his attention to the 11th Good Deed of Mikyӧ Dorje
Taking adversity as the path in post-meditation
1. Taking running out of supplies as the path
The 11th verse reads:
Although I gave without attachment to beings,
When combative people responded to that with harm,
I thought to myself, “This purifies bad karma!”
And felt as much delight as a beggar finding treasure.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.
The roots of virtue Mikyӧ Dorje was striving to attain brought on obstacles caused by the Maras, both in human and spirit forms. Both would try to denigrate his intentions and actions. They would say, “generosity and discipline such as this will never become the path to great enlightenment. This is not the Mahayana path. This is not work that will help you or others. This is harmful.”
At such times we need to focus our minds and remember this is their obstacle without bearing a grudge towards them. And we must be really diligent in this. The more obstacles, the more momentum our antidotes will gather, like the current of a river.
The way to be victorious over the Maras is to have the kind of confidence and courage that cannot be changed by any condition, internal or external. We must be as still as the depths of the great ocean, unmoving and stable. This is important.
The Karmapa then referred to the rift in the Great Encampment before Mikyӧ Dorje was correctly identified and enthroned as the 8th Karmapa. After he was enthroned, he received a mountain of wealth from the Ming Emperor of China. He had not the least attachment to any of it and would give away a thousand bricks of tea; countless bolts of silk; four or five mule loads of gold and silver; or innumerable pack animals to his students and entourage, without any discrimination. Even an ordinary person in the retinue would receive wealth fit for a great lord. Yet he never even referred to it. He never said, “I gave you a gift.” Sadly, those people, had neither gratitude nor respect. They would try to get whatever they could as if they were recalling a loan. Then they would ask for respect in accordance with their new status and use all their powers to denigrate their benefactor.
They would say: “Your activity is because of our kindness. By yourself you aren’t capable. We are kinder than you. Without us, who knows where you would be now.” They even threatened to destroy all the monks.
He understood that this was because their minds had not been tamed. When people repaid his help with harm, he saw that if he continued to help them, the result would be the cause of inexhaustible wealth. He never said an angry word or even criticized them even when all the jewels and artefacts that had been offered him and the previous Karmapas were stolen or destroyed. He showed only loving kindness and spoke naturally. He never exposed hidden faults or humiliated anyone. He saw them as a teacher who shows how wealth and possessions have no point. They were no different from a buddha.
When others have robbed the sensory pleasures, we have been given, debts from beginning-less samsara are being purified, so we must accept them. If instead we accumulate the karma of greed and hatred, we and all other sentient beings will be born in the great hells. If without accumulating karma we take it as an aid on the path to great enlightenment, there is no better method for swiftly awakening to buddhahood.
A few bodhisattvas may have vast activity, the Karmapa reflected, but the results of their students’ bad karma are so powerful that their activity cannot flourish.
The Food of Faith
In the Vinaya it is said that the proper livelihood of a monk is to live off alms. In the alms round they should hold out their bowls like beggars. The difference between a monk and a beggar is that the donors make offerings to monks out of faith. The food and clothing that lay people offer to monastics is called the “food of faith.” The recipients need to pay due respect to this aspect of offering.
The Vinaya scriptures teach five ways of accepting offerings from the faithful. The first is accepting them like an owner. This applies to Arhats. The second is by accepting what is designated or permitted, which applies to stream-enterers. The third is using them in the allowed manner, which applies to ordinary individuals who have discipline and strive on the path of virtue by practicing meditation or recitations. The fourth and fifth have serious consequences: using them like red-hot iron and using them like a loan.
To illustrate this, the Karmapa recalled the story of the great sponsor Anatapindata who invited the Buddha and his entire retinue to Jetavana Grove in Sravasti in order to make impressive offerings. Once there, Anatapindata asked the Buddha: “Who is the best recipient of an offering?” “The Sangha,” replied the Buddha, meaning solely the noble ones, the learners who had eliminated the afflictions. Not everyone present was in this category; some were just ordinary people.
The Arhats wouldn’t take the offerings because they were taught not to boast about themselves. Many others didn’t take them either because they thought they still had the afflictions. In the end, not a single bhikshu would accept the offerings. Anatapindata turned ghostly pale, thinking it must be due to his lack of merit. The Buddha asked the bhikshus why they had not taken the offerings, but they remained silent. The Buddha then asked, “Why did you go forth as monastics? Was it for liberation or food and clothing?’’ Only then did the bhikshus understand the meaning.
It is said that for those disciplined monastics who intend to reach Nirvana, there is no fault in enjoying expensive robes, good food, and large houses. To sum it all up. individuals who have discipline or who have reached liberation may enjoy the food of faith. The vast merit of offering benefits the donors. It is not appropriate for those who do not have discipline to enjoy the food of faith, and if they do, it becomes like a lump of red-hot iron going into their stomach. This is really important, the Karmapa emphasized.
At this point, the Karmapa recalled the teachings of Patrul Rinpoche:
Even if all we know is to sit in rows in a puja and recite one text, those of us who live on offerings of faith must focus our minds, stop speaking, and recite. If we mix the recitation and mantra repetition with ordinary chatter, there is no point at all. In particular, when reciting rituals for the deceased in the bardo who are stricken with fear and suffering, if we have negative thoughts or sit there chatting, the bardo beings will know because they are clairvoyant. They may get wrong views or aversion toward the ritual, and they may go to the lower realms. That kind of bardo ritual is not helpful; better not to have it at all.
If we just recite empty words in loud voices, it destroys the essential meaning. When we get to the mantra recitation, our bodies become like corpses, and we cannot even sit up straight. We look around distractedly, prick our ears up at any noise and open the floodgates to pointless idle chatter.
This is reducing dharma to the flimsiest of facades. An ancient proverb says: “It is better to sing a little ditty with good intentions than to recite manis while harboring ill intentions.”
We lamas, monks, and nuns, no matter who we are, should not think, “How many offerings did I get today? How rich was the tea? How good was the bread?” The donor, whether living or deceased, has come to a critical point. They have put their hopes in us. We are their refuge. If we shatter their hopes that does not bode well for virtuous karma. At the very least we can pray from the heart that the gurus and Three Jewels will care for these desperate bardo beings. The compassion of the Three Jewels, the unfailing power of karma, and the limitless benefit of bodhichitta, will help the deceased person in the bardo.
Phowa on Demand
‘’There’s a story about this also,’’ said the Karmapa, launching into a wondrous Tibetan anecdote about the unfailing power of faith to help bardo beings.
There was a monk at Tsurphu Monastery, probably during the time of the Fifteenth Karmapa, who wasn’t very bright and so lazy that he was unable to memorize the daily prayers. The custom was to make the uneducated monks into the senior tea servers, and that is what he became. But one day he made a mistake at his job, and he was afraid the discipline master would beat him. So, he and a friend ran away from the monastery. They ended up going to Tö Ngari, it’s said.
One day they went to a nomad family to beg for food, and as it happened, a family member had just died. The family, knowing they were monks from Tsurphu, invited them in, and asked them, “Please do phowa for the deceased.”
Forget about knowing how to do phowa, they didn’t even know what the texts for phowa were! But lamas and monks from other lineages had also been invited so they were embarrassed to admit they couldn’t do it—they thought it would be a disgrace to Tsurphu Monastery. So, they screwed up their courage and went in and took their seats.
They sat there for a while, looking at each other and thinking, “How are we supposed to do phowa?” The senior tea server could stumble his way through the Four Sessions Guru Yoga, so he thought it would be good to recite that. He said to his friend, “If we don’t recite anything, we’re finished. I’m going to recite the Four Sessions Guru Yoga, and you can help me out and recite it too.” They got ready, but so many people were sitting there staring at them and waiting for them to do something, that they panicked. Their faces began to burn, and they weren’t able to even begin reciting the Four Sessions.
They had no choice, so they covered their heads with their robes and began to recite the Four Sessions: “My mothers, all sentient beings throughout space…” When they got to the Karmapa Khyenno mantra, they prayed fervently, “Karmapa! Please look at us with compassion now!” Then they recited the mantra so loudly. At that point, the senior tea server suddenly heard a voice in his ear, “Now do it!” Without thinking, he cried “hik!” in a crackling voice, and then “peh!” A piece of skull the size of a palm popped off the top of the corpse’s head. Everyone there was amazed and said, “There are no monks like Tsurphu’s! Look at these signs of phowa!” They felt great faith in the two monks and plied them with offerings of butter, meat, and cheese. The two errant monks decided to return to Tsurphu. They distributed offerings to the sangha, confessed remorse for running away, and were allowed back into the monastery.
At that time, it was said that the Gyalwang Karmapa had heard their prayers when they were reciting the Karmapa Khyenno, and it was he who said, “Now do it.”
So even if we don’t have any qualities or abilities, when we call out to the gurus and Three Jewels with pure motivation, there will be a response, the Karmapa concluded.