His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the head of the 900 year old Karma Kagyu Lineage and guide to millions of Buddhists around the world. His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the head of the 900 year old Karma Kagyu Lineage and guide to millions of Buddhists around the world.
First, I would like to welcome and extend Tashi Delek to all of you who have gathered for the 36th Kagyu Monlam: the great regent of all the victors, Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Kyabje Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, the other tulkus, khenpos, acharyas, spiritual friends, all the monks and nuns from the various monasteries, and all the faithful lay people from all over the world.
Further, this year, the principal sponsors of the Monlam are a group of lay people and monastics from the Nyeshang region of Nepal. We are all aware of this place in Nepal. At the time of Jetsun Milarepa, one of his disciples, the hunter Kira Gonpo Dorje, was from there. From that time forward, Nyeshang has had an uncommon and noble connection with the Kagyu. Further, I have seen a pilgrimage guide for Nepal by the Sixth Shamar. When he traveled in Nepal, he went through Nyeshang and highly praised the people of that region as having great faith in the Dharma, being kind-hearted and generally very good. And for me personally, when I was traveling from Tibet in 1999, I came through Nyeshang. There is a mountain pass there called To-rang. It is very high and very steep. The top is like no pass I have experienced, and it was very difficult to cross. Based on this, I have a very strong impression of and love for Nyeshang. Not only have all of you sponsors offered money and many physical things, you have also served with your bodies and speech–serving tea, moving and carrying mats and other things, sweeping, cleaning, and so forth. You have worked really hard, serving in many greater and lesser roles. So you have been sponsors in both name and in actuality, and all has all gone very well.
It occurred to me that other people of the Himalayan region could learn from your example. For instance, there are the various peoples of Sikkim. Maybe in the future all of you could be the sponsors for the Kagyu Monlam—doing that work would be very good, right? Likewise, there are the Bhutanese; in Nepal there are the people of Dolpo, Nubri, Tsum, and so forth. If you people from these places have the ability, I think it would be good if you could also do likewise. We all have been connected for generations and if you take the opportunity to serve the Kagyu Monlam, I think it could be a significant event in the histories of your people.
For this year’s Kagyu Monlam, I personally requested Chamgon Situ Rinpoche to definitely come, but in the end, Rinpoche was not able to attend. And so I supplicated Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche to again come and serve as the head of the assembly, just as he did last year. Not only did Rinpoche agree to this, but also during the pre-Monlam program, he granted the profound torma empowerment of Chenrezig, the Five Deities of Gyalwa Gyatso. Then during the actual Monlam, he bestowed deep teachings on The Seven Points of Mind Training. Rinpoche worked very hard for all of us. So on behalf of all the Kagyupas and principally all of those who attended Kagyu Monlam, I want to thank Rinpoche for his great kindness.
Another fortunate aspect of this Kagyu Monlam was having the exalted reincarnation of the supreme tulku Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche granting profound teachings on The Ganges Mahamudra during the pre-Monlam program. I am very grateful to Rinpoche for fulfilling my hopes just as I had expressed them.
In truth, in terms of the Dharma, the Kagyu Monlam is one of the most important events of our year. And now twice, I have not been able to come—this is quite noteworthy. Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to apologize to all of you. At the end of November last year, there was a great meeting planned in Dharamsala, which the leaders of the various lineages were insistently called to attend. I had a great wish to do so. But before this, in October, I had thought that I would quickly travel to India before going to Canada. I wanted to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama as I hadn’t seen him for a long time. I also wanted to meet and discuss some things with members of the Indian Government. It was my wish to go. But, as all of you know, I have a new passport. Once I got the new one, my old document—the I.C.—became invalidated. As that was the case, as soon as I got the new passport, I went to the Indian embassy in New York to turn the I.C. in. I went there and told them I needed to turn in the old travel document, and I further requested them to grant me a visa in my new passport. But the officials there said that they were not authorized to do so and needed to speak with the offices in Delhi about it. There was a lot of back and forth, which took a bit of time, and in the end, I could not get these things done.
After this, I was supposed to go to Canada, but I was unable to. Still, I thought that I should attend the meeting of the heads of the lineages. In the end, this meeting was postponed due to the passing of the head of the Nyingma lineage, Katok Getse Rinpoche. All the work around the passport was not being resolved, so I thought to set it aside and rest for a while. I wasn’t feeling that well physically and thought to relax and do some retreat. I thought it would be good to not rush things around the passport, but to work on it carefully. Up to this point, I have not been able to return, but we continue our conversations with the Indian government. I hope to return to India just as quickly as I can to see you all.
It is customary to have a special address on the last day of the Monlam. Though I don’t have anything special to share, I would like to encourage all of you. I have had the actual task of supervising the Monlam since 2004. Thus far, more than ten years have passed, and many things have changed on many fronts. I think there have been many positive changes, many alterations for the better. I consider the most important adaptation to be those concerning the behavior and conduct of the monastics.
As best we can, we have put into practice the Vinaya teachings of the true Dharma. We have done a lot of work to increase understanding in this area. You all know the reason for this. There are many who become monks and nuns in Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan and so forth, but of those who do so, not many understand well what it means to be a monk or what it means to be a nun. In order to live up to the name of being a monk or nun, we first need to understand what it means to be a monk or nun. For that reason, there’s no choice but to inform our monastics about this.
Especially, many think that after ordination or according to the Vinaya, there are many things that ordinary people are allowed to do that monastics can no longer do. They think there are many things that are not allowed—that it is like a bunch of rules. But really, the vows of ordination are not just rules or a list of things we are allowed or not allowed to do. What is more important is that it is desiring or striving for liberation or having renunciation. This renunciation or longing for emancipation is very important. And it should also be unfabricated, meaning that one shouldn’t need to try to generate it—it should arise naturally from within. When it’s like that, we call it unfabricated. If it arises in an unfabricated way in our being, we will have what we call “the ethical conduct of renunciation” or “perfectly pure vows.” If we don’t give rise to this, we won’t have “perfectly pure vows” or “the ethical conduct of renunciation.” For this reason, the vows of ordination are not just an outer form or a ritual of body and speech. In truth, the essence of the inner meaning is the generation of this mind that strives for liberation and the mind of unfabricated renunciation or wishing for emancipation
There is a teaching of the Kadampa spiritual friend Potowa where he said that first he received novice and full ordination from an abbot. But it was later, when following the old Shramana of Ratreng, that he really received the vows of ordination. Now, this old Shramana of Ratreng is Dromtönpa. Dromtönpa was a lay person, a householder. So he actually received the novice and full monastic vows i from a lay person. What did he mean by that? It was based on the kindness of Dromtönpa that he generated the mind of renunciation, and it’s based on generating this mind of renunciation that one receives the true vows, the perfectly pure vows, the ethical conduct of the vow of renunciation. The vows that he received before were just an outer appearance of receiving the vows, he had not received the inner essence of the vows, the life-force of the vows. This illustrates a very important critical point. The vows are not received merely through the outer form; what we really need in order to receive the true vows comes from having this inner essence.
Take me for example. Until I was seven (in the Western way of counting) I stayed with my family. Once I was recognized, in the presence of the Jowo statue in Lhasa, Chamgon Situ Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche ceremonially cut my hair. In truth, during the hair cutting ceremony, one receives the lay vow of threefold refuge—it’s part of the upasaka or lay vows. At that time, I was very young, and didn’t really understand what it was that the two Rinpoches were giving me—it was more like a show for those gathered. But it was the lay vow of threefold refuge. So I had not received anything but the lay vows, and I didn’t even receive the full lay vows either, it was really just the threefold refuge vow. Drupon Dechen Rinpoche was alive at that time. He told me that since I was the Karmapa, my situation was special, and that it would be okay for me to wear monks’ robes. So from that time forward, I wore the robes, even though I did not have any ordination vows.
After I had come to India, in 2002, Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche gave me some advice. He said, “Up to now, you have not received any vows of ordination, and it would be good if you did so. The first vow you should take is barma rabjung—intermediate ordination.” That was the first I had heard of intermediate ordination. It is said that the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa received this intermediate ordination from the HH the Dalai Lama, so Rinpoche thought that it would be good if I received it from the Dalai Lama. Tenga Rinpoche further advised that it would be good for me to receive the vows of novice and full ordination from Chamgon Situ Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche since I should receive the vows according to our Kagyu tradition. We shared this advice and thinking with Chamgon Situ Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche, and they agreed that it was very good. A message was sent through Lobsang Jinpa, the secretary of His Holiness’ Private Office, to His Holiness requesting him to grant the vows of intermediate ordination, explaining that since I had to uphold the lineage of the vows of our Kagyu tradition, there was a plan for me to receive the vows of novice and full ordination from Chamgon Situ Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche in the future. His Holiness received the message and consented.
In 2002, when I was 16, His Holiness granted me the vow of intermediate ordination. And on the day when he did so, he gave me both the vow of intermediate ordination and getsul [novice monks vows] at that same time. Our request was only for the intermediate ordination, but he gave me both ordinations. He must have had a special reason for doing so. Though at the time, my thought was to first receive the intermediate ordination and to later receive novice ordination from Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche, His Holiness gave me both. There was some talk within our lineage of the importance of my taking the vows according to our own tradition and that it wouldn’t be quite right to do otherwise. But at that time, to be honest, I hadn’t studied the Vinaya much. In actuality, the vow of intermediate ordination is not the actual monastic ordination. It is really just permission to wear the robes, the symbol of religious ordination. One sets aside the clothes of a layperson and takes up the symbolic robes of ordination, but it is not actual ordination.
After this, much time passed while I was wondering whether I should receive the novice vows according to our Kagyu tradition or not and what to do about full ordination. Further, I also became very busy with the work of Kagyu Monlam. As I studied the Vinaya and my understanding of it gradually increased, I felt like my former way of approaching vows was not quite correct. I thought my previous manner of taking them was not right, and that if I really wanted to receive the vows in a pure way, I should start again from the beginning. Especially, if one wants to receive the vows purely into one’s being, one needs stable renunciation and wishing for emancipation in one’s being. Without this, it would be difficult to keep the vows in a stable manner. These days, it is as if we were just following the custom of taking monks or nuns vows, but it’s actually very rare that one thinks deeply about this and wishes, from the depths of one’s being, to ordain. I think many people must be wondering and talking about why I have not taken full ordination by now. From my side, the main thing is that if renunciation and wishing for emancipation has not truly arisen, the novice and full monks vows will not be based on this ethical conduct that longs for liberation, and it would be difficult for them to result in perfectly pure ethical conduct—though there must be some benefit in holding the vows anyway.
Further, these modern times are unlike times of the past. The previous eras of the past masters were different. These days, there are a lot of fluctuations, a lot of outer developments, and many inner and outer causes for distraction. Taking me as an example, not only do I have to think about Dharma, I have to be concerned with politics; I meet many different kinds and nationalities of people, and am involved in other avenues of learning. This creates a great deal of busyness and distraction. In truth, in such a situation, it is difficult have stable renunciation and a mind with the stable longing for liberation. And without these, it is difficult to hold the vows in a completely pure way. So I am trying to develop stable renunciation within my being. I am trying to develop a certain degree of true renunciation—it’s difficult to generate a really high level—but if I can develop a certain degree of renunciation, I feel that I will be able to receive the vows of individual liberation in a full and complete way. Then, at the time of death, if I can die with the support of ordination, I feel my mind would be at ease. This is the high hope that I hold for myself and the reason things have been as they are up to now.
In short, the main point I want to make is that the practice of the three foundational rituals are very important. In general, the Vinaya texts speak of many rituals, and these three foundational ones are critical. Some time ago, I thought that it would be excellent if we could perform these three foundational rituals properly and well. I did some thorough research into this. These days in our various monasteries, it seems that it would be difficult to assemble the conditions to perform them in a complete way. I think that if there were an institution that focused intently on the Vinaya, and if there were just one hundred monks who practiced the vinaya from the depths of their being, maybe we could do it. But in the monasteries these days, it would be difficult to perfectly perform the three foundational practices.
When we look at the source texts, all we see are all the things that aren’t right in what we do; we don’t see many examples of what we’re doing correctly. From one perspective, it must be that there is a large gap between our hopes and the way things actually are. We can wish for whatever we want, but that doesn’t mean that it will manifest in reality. We can do the best we can, but sometimes our wishes and the reality of the situation just seem to get farther and farther apart. We experience that difficulty at times. But in any case, if there were a Vinaya monastery where the Vinaya was practiced as it was done in the past, the tradition of the vows could be propagated and the three foundations could be practiced in an excellent and complete manner. This is actually indispensable. Previously, in Tibet, there were Vinaya monasteries like this. Likewise, in Chinese histories we see that this was so. In any case, my reason for sharing this is that we have striven to make the behavior and rituals of the Vinaya an important part of the Kagyu Monlam. I want to encourage you to continue to make effort here because conduct, and our increasing understanding of it, is one of the principal conditions causing the Monlam to go well. It is said that there is no aspect of conduct laid out by the Bhagavan Buddha that we are unable to perform; it just comes down to whether an individual is going to observe it or not.
The second point I want to make concerns some other important news from last year—that is, my requesting a meeting with Gyalwa Thaye Dorje. This was widely reported, and afterwards, I had an opportunity to clarify what happened. I’d like to take this opportunity to say more now. The main purpose for having the meeting was solely for the benefit of the teachings and beings. I am always working to this end. Generally, people say that I am Karmapa, a buddha, a bodhisattva. They say what they say, but when I look for myself, all I see is an ordinary being with afflictions and faults, not someone who is free of faults and endowed with all the qualities, as others think.
In any case, my wish to benefit the teachings and benefit beings has never waned, and at the very least, I pray that I will be able to benefit the teachings and beings not only in this lifetime but in all my lifetimes. In particular, for myself, I don’t have any confidence or basis to think that I will be born in a pure realm in the future, but whether I am born in the high realms as a god or human or whether I am born in the lower realms as a horse or donkey or such, no matter what, may I be able to remember The Three Jewels with faith and not forget my compassionate wishes for all my parent-sentient beings.
In particular, because of the good karma I have accumulated in the past, in this life I have been able to take birth as a servant of the teachings of the Kagyu lineage, the protectors of beings. Likewise, I have been able to receive the blessings of the lineage of the great Karmapas. Thus, I always think to myself that we must not let the blessings of the ocean of Kagyu siddhas weaken and that we should always keep the name of the buddha Karmapa in mind in all our lifetimes, never forgetting it. Please everyone pray that we can accomplish this.
At this time, I am in a retreat with only a very few people around me. My body and mind are not like they were before; I am in a period where I feel sad and discouraged. In particular, the thought of death and impermanence is arising strongly within me. Perhaps, from the perspective of a practitioner, developing the awareness of death and impermanence is good. But from another perspective, this is happening when I am not feeling particularly well in either body or mind. I can’t explain it clearly.
For a long time, no one has heard much about what I am doing, and there are many rumors and a lot of hearsay about it. We are all the same. No matter who we are, people say all sorts of things about us; they misunderstand or make up things. In my life, this has often happened from the time I was little until now. Such situations happen often to all of us. But the main thing is that because our own minds are not hidden from us, it is important for us to believe in ourselves. For me, as I said before, I intend to continue working for the sake of Buddhism and sentient beings.
To conclude, this 36th Kagyu Monlam has been gone very well; it has been excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, and excellent in the end. This is primarily thanks to the kindness of Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche, all the lamas and tulkus, and the ocean of the sangha. I would like to thank all of you. I pray that next year I will be able to come to the 37th Kagyu Monlam in person and serve with my body, speech, and mind. Thank you, everyone.
The Beanfield Centre, Toronto, Canada
28 October 2018
On the second day of the Toronto video teachings, the audience was able to submit questions to His Holiness. After the meditation transmission for the practice of Chenrezik, His Holiness replied to as many of these queries as time permitted.
The first question asked how Dharma practitioners should respond when faced with the misbehavior of a religious teacher. How do they not lose faith in the Dharma? His Holiness gave a detailed reply:
The #MeToo movement is about the difficulties our society faces in general, and about those that women face in particular, and the problems are not easy to speak about. Since this is a societal problem, the #MeToo movement has become powerful. Along with it, many situations involving religious figures, including some Buddhists, have come to light. The primary question for followers is this: when religious leaders are involved in such problems, how should we think about them? How do we not lose faith?
In Buddhism, it is often stated that we should make a clear distinction between the teachings and an individual, and I think this is a critical point. There are the teachings and there are individuals, who can be of many different types. To speak honestly, just because someone has a title, such as ‘lama’ or ‘rinpoche,’ people can be captivated; simply due to an impressive name, an individual can appear quite special. But it is very difficult for a person to actually live up to that high title.
When we are separating the Dharma from individuals, it is important to understand that while there is a wide range of individuals who behave in a variety of ways, the Dharma itself is authentic. Someone may have the label of a Dharma practitioner, but they are subject to numerous conditions, such as their previous karma or perhaps an incorrect way of practicing the Dharma. Individuals can have faults and make mistakes; however, the genuine Dharma is something in which we can place our trust.
When it comes to our Dharma practice, we are not doing it for someone else. It is very personal; we are the ones doing our practice in order to transform ourselves. If things do not go well with a teacher, that is not the reason to give up on the Dharma as a whole. The situation resembles turning to a doctor when we are sick. There are good and bad doctors, and if we happen to chose a bad one, we do not give up on all doctors and stop seeking medical treatment. In this way, I think it is important to consider the situations brought to light by the #MeToo movement.”
Several of the questions focused on practice. One asked about how a practitioner could combine practices, such as Vajrayana and Confucianism. In response, His Holiness emphasized that the most important factor in order to practice properly, irrespective of which practice, is to have a qualified person to guide us who teaches us the complete practice from the beginning to the middle and through to the end. In Buddhism it is said in particular that a teacher should recognize that there are three basic types of individuals with low, average, or superior capacities. They should know the different paths for each capacity and understand the stages of the path to enlightenment. If this is the case, then whether you are practicing Amitabha or another meditation, they all come down to the same place.
Several questions asked about difficulties that can arise. What should we do when we are unwell and unable to practice? His Holiness replied, “Some people think that it is best to pray to the buddhas and bodhisattvas to remove an illness, but actually it is not certain that being well is better than being sick. If we are really practicing, we practice whether we are sick or not. That is true practice.
“We practice to face directly birth, old age, sickness, and death and to come to recognize their true nature. When he was a prince, the Buddha was enveloped in the luxury of the palace. Then he met these four stages of life and practiced to realize their essential nature by leaving the palace, engaging in austerities, and finally becoming fully awakened.”
A further question concerned how to practice the view of emptiness during the visualization of a deity or a mantra practice. His Holiness explained, “In the Secret Mantrayana, when we are practicing visualization or mantra, it is important that the practice reverses our attachment to ordinary appearances. Whatever arises is mere appearance, emptiness and appearance inseparable, but due to our clinging to these appearances as real, the moment they arise, we immediately grasp them as truly existent and so impair our ability to see their reality. Things are not the way we think they are; we fixate on ordinary appearances and miss their actual nature because we do not comprehend emptiness.”
He continued, “Visualizing a deity or reciting a mantra stand in direct contradiction to our usual way of perceiving.” Before we do these practices, we must first reflect on the actual nature of things, on emptiness or the dharmata, and from within this true nature, arise the appearances of the deity, the support for our Dharma practice. With these, we think that we have created a new world, which arises out of emptiness and is inseparable from it.
Another question asked how a practitioner should choose which practices to prioritize. His Holiness made two suggestions: either we should do whatever practice in which we feel the strongest faith or ask a lama to identify what we should be practising.
What if the state of our mind prevents us from practicing, for example, if we are sad or depressed or disappointed? His Holiness emphasised the importance of consistency and diligence, which strengthens our mind. Whatever our state of mind, we need to continue practicing. Otherwise, he warned, our mind will gradually become impaired, increasingly out of control, and then we will not be able to do anything.
The next question asked about the practice of Chenrezik and radiating lights to all beings to eliminate their suffering, which in actuality seems impossible. Why do we do this? The Karmapa replied, “The purpose is to train our minds. Our compassion is developed through the aspiration to eliminate all the suffering of living beings. Even if this does not actually happen, the thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it came true?’ gives us joy. Even if it is difficult to actually acomplish something or if they cannot, bodhisattvas still try to make it happen. Their aspirations are limitless, not restricted by ‘can’ or ‘cannot’; they work on what cannot be accomplished until it can be.”
Over the past year, His Holiness had talked about his health issues, and one questioner asked what people could do to help. His Holiness thanked them for their concern but said he was unsure how they could help. [He later clarified that the recitation of the following would be helpful: Medicine Buddha, Chenrezik, the Twenty-One Praises of Tara, and the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Rinpoche.]
Regarding the conference in Dharamsala for religious leaders in November, His Holiness reiterated that he hoped to be there, but it would depend on whether the causes and conditions came together or not. [Earlier in the afternoon he had explained that he was waiting for the Government of India to issue a visa.]
Finally, one question raised issues concerning environmental problems, our consumer society, and the role Buddhist Dharma can play in addressing them. His Holiness advised that the crux of the matter is inner contentment. We are bombarded by advertisements, he said, which tell us “You must have this.” They try to persuade us that we cannot live without the product they are selling, but they are deceiving us. We need to ask ourselves, “Do I need this or not?” The most important thing is to have few desires and be content.
The video ended, the screen darkened, and the closing ceremonies began. As is customary, the event concluded with a thanksgiving Mandala Offering, led by Lama Tenzin from KSDL Buddhist Center, which organized the teachings, followed by the sponsors. In his speech, Lama Tenzin thanked all those who had worked so hard to make the teachings a success: first and foremost His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa, who had recorded the teachings in spite of being unwell; sangha members and all who had attended, from near and far; the organising team and the volunteers; and the sponsors whose generosity had made it all possible.
As the crowd began to drift away into the Toronto afternoon, many stayed to place khatas on the Karmapa’s throne. Though the Karmapa himself had been unable to attend, it was still possible to feel his presence and gratitude for the teachings they had received.
The Gyalwang Karmapa teaches the sadhana of Chenrezik composed in Tibet by the Siddha Thangtong Gyalpo (1361-1485) known as ‘the All-Pervading Benefit of Beings’ for those who wish to do the practice.
The Karmapa warmly welcomed all who had come from near and far to the teaching and acknowledged all the effort and expense they had made to be in Toronto. He expressed his great disappointment in not being able to come himself, explaining that when he was about to depart, his doctor advised him that, given his physical condition, he should not board a plane at this time. He was extremely sorry not to be in Toronto with everyone; however, he was inspired and delighted to teach so that people are not left empty-handed.
He commented, “It’s also true that you have gathered here to hear the teachings of the Buddha and not so much to see me. In order that the genuine Dharma continue, I wanted to teach here to day on the topic we had chosen, the practice of Noble Chenrezik known as ‘the All-Pervading Benefit of Beings.’ I will explain it briefly for those who wish to practice.”
Happiness and Suffering
“In general, all living beings, not just humans,” the Karmapa continued, “are the same in that they seek happiness and wish to avoid suffering. We are all like travelers on a large ship, and we could be old or young, rich or poor, beautiful or not. No matter how different our physical forms might be from the outside, we are all the same on the inside: our feelings of happiness and suffering are the same and our wish for happiness and our desire to avoid suffering are the same. Like all the passengers on a boat, the path we are following and the goal we seek are identical.”
However, we have a problem. The Karmapa explained, “We may wish for happiness but we do not know its actual cause, and therefore, do not seek it out. We may wish to avoid suffering but do not know what causes it.
“The main difficulty is that we want happiness but do not know its cause nor how to create it. We wish to be free of suffering but do not know its cause or how to remove it. We encounter difficulties because what we wish for and what we practice contradict each other: seeking superficial happiness, we create the causes for our own suffering. From another perspective, you could say that what we want is not in harmony with the way things actually are.
“For example, we get sick and do not want to be ill but we do not know the cause of our disease, and so the result—this painful suffering—does not cease. And merely wanting to be free of suffering is not enough.
“If you compare human beings with animals, humans know what to take up and what to give up,” the Karmapa explained. “Humans have the ability to distinguish between good and bad, which animals lack. For this reason, humans have the possibility to create what the texts call ‘a precious human birth.’ This means that we have not just attained a human body but also the wisdom that knows how to distinguish between what to adopt and what to reject. This is what makes for a precious human birth.
“Simply being born a human does not guarantee that we will make our lives meaningful as a precious human birth. For a human birth to be come meaningful means that in line with our wish to be happy, we know how to create the cause of that happiness, virtuous actions; in line with our wish not to suffer, we know how to give up negative actions. If this happens, then we have a precious human birth that accords with the meaning of the term.
“Actually, ‘a precious human birth’ has two meanings: the key points are first knowing what to adopt and reject, and then knowing how to do this. We want happiness and not suffering, but merely seeking what we want and do not want does not benefit us. We need to know which causes to take up and which ones to reject. We are all aware of the good results we want but we are ignorant of their true causes. It is crucial that we learn to correctly deal with the causes of happiness and suffering. This is why Buddhist treatises teach extensively about what to adopt and what to reject—it is the key point.”
Who is Chenrezik?
“Today, the topic is the practice of Chenrezik,” the Karmapa began. “In general, among mahayana Buddhists, whether Tibetan or Chinese, there is not one follower who has not heard of Chenrezik. Many people think of Chenrezik as a deity but who is he really? Chenrezik is widely known as a bodhisattva; however, if we speak of Chenrezik as a practice, how do we understand this figure? If we look at his name, it refers to the one who gazes with eyes of love and compassion on all beings in the six realms of samsara. He is continually concerned about and wishes to protect every living being. We can say then that the practice of Chenrezik is one of love and compassion.
“Many people understand the practice of a deity to be supplicating them, prostrating and making offerings to them. But actually, this kind of practice that sets the deity apart from us and makes them into a separate entity to be the object of our actions is not the true practice of the deity. The real practice of Chenrezik is one that develops within our being the qualities of love, compassion, and altruism. We are able, for example, to speak kindly to others and benefit them. This is the actual practice of Chenrezik, and we should begin with this foundation in mind.
“Lacking this understanding and just doing the sadhana, reciting the mantra, and counting the numbers will not benefit us. When someone asks us, “Who is Chenrezik?” it is not enough if all we can reply is, ‘Chenrezik is a bodhisattva with four arms.’ We should be able to respond, ‘Doing the practice of Chenrezik means developing our love and compassion, and giving rise to bodhichitta. Accomplishment means being able to manifest the level of Chenrezik.’ This is the kind of understanding we should have. Before we do any practice, it is essential that we look into the correct view and how to hold it.
The Preliminaries of the Practice
“There are many short and long sadhanas of Chenrezik composed in Tibet and many have been translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan. From among all of these, we are looking at the practice written by the Siddha Thangtong Gyalpo (1361-1485) known as ‘the All-Pervading Benefit of Beings.’ The instructions on how to practice this sadhana are divided into sections. The first one is the preliminaries that include going for refuge and generating bodhichitta; this is followed by (2) the main part, meditating on the deity; (3) reciting the mantra, and so forth.
“The two parts of the first section, refuge and bodhichitta, are held in high esteem in Buddhist texts. Why? Because whether or not you have taken refuge determines whether or not you are a Buddhist. Whether you are on the mahayana path or not is measured by whether or not relative bodhichitta is present in your being. Both of these points are essential. Whether we are a Buddhist or not comes down to taking refuge; whether we are on the mahayana path or not, comes down to having bodhichitta. Refuge and bodhichitta provide the very foundation of our practice.
Going for Refuge
“How to understand going for Refuge? To state it simply, we take refuge in the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. To apply the metaphor of the path, the Buddha is the guide who shows the path to take, the Dharma is the path to take, and the Sangha is the group of people who accompany us along the path. To apply the metaphor of being sick, the Buddha is like a doctor, the Dharma is like medicine, and the Sangha is like our caregivers. These examples can open our understanding through the different perspectives they offer.
“The Buddha has been famous for over 2,500 years as the guide, explaining to us, ‘If you are looking for full awakening, here’s the path of practice you should take.’ The path is the Dharma, the way that leads to liberation or omniscience. While we are traveling that path, our companions who help us on the way are the Sangha.
“If we look at these three in this present time and ask, ‘who is the Buddha’s representative now?’ It is the authentic spiritual friend, who shows us an unmistaken path. The Dharma is the advice and key instructions the friend gives that lead us to enlightenment. The Sangha are those who sustain us with spiritual or material support. We need all three of these Jewels: If we are sick, we need a doctor to diagnose, medicine to heal, and caregivers to support us.
“Going for refuge, therefore, is not just pronouncing some words but stepping forward and engaging in activity. We think, ‘My teacher, you have given me guidance and I will put it into practice.’ We think of this person as a guide we should follow, someone capable of giving good counsel and worthy of respect. We need to recognize that their advice is exactly what we should be practicing and that the Sangha is the group of people who support our virtuous activity. Just pronouncing the words is not enough.
“The second key point is bringing bodhichitta to life or awakening bodhichitta. On the relative level, this is the resolve, the dedicated effort, to bring all living beings to buddhahood. It could also be defined as the mind that is turned toward benefiting others. Having this bodhichitta determines whether or not we are on the Mahayana path.
The teachings often present a greater and a lesser path. What mainly differentiates the two is a higher or lower view, a more vast or narrow perspective. If we consider the definitive meaning, the view is that of emptiness. ‘A vast or narrow view’ refers to a mind that is broad and spacious or quite limited. In the realm of practice, there are several ways to understand the scope of mind; basically, it refers to the range of responsibility that we can take on. If we can assume an immense responsibility, we belong to the mahayana (the greater vehicle). If we are confined to a smaller responsibility, we belong to the hinayana (the foundational vehicle). The greater and lesser paths, therefore, are distinguished by the amount of responsibility we can carry.
“Differentiating levels of awakening bodhichitta, therefore, depends on our minds. We have to look into ourselves to see how much the courage (literally “strength of heart”) we have. This is not something we show to others in the same way that we might exhibit our wealth or fame. It is not a question of what we are displaying on the outside, but of how we really are on the inside. We must turn and look into ourselves to see if we actually have this type of courage, ‘Can I really take on this responsibility?’ If we find that we can, we are on the Mahayana path; if not, we have not yet arrived.
“Discussions about the preliminaries often deal with gauging their importance. Some think that because they are preliminaries, they are not very important, but this is mistaken. The preliminaries are essential and should be deeply anchored within us. They are the very basis of practice. When we are building a house, the greatest expense is for the foundation. With a very stable basis, a house will remain a long time. If the basis is not stable, the house will be unsteady and soon collapse. This is why the Kagyu tradition teaches that the preliminaries are more profound than the main practice.
“The Kadampa scriptures state that if we do not comprehend the preliminary practice of death and impermanence (the second of the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind), Guhyasamaja practice will not be profound or powerful. Comprehending death and impermanence eliminates the need for complex practices like Guhayasamaja. All we will need are the words of refuge—such is its immense importance.”
The Karmapa then turned to the next stage of the practice, the visualization. “We begin,” he explained, “by imaging that in front of us is a brilliant white cloud and the space surrounding it above is filled with rainbows and many brilliant lights, among which are arrays of beautiful flowers. In this most pleasant environment, we imagine our root lama inseparable from Chenrezik, present not as an ordinary person but as the essential nature of the three supreme ones, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We visualize a single bodhisattva but actually, Chenrezik is the embodiment of all the buddhas and all the bodhisattvas of the ten directions. We imagine that he is present before us and gazing at us with compassion.”
“We are surrounded many people: those whom we are fond of, those with whom we do not have close relationships, and those whom we find difficult or off-putting. Beyond these groups, all living beings—without distinguishing between friends or enemies—are gathered around us. We might feel that we do not have a good relation with them or perhaps none at all, but in terms of our shared nature, we all seek happiness and wish to avoid suffering. It is as if we all belonged to the same family, so we image all of us together. We are not alone; everyone wishes to be happy and free of suffering. Imagining all this, we supplicate Chenrezik asking for the power to benefit others as he does. Placing one hundred percent of our hopes in him, we recite the refuge prayer.
“Some people find it difficult to imagine a deity such as Chenrezik. In my opinion, however, this is not the most important aspect if the practice. What is important is that we have the feeling that Chenrezik is nearby and present just as a person might be, and also that all living beings (friends the same as enemies) are nearby and surrounding us, sharing our wish for happiness and well-being.”
The Karmapa then recited the well-known text for refuge and awakening bodhichitta:
In the supreme Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha,
I take refuge until attaining full awakening.
Through the merit of practicing meditation and mantras,
May I attain buddhahood for the benefit of all living beings.
The first two lines refer to taking refuge and the Karmapa commented, “When we take refuge, it is not the numbers of repetitions that count but the way we are thinking. In the line, ‘In the supreme Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha,’ the supreme Sangha refers to bodhisattvas. We can single them out in this way or just refer to the Sangha more generally as our companions on the path. As for how long we go for refuge, it is for lifetime after lifetime.”
“We can say the refuge prayer three times or just once, depending on how much time we have and our inclination. We take refuge with great certainty, calling forth one hundred percent of our being. If we can do this, Chenrezik will look after and care for us, so we can rest at ease, feeling stable trust in him. Briefly, this section has described the way we should think about going for refuge, which is expressed in the first two lines of the verse and relies mainly on the visualization of Chenrezik in front of us.
“The last two lines relate to the awakening of bodhichitta, and the focus is on both Chenrezik and all the living beings surrounding us, everyone of whom has been our father or mother. This statement implies past and future lives, which may be difficult for some to accept, so we could also recall that all the living beings around us are similar to us in their wish to be happy and avoid suffering.”
But people are not creating the causes for this to happen. On the contrary, the Karmapa remarked, “they are accumulating the causes that result in misery, so they will not find supreme, unchanging happiness, which is needed to attain buddhahood.
“Just having the thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if living beings attained supreme happiness?’ is not enough, because at this point in our practice, we are not able to bring this about. Therefore, we study about Chenrezik and engage in the practice to develop our love and compassion. We make a wholehearted commitment to visualizing him and reciting his mantra, so that we will become like Chenrezik embodying universal love and compassion for the benefit of all living beings. Having generated bodhichitta, we dedicate all our practice of meditation and mantra recitation so that we may attain the level of buddhahood for the benefit of all. We repeat this generation of bodhichitta as often as time permits.
“After taking refuge and awakening bodhichitta, we imagine the following. From the body of Chenrezik present in front of us radiates an abundance of beautiful light rays, which purify all living beings of every negative action, suffering, and discomfort, and bring them happiness. The purpose of this thought is to fill our minds with delight. It does not necessarily mean that our goal will be accomplished right away, but it does bring benefits. We tend to think depressing thoughts when we are feeling down and happy thoughts when we are feeling upbeat. The thought of bringing happiness to others brings us happiness and lifts us up as well.
“At the end of the practice, we imagine that Chenrezik dissolves into light and then into us. This purifies whatever is impure or not beneficial from our body, speech, and mind and endows us with greater power to benefit others.” With this, His Holiness concluded a brief explanation of refuge and awakening bodhichitta.
The Background of the Practice
This afternoon, His Holiness continued his explanation of “the All-Pervading Benefit for Beings,” a practice of noble Chenrezik, who is the embodiment, or the expression of the compassion of all the buddhas in the form of a yidam deity. For the inhabitants of the six realms, his great compassion is swift. In particular, since the Land of Snows is the area of his activity, he has become the special deity of the Tibetans, who have a karmic connection with him. Further, Chenrezik has made aspiration prayers to help those who have committed negative actions. For all these reasons, it is important to supplicate him.
“In general, the four classes of tantra contain different sadhanas of Chenrezik, and here we are looking specifically at the one made famous by the siddha Thangtong Gyalpo. It is said that he did not compose it on his own initiation. He had a history of meeting, as if in person, buddhas and bodhisattvas, such as Chenrezik, Hayagriva, Tara, and others. Thangtong Gyalpo often had visions of Chenrezik, who once told him, ‘I’m your spiritual friend. You should create a vast benefit for all living beings through teaching my six-syllable mantra and bringing all wanders in samsara to liberation.’ At this urging, Thangtong Gyalpo wrote ‘the All-Pervading Benefit of Beings,’ which has a vibrant power that brings actual blessings and a deep meaning to all who make a connection with it. They will be cared for by Chenrezik, so it is important to realize this.”
Meditating on the Deity
During the morning session, the discussion of refuge and awakening bodhichitta has been completed, and now the Karmapa turned to an explanation of how to meditate on the deity. This section of the text begins, “On the crown of myself and others” and ends twelve lines later with “He is the embodiment of all objects of refuge.”
His Holiness explained, “We remain in our usual form as ordinary people, so this is not a self-visualization as the deity. Similar to taking refuge, we are surrounded by all living beings, friends and enemies alike. First, we bring all of this clearly to mind and then we imagine that above our crown and those of all living beings is an eight-petaled, white lotus with its round corona in the center. On top of this is the mandala of a full-moon disk, and at its midpoint is the letter HRIH, luminous with its lights of pearl-white and emblematic of all buddhas’ compassion. It is as if universal compassion has manifested as a letter.
“The clear white HRIH radiates innumerable rays of moonlight that travel out to pervade all the realms in the ten directions; they imbue with light all the buddhas and bodhisattvas residing in these realms. Imagine that at the tips of the rays are innumerable offerings extended to all of them. The rays of light also reach out to all ordinary living beings, and as the lights connect with them, they are liberated from all disease, discomfort, negative forces, and so forth. Likewise, all their abodes in the six realms are purified and transformed into the realm of Amitabha or into pure lands filled with bliss and delight.
“These lights carrying all the blessings of the buddhas and bodhisattvas are drawn back into ourselves and dissolve in the letter HRIH. It becomes so filled with this light and charged with power that it breaks open, transforming into noble Chenrezik. White in color, he has four arms and radiates everywhere clear white light reflecting the five colors.
“His smile is filled with love for us and all living beings. Of his four arms, the hands of the first two are joined in prayer, the lower right hand holds a crystal mala, and the lower left hand, a long-stemmed white lotus with eight petals. On his upper body, he wears a garment of white silk and on his lower body, silk skirts. He is adorned with the eight types of ornaments, the jeweled crown, necklaces, and so forth. His left shoulder is covered by the..
Resplendent in brocade chubas and multi-colored aprons, the Toronto Tibetan community, the largest in North America, filled the auditorium for the fourth and final session of the two-day video teachings.
Because he could not attend in person, it was no longer viable for the Karmapa to bestow the Chenrezik empowerment, so he gave the meditation transmission of the Chenrezik sadhana. A mandala offering to request the transmission was followed by recitation of the refuge prayer and bodhicitta. Then, based on the instructions given in the first three sessions, the audience was asked to maintain the visualizations while His Holiness read through the sadhana and led the chanting of the six-syllable mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum.
Elaborating on the historical background, His Holiness explained that, because of the close relationship between Chenrezik and Tibetans, not only the Karmapas but also many high lamas, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, are regarded as emanations of Noble Chenrezik and instruments of his boundless activities for the benefit of living beings. There is, however, a strong connection with the lineage of the Karmapas. The Tibetan tradition of prayer wheels began during the time of the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, who, after a vision of dakinis singing it, introduced the practice of reciting the six-syllable mantra to a melody. He spread this tradition of singing the mantra throughout Tibet. Further, during the Black Crown ceremony, when the Karmapa dons the crown, it is the custom to chant the six-syllable mantra to a melody.
In conclusion, His Holiness expressed his hope that through the transmission of the six-syllable mantra, “because of this strong dharma connection of ours, we and all others may grow the seed of liberation and omniscience in our beings…. May we all become diligent about the meditation practice of Noble Chenrezik in order to bring all sentient beings, who are stricken by suffering, swiftly to the unexcelled state of buddhahood.”
The Karmapa then spent some time speaking very openly about his current situation.
It is now eighteen years since he had arrived in India, but for the last eighteen months, he has been staying abroad, mainly in the USA. It has been a very difficult time, partly because of health issues, but also because of problems that arose and the consequent stress he was under. “I think that this time I spent in America was the hardest period of my life,” he stated.
He explained that, although the Indian Government issues Tibetans a travel document so that they can travel to other countries, it does not have the status of a passport, and the use of this document to travel abroad has become increasingly problematic, especially since some countries refuse to recognize its validity. Consequently, many high lamas of various Tibetan traditions have sought foreign citizenship in order to be able to travel freely and accomplish their dharma activities.
Under advisement, the Karmapa acquired citizenship of the Commonwealth of Dominica (not the Dominican Republic as reported mistakenly in the press) and received a passport. This will enable him to travel freely all over the world in order to accomplish his dharma activities.
Having acquired the new passport in March 2018, His Holiness informed the Indian Government, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the Central Tibetan Administration of his change in status. His Holiness wanted to return to India and initially had hoped to do so in June 2018. However, due to his change in status, he now needs a visa and has been waiting for the Indian Government to grant him one.
The Karmapa also spoke about his recent meetings with His Holiness Thaye Dorje on October 10 and 11 in France. He commented that many people have misconstrued what happened. The main aim of their meeting, he clarified, was for them to get to know each other on a personal basis and come to a personal understanding. Prior to the meeting, he had known very little about His Holiness Thaye Dorje, so this was just a beginning. No decisions were made, and there was still a long way to go. What happens in the future depends upon the entire Karma Kagyu community. His Holiness emphasized that everyone needs to take a long-term view, extending not just a few months or years but a few decades or generations.
“The Karma Kagyu lineage has split into two, and that split should not continue from generation to generation,” he stated. In fact, the Karmapa explained, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had advised him to meet with His Holiness Thaye Dorje. It would be very dangerous for the lineage and its teachings, the Karmapa asserted, if the Karma Kagyu were to be factionalized and partisan. Some people had interpreted the meeting as a defeat or loss of face for him, he noted, but to characterize it as victory or defeat was a mistaken short-term view. In the context of the long-term danger that there would be nothing left of the Karma Kagyu, losing face and the question of victory or defeat were not that important. With this clarification and the request to keep his words in mind, His Holiness’ first video presentation of the afternoon came to an end.
The Heart Sutra (Sanskrit Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya or Chinese 心經 Xīnjīng) is one of the most popular and important texts for understanding the Buddha’s view of reality, especially throughout East Asia, Tibet, and now the Western world.
In 2016, the Gyalwang Karmapa traveled to New Delhi and gave an extensive teaching on the Heart Sutra at the request of disciples from around the world. This was the first time that the Karmapa had taught directly on a sutra as opposed to a commentary.
These profound and very detailed teachings auspiciously began on India’s Independence Day and lasted for several days, covering topics such as history, line-by-line explanations, meditations, and even sessions where the Prajñāpāramitā Sutra was written out on paper in a calligraphy style.
A copy of the Heart Sutra written out by the Gyalwang Karmapa in calligraphy style.
Today’s podcast episode is the complete teachings on the Heart Sutra given by the Karmapa in New Delhi. At almost seven hours long, it is an inspiring and detailed look at how to truly understand this wonderful and essential text outlining the view of the Buddha for those on the Bodhisattva path.
You can download the episode in iTunes or directly using the link below. Please ensure you are subscribed in iTunes to be notified of new episodes and releases.
His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje and His Holiness Trinley Thaye Dorje met over the last few days at a rural location in France. Their purpose was to get to know each other personally. They also discussed how they might work together to preserve and strengthen the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.
After their discussions, His Holiness Trinley Thaye Dorje and His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje issued the following joint statement:
“We are both very pleased to have had this opportunity to meet and get to know each other in a peaceful and relaxed environment. We both had this wish for many years, and we are gratified that this wish has now been fulfilled.
The purpose of our meeting was primarily to spend time together so that we could establish a personal relationship. We were able to talk together freely and to learn about each other for the first time. We were thus able to begin what we expect will develop into a strong connection.
While we were together we also talked about ways that we could work to heal the divisions that have unfortunately developed within our precious Karma Kagyu lineage in recent years. We view it as our duty and responsibility to do whatever we can to bring the lineage together.
This undertaking is critically important for the future of the Karma Kagyu lineage as well as for the future of Tibetan Buddhism and the benefit of all sentient beings. We therefore ask everyone within the Karma Kagyu community to join us in our efforts to strengthen and preserve our lineage. We view it as our collective responsibility to restore harmony to our tradition which is a lineage of wisdom and compassion.”
His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje His Holiness Trinley Thaye Dorje
On the 27th of September, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa visited His Holiness Kyabgon Gongma Trichen Rinpoche at his residence at Tsechen Kunchab Ling, the seat of His Holiness the Sakya Trizin in the United States. Tsechen Kunchab Ling, Temple of All-Encompassing Great Compassion, was established in Walden, New York in April, 2001, to strengthen the Dharma in the United States of America.
Before leaving Boston, the Karmapa stopped at the Kurukulla Center to give a blessing and a brief talk. The Center started in 1989 and came to its present location in 2002 where it is now under the guidance of Geshe Tenley. The maroon and golden yellow building accommodates a richly decorated shrine hall, bookstore, and quarters for residents. Its spacious backyard is home to a long row of bright red prayer wheels, an ornately decorated Kalachakra stupa in bright colors, and just beside it, a beautiful statue of Tara protected in glass. There is an air of festive anticipation as people wait for the Karmapa to appear.
As the afternoon began, Geshe Tenley led the Karmapa into the shrine hall, where many Tibetans and also Westerners had gathered to greet the Karmapa and receive his blessing. After “the Twelve Praises of the Buddha” was chanted and tea and rice were served, the Karmapa gave a warm welcome to everyone. First speaking in Tibetan, he stated that Tibet is experiencing the most difficult time in its history, and therefore, Tibetans everywhere must work hard with trust, hope, and complete and stable certainty in the value of their rich culture and invaluable spiritual tradition. These must be preserved and maintained, and the Karmapa explained, the key to this is the Tibetan language. He encouraged the Tibetans to make great efforts in teaching both spoken and written Tibetan to their children.
Turning to English, the Karmapa said that he had been on a short, private visit to Boston and Geshe Tenleyla had asked him to visit the center. The Karmapa expressed how happy he was to see everyone and the hope that the next time he comes he would be able to spend more time and do a longer program. After leaving shrine hall and blessing the center, the Karmapa came into the backyard and blessed each person individually as he walked along the line they had formed, undulating around the prayer wheels, the Tara statue, the Kalachakra stupa, and flowing out to the street where his car waited to take him back to New York.
Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts
September 5, 2016
On a sunny day in Cambridge, the Karmapa paid a surprise visit to the offices of BRDC. The new director, Jann Ronis, and BDRC’s staff of Tibetans and westerners were delighted to receive him and spend an afternoon in conversation around the seminar table. The wide-ranging topics included practice traditions, Tibetan history, the famous debate between Hashang Mahayana and Kamalashila, the texts in the Dunhuang caves, the Karma Gadri style of painting, and Tibetan poetry.
At the end, the Karmapa spent quite a while looking at the books lining the walls of various rooms in the office. He borrowed a number of them to study, which was taken as an auspicious sign that he will return to visit again.