Spring Teaching 20233
Two Autobiographical Praises by Mikyö Dorje • Day 1
20 March 2023
The Gyalwang Karmapa welcomed everyone to the first day of his teachings for this Seventh Arya Kshema Dharma Gathering for Nuns, now known as the Spring Teachings. He originally had planned to begin teaching on the 14th, but due to unavoidable tasks and meetings, he had postponed until today. This year his intention was to finish both the Autobiographical Verses of Good Deeds as well as the praise, He Searched Thoroughly.
He began by considering the situation of women in general, and the status of women in Buddhism whether monastic or lay, but in particular monastic women, to give them encouragement.
The origin of Buddhism is the noble land of India. In ancient India during the Vedic period, there was equality between the sexes, and there are many female authors in the Rigveda. Many poets were women. During that period (1500–1000 BCE), the tradition was to be monogamous. Later, during the time of the Yajurveda (1000–500 BCE), women’s situation worsened. They were not considered to be credible, and the belief arose that women had more afflictions. However, during that period, women were still allowed to participate in the rituals of sacrifice along with their husbands.
Then during the Period of the Sutras (500–250 BCE), the situation for women worsened. Many sutras were written during this time, and in the Sutra on Laws, it was taught that women belonged to their husbands. When young, girls must obey their fathers, and once they married, brides must obey their husbands. When they were old, they must obey their sons. Women were not able to live independently, but a husband could have several wives; polygamy was acceptable. There were different numbers of wives for different castes. Brahmins could have no more than three, Kshatriyas no more than two, and Shudras and so forth could have no more than one. As the status of the high castes increased, the brahmin castes’ status increased, and women’s status deteriorated.
Later, during the spread of the Buddhist dharma, scriptures were translated into Tibetan, Chinese, and Pali. When we read them, we can see how the status of women changed during the time of the Buddha. For example, in the Vinaya there is a story about Sudatta, the son of Kalandaka. He later went forth to become a bhikshu. Before that, he had a wife, but they did not have any children. Sudatta’s mother thought that if Sudatta left without having a son, all the household wealth would be seized by the king, and the wife would have a difficult time. She explained to Sudatta that he must have a son with his wife, because Indian tradition stated that if there was no husband or son in a family, the king could seize everything. So, Sudatta agreed. In the thirteenth year after the Buddha awoke to Buddhahood, this incident of Sudatta established a precedent about the rule of unchaste conduct.
In the sutras there were many stories about women who went forth and became pregnant. The main reason this happened was the time and situation. For example, there was the bhikshuni Guptā, whose husband died before she went forth. Because she had no son, the king would have appropriated all the wealth and possessions for the government, and she would have become a beggar. For that reason, she got together with her husband’s friend, Udayin (who later became a bhikshu), and became pregnant. These pregnancies happened because women were dependent on men at that time in India.
Likewise, when Buddhism first spread, although there were many major Indian religious traditions and philosophical schools, there was no tradition of women going forth; there were basically no nuns. Some schools asserted that women could not take refuge and could not achieve liberation. These were examples of the situations that affected women. When thinking about this, historically in terms of education, all over the world, there were many places where women were ignored.
In terms of Buddhist history, among practitioners, there were men who went forth and women who went forth, these made two communities. The communities of both laymen and laywomen also had the opportunity to practice dharma. Men and women had the opportunity to practice equally but nuns were not considered to be as important as monks. This was not because of the view of Buddhist philosophy—at that time, both monks and nuns had achieved the same spiritual levels, such as arhatship, and so forth. This view of nuns was dependent on contemporary societal conditions. Women were not treated equally, did not have the same rights, and were also denigrated.
People considered the community of monks more important than the community of nuns. Whether in terms of numbers or qualities, nuns did not achieve the same level as men. Historically, they were not as numerous as the monks. In terms of their qualities, their opportunities as scholars and practitioners were limited. A majority of the scholars came from the male monastic community. There were quite a few scholars in the community of nuns, but not as many as in the community of monks.
In Tibet, during the time of the early spread of the teachings and during the later times, the tradition of giving bhikshuni vows spread to a fair degree, but due to various conditions and circumstances, the transmission of the bhikshuni vows and even the basic vows for novice nuns was not considered important. This was a great loss in Tibetan Buddhism in terms of the actual spread of the nuns’ tradition and the lineage of the vows. In Tibet, there was no transmission of the bhikshuni vows because there was no bhikshuni community.
The Karmapa elaborated:
It’s important to have the bhikshuni community, because all the nuns’ vows should be given by bhikshunis, but that’s lacking. The male bhikshus act as a substitute for the nuns and give the novice nun vows, but it’s a question whether this is a really clean and pure transmission. In our Karma Kamtsang tradition, it seems we do not give the actual novice vows because we do not have a sangha of bhikshunis. Since we don’t have a community of bhikshunis in the Kamtsang tradition, the getsulma vows, or novice vows, are rarely truly given. Since there is no transmission, there’s no community.
This was not the fault of women. The main reason was the way women in general were viewed in society, the way monastic women were viewed, and how the religious and political leaders viewed women and nuns, and their responsibility for society as a whole.
The Karmapa then said:
Now we are in the twenty-first century, many more people are supportive of women in general, particularly the nuns, and especially Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Whatever name we call them by, we absolutely need to put some effort into this. We all must put effort into this and produce a result. For this reason, we need to seize the opportunity ourselves, particularly in our own Tibetan society. Nuns are now given the same opportunity as men to study the great philosophical texts, to take retreats and to practice. Now we need to strive so that women can have the opportunity to do this. This should come from within.The Karmapa explained that although well-meaning foreigners had tried to help, the impetus for change needed to come from withinTibetan society itself, and especially from the nuns themselves.
He gave an example from his own experience in Dharamshala when he had attended meetings about bhikshuni ordination. Many great scholars discussed how this could be done, but during the deliberation, a Tibetan nun upended the entire conversation with the remark, “We don’t need anything. The way we are is fine and okay. We’re happy with how it is. Whether we have novice vows or not, we’re fine with that as it is. We don’t need more than that.”
Basically, when the nun heard all the discussion, the Karmapa speculated, she might have thought that the bhikshuni vows would be so difficult and impossible to keep, that it would probably be better not to have them. Her statement led to a very heated discussion.
The Karmapa then said:
I thought, that’s not good. Whether we were able to give the bhikshuni vows or not, we first had to have the enthusiasm for it. We all had to have it. In particular, the nuns needed to have enthusiasm, they needed to want to do it. If they did not, then we could speak as much as we wanted, but it would not help. If the person it was for did not want it, what was the point? This is the reason for having the Arya Kshema Spring Teachings.He then clarified the significance of the name:
There were many of the great students of the Buddha, in terms of the bhikshus, the greatest in terms of prajna was Shariputra. Among the bhikshunis, the one with the greatest prajna was Arya Kshema.The Karmapa explained briefly how these teachings on Arya Kshema began during the Kagyu Gunchoe. Then they were renamed the Arya Kshema Winter Teachings. However, since the time of year the teaching occurs comes when spring is blossoming forth, the Karmapa changed the name to Arya Kshema Spring Teachings. This symbolizes the significance of Arya Kshema for nuns and the interdependence of the learning that blossoms forth as in spring. The teachings have occurred for seven years, and the main part of the Spring Teachings center around the debates, as well as the debate competition, pujas, and so forth. The debates represent one of the three conditions for scholarly activities.
The Karmapa said:
If we want to become learned, we need these three: teaching, writing, and debating.He added:
In America, among our followers of Buddhism, it is very important to know about debate. The main point of debate is not to defeat your opponents or to compete with others. The main point is that the Buddhadharma is logical so you must use your intelligence and logic to understand it.Many of the ancient Indian philosophies used intelligence and logic. In the beginning, there were the Vedas which emphasized the importance of rituals, but people wanted to know the meaning, to know the reasons, to think logically. Because of this, many different logical traditions and philosophical schools evolved, and were very influential in India
This also happened in Buddhism. Buddhism emphasized reason, understanding, and logic, it was not just followed with blind faith. To understand the reasons, methods of logic had to be understood. In Tibet, debate was a way to understand basic logical methods for Buddhists. For Buddhists, in the Buddhadharma, debate was very necessary. But it was also very important not to lose motivation. Debate was not to overcome opponents. To “defeat” here did not imply a competition with attachments and aversions. It was a method to increase or improve our education; it was a way to increase our diligence and to improve our understanding and education. Likewise, when debating, it was a way to overcome our hatred and envy, and so forth. Debate was an opportunity to train our minds.
Next the Karmapa summarized the purpose of debate:
If we would look at it in this way, it would not be primarily to win and to defeat others, but primarily to improve our own experience and realization, our education, our own internal qualities, and improve our experience and realization. That is the aim we should have. It is important for us not to confuse our aims and motivations.
This concluded the discussion on women, nuns, and the Arya Kshema.
The Karmapa then began to address the main topic for this spring. Among the 33 Good Deeds in the Autobiographical Verses Good Deeds, he would now discuss the 21st of the good deeds.
According to Sangye Paldrup’s Commentary on the Meaning of the Liberation Story: Good Deeds there were two manuscripts of the commentary, one from Drepung and one from the Potala. There are quite a few differences between the two. They have slightly different outlines.
This outline is from the Drepung library. To continue, there are three main topics of the Good Deeds:
I. The homage and pledge to composeAmong these, the discussion centers on:
II. The nature of the biography
II. The nature of the biography.
This has two topics:
A. The preliminaries: how to enter the dharma (v. 1–6)
B. The main part: how he practiced the paths of the three types of individuals (v. 9–33)
The Karmapa had completed the first previously and would now speak about the second: how he practiced the paths of the three types of individuals
B. The main part: how he practiced the paths of the three types of individuals. This has three parts:
1. How he practiced the path of the lesser individual (v. 7)
2. How he practiced the path of the middling individual (v. 8)
3. How he practiced the path of the greater individual (v. 9–33)
The Karmapa would speak about the third: the path of the greater individual.
3. How he practiced the path of the greater individual. This has three parts:
a) The intention: rousing bodhichitta (v. 9)
b) The action: meditating on the two types of bodhichitta (v. 10–21)
c) How he trained in the precepts of the two types of bodhichitta (v. 22–33)
The Karmapa would discuss the second. The action: meditating on the two types of bodhichitta
b) The action: meditating on the two types of bodhichitta. This has two parts:
(1) Meditating on relative bodhichitta (v. 11–20)
(2) Meditating on ultimate bodhichitta (v. 21)
Of these two, the Karmapa would speak about the second: Meditating on Ultimate Bodhichitta.
The verse reads:
With the clear eye of intelligence, I saw[This text is extracted from the commentary on the text by Mikyö Dorje’s attendant Sangye Paldrup]
That phenomena have been pacified from the beginning.
The one who is benefited, the one who benefits,
And what brings benefit are like combining space with space.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (21)
The Karmapa said that during the time of Mikyö Dorje, most of the Tibetan Buddhist schools maintained that in order to achieve buddhahood, you had to achieve the result of the dharmakaya. That kaya, the actual body that achieves enlightenment, was the dharmakaya, so you needed to achieve the dharmakaya. And the primary method to do so depended upon the accumulation of wisdom, and the accumulation of wisdom depended on the prajna that realizes emptiness.
There were many opinions on how to do this. Some people said, “Only our own gurus and lineage can achieve the prajna that realizes emptiness; no other lineage can. We have to enter our own dharma tradition, study our own texts, and practice the pith instructions of our tradition only. Only if you do that, do you even have the possibility or the opportunity to produce such prajna that realizes emptiness. Otherwise, there is no way to develop the prajna that realizes emptiness, no way to achieve even the tiniest bit of it.”
Quite a few people spoke like this. In Tibet there was a lot of sectarianism, saying “our school,” “their school,” “our school is superior, their school is inferior, if you follow it properly you will realize emptiness.” People have spoken that way up to the present day. But when they identified what the “prajna that realizes emptiness” was, they described it in many ways, which were very similar to the methods for achieving liberation historically taught by non-Buddhists, and also Buddhist philosophies such as the eighteen schools of the listeners, or within the Mahayana, the Middle Way, Mind Only, and Buddha Nature schools. There were many ways they explained what emptiness was and the prajna that realized emptiness.
In particular, in Tibet, some people would say whatever they devised themselves, with the belief that it had never been heard before, and then asserted that was the prajna that realized emptiness. Others did not have a true understanding of the prajna that realized emptiness, but instead had a misunderstanding of it. They had some understanding of the view, but thinking they had realized the view of emptiness, they misunderstood it.
In terms of prajna, there are three types: the prajna born of listening, the prajna born of contemplating, and the prajna born of meditation. Some people said the prajna born of meditation was the primary one, the actual one they needed, so they stopped listening and contemplating. They decided to develop the prajna born of meditation, but in actuality, they had dullness, torpor, and fogginess, and had no idea if they were in virtue or nonvirtue, or neutral—they were just resting in a blank state.
Others would say, “All things are manifestations of the mind…so up to a point we haven’t realized the mind is the creator of all phenomena. Because of that we have cycled through samsara up until now. Today I realized it through the guru’s kindness, so samsara and nirvana appear as the dharmakaya. Samsara and nirvana are the same in essence, like the front and back of the hand. Now I have control over my mind, so even if I am born in hell, the burning iron ground and Yama’s henchmen will immediately become the essence of the dharmakaya. So now I have this confidence that even if I go to hell, I don’t have to fear at all.” They proclaimed this very high view loudly. Quite a few spoke like this.
But Mikyö Dorje was different from the others. He had a very wide perspective. He had studied all these different schools, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, and understood all their traditions. In particular, he understood all the schools from the early transmission and the middle transmission. The term “middle transmission” refers to the interim period between the earlier and later transmissions, when monastic Buddhism was preserved by a few after the suppression of Buddhism by Langdarma but before the growth of the Sakya, Kadampa and Kagyu. The histories tell how Yo Gejung, Tsang Rabsal, and Mar Shakyamune fled to Dokham (eastern Tibet) and then later ordained Lachen Gongpa Rabsel. He in turn ordained ten people from Central Tibet, and they returned to spread the teachings and establish a monastic sangha there.
Then, there is the time when many traditions appeared in Tibet —the Kadampa, Mahamudra, Sakya, Jonang, Bodong, Geluk, Nyingma, Chöd, and Pacification lineages. Each tradition had its own particular difficult and important points, but Mikyö Dorje understood the points and was able to resolve all of them. For example, the different schools have different terms for the two truths. Mikyö Dorje himself understood the meanings of their texts without mistake. He could clearly distinguish the particular expressions of each school. He did not confuse the distinctions between the two truths with different terminologies. He was unmistaken about what was allowed and what was prohibited. He did not mistake faults to abandon and qualities to adopt. He was very well-read and learned, having comprehensively studied all five sciences—grammar, logic, crafts, medicine, and Buddhist sciences. He knew various Sanskrit and Tibetan scripts, was unmistaken about the words, knowing the archaic and current words in Tibetan. He had mastered teachings on poetry such as the Mirror (by Dinda), texts on syntax such as Source of Jewels, texts on vocabulary such as the Amarakoṣa (The Deathless Mirror). He could even distinguish and examine bronze sculptures, fabrics, jewels, and infinite other precious things, and would know their provenance.
There was nothing Mikyö Dorje did not know. For that reason, he had the authentic prajna that discerned the dharma of the Buddha’s word. The treatises arose in his being, and he had confidence in the four reliances (relying on meaning not words, relying on the dharma not individuals, relying on wisdom not consciousness, and relying on the definitive meaning, not the guiding).
So, instead of following merely what others had said, Mikyö Dorje used his own intelligence and examined things for himself. As he wrote in his own work:
Whoever has confidence in the four reliances,He didn’t follow individuals but followed the dharma. He examined what was real and what was unmistaken, and if he gained confidence in what a particular person said, he would be respectful and happy about them.
Does not follow the flow [literally water] of others’ words,
And has unmistaken intelligence to examine with their own mind
Is someone to whom I pay respect with my mind.
He also said:
King Trisong Detsen asked Shantarakshita, “How do you know what to take up and what to discard in this religion of yours?” In response, he said, “I examine with my own mind, and practice what is logical. I discard what is illogical.”Mikyö Dorje didn’t automatically judge something as good or bad. He examined everything for himself. If a teacher provided a good reason, he would practice it. If was uncertain, he would discard it. He followed Shantarakshita’s tradition.
After the break, the Karmapa continued to explain how Mikyö Dorje had a wide knowledge of the different philosophical schools. To say ‘this is my guru’s thought’” would merely be repeating what the previous masters said. Some people criticized him. They said, “Forget about having the prajna of meditation of the greater path of accumulation; he doesn’t even have the clarity of dhyana, forget about the insight, he doesn’t have the clarity of shamatha meditation.”
Some of Mikyö Dorje’s students would say, “I can’t really say if our guru has the prajna meditating on the yogas of shamatha and insight, because I don’t have realization myself to know that. But does he have the fearless knowledge of the dharma of profound emptiness? I can say “yes.” I can infer this because Mikyö Dorje occupies himself daily with teaching, debating, and writing. He's always busying himself with teaching, debating, and writing. He works at this. We must work really hard on this, but he doesn’t have to, it naturally happens to him.”
They said that in terms of his writing. When he wrote, Mikyö Dorje’s words were very clear, his expression was fine, and the topics and the pronunciation of the words were very clear and not corrupted, there was nothing extraneous, nothing left out, it was easy to listen to and easy to remember. People of higher faculties could just nod their heads and understand, whereas he would explain in depth to people of lesser faculties, so they could understand. Whether they had a higher or lower intelligence, people could understand. In brief, for whatever text they were studying, his students said, that though they might have studied many years with a master who was well-versed in that text, just hearing a single verse or sloka of the text [from Mikyö Dorje), would give a greater and better understanding of its meaning. “He had a natural confidence to teach the true dharma.” This was what his students would say.
Similarly, when he was given an Indian or Tibetan text that he had never seen before and asked to explain the difficult points, Mikyö Dorje was able to explain the entire meaning of the words without mistake. Even if he had never read the text before, he had such a broad knowledge, he could explain it perfectly. This was a great example of his skill in teaching texts.
When debating, in order to overcome others’ misconceptions and misapprehensions, he was able to overcome and destroy their pride and give them correct reasoning to show true certainty. He was able to instill right certainty, so people renowned as great scholars at that time such as Mahapandita Dorje Gyalpo, Omniscient Chime Drupa, Great Scholar Changra Rabjampa came to meet him at that time from Central Tibet, and he outshone all of them in scripture and logic.
At that time, among the most well-known Gelukpa scholars Gendun Drup, Sera Jetsun, and others when they saw his commentaries on Prajnaparamita and the Treasury of Abhidharma, said:
Among all the meditators of the Chinese Hashang view (the Gelukpa term for Mahamudra), this Mikyö Dorje seems to be a little better in terms of the breadth and depth of his studies.Although there was no opportunity to have actual dharma discussions between Mikyö Dorje and these other scholars, many were amazed by him.
Sangye Paldrup, the author of the commentary on “Good Deeds”, reports that some scholars contested Mikyö Dorje’s ability. They argued that he only seemed good because he was being compared with students with less education, training and application. They maintained that it was not appropriate to call him a true scholar, and that Sangye Paldrup was unable to judge because he had never met one. Sangye Paldrup conceded the points they made might be correct, but pointed out that in Central Tibet, at that time, Mikyö Dorje was acknowledged to be the leading scholar.
In terms of his writing, among all the reincarnations of the Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje was the most extensive writer with over twenty volumes in the Collected Works. The Karmapa explained that at the moment they are using the index of Mikyö Dorje’s works compiled by Shamar Khenchen Könchok Yenlak to produce a new collected works of Mikyö Dorje. Since there are many additional texts to be added, it will probably be twenty-five or twenty-six volumes long.
It is said that Karma Pakshi wrote texts on everything in the Kangyur, so his works were equal to Mikyö Dorje’s in size, but only five or six volumes are extant, the Karmapa explained. Among all the Karmapas, the one with the greatest literary legacy is Mikyö Dorje.
When looking at his works, whether seeking liberation, reading, teaching, or studying them, Mikyö Dorje’s writing was easy to understand, enhanced the practice, and increased intelligence; the words were clear, the meaning extensive, easy to pronounce, and he used subtle logic for proving and refuting. For example, when he was 22, he wrote a contextual commentary on the Vinaya Sutras, at 23 he wrote a commentary on the Ornament of Clear Realization, at 24 a great commentary on the Kalapa Grammar, at 26 an extensive commentary on the Vinaya Sutras, and at 27 his great commentary on the Treasury of Abhidharma. He also wrote countless other texts of his own or commentaries on the works of others, a commentary on the meaning of unexcelled Vajrayana, one called the Secret Meaning of the Unexcelled Tantra.
The Karmapa added that this text was something he did not have in Tibet, but later acquired a copy of the text and Vajra Vidya has published it.
Mikyö Dorje’s own lama, Denma Drupchen (First Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche) said to Mikyö Dorje, “Until you reach the age of 27, do not teach the unexcelled tantra. For now, teach the instructions of Atisha. In the future, teach the particular instructions of the lineage.” When he was 19, Mikyö Dorje had many pure visions of his special deity. However, he followed his lamas’s advice and until he was 27, he primarily taught the instructions of Atisha, but once he reached 27, he began to give empowerments and pith instructions.
He taught the path that liberates. The wisdom dakinis gave him a prophecy, and instructed him, “supplicate like this,” and he produced the supplications known as the Four-Session Guru Yoga, a dharma text from his pure perception. From then on, he wrote innumerable instruction texts on the secret mantra Vajrayana.
During empowerments and the descent of blessings, blessings and wisdom would come wherever he directed his mind. His students were able to benefit from this. Attachment to ordinary appearances was purified, and many were able to remain continually in pure appearance or to cherish others more than themselves. They developed the wisdom born of meditation, gained realization from within, and many kept their vows from individual liberation vows to the vows of unexcelled tantra properly. At the very least, they kept the four root vows and their remainders, even at the risk of their lives.
Another feature of Mikyö Dorje’s influence was that most of his students gave up the eight impure things including meat, alcohol, carrying weapons, riding four-footed creatures, and they lived on vegetarian food—it was very difficult in Tibet to maintain that at that time. They kept nothing more valuable than a bowl of yoghurt for their own use. Many maintained the qualities of their training: sleeping while sitting up rather than lying down. They practiced and remained in silence. Some had pure visions and could not be fooled by others. Instead of looking at their sponsors and negative friends, they looked toward their guru and practiced chaste conduct.
In brief, a great number of his students were able to follow the example of their Dakpo Kagyu forefathers. Because of the example of Mikyö Dorje’s teachings, debate, and writings, the students were able to tame their own beings, and were able to help other beings.
Here the Karmapa concluded the first day’s teaching.