(March 26, 2015 – Cambridge, Massachusetts) The spacious interior of Harvard’s Memorial Chapel quietly filled with students, faculty and special guests. Light was streaming in through the tall, arched windows and played off the delicate filigree of the altar gates. In front them an elegant chair had been set up for His Holiness the Karmapa, who appeared right on time, moving easily across the small stage to the waiting chair. This lama with the 900-year-old lineage is lecturing at the 350-year-old university, the oldest institution of higher learning in the US.
Professor David Hempton, the Dean of the Faculty of Divinity, welcomed the Karmapa with warm words and the gift of a silver memorial bowl inscribed to him “with highest appreciation on the occasion of his historic visit to the Harvard Divinity School.” Professor Hempton recalled that the 16th Karmapa had come to the Harvard Divinity School in 1976, and that now the Divinity School hosted a thriving Buddhist studies and ministry program.
Next Professor Janet Gyatso, Associate Dean and the Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies, introduced the Karmapa as the great hero—a reference to him as bodhisattva (literally “hero of full awakening”). She explained that the Karmapa was the first officially recognized reincarnating lama, or tulku, and then gave a swift history of the main incarnations of the Karmapa down to the present 17th one, Orgyen Trinley Dorje. She noted that the 17th Karmapa is no less exceptional than any of his predecessors, proof that the tulku system in Tibet is alive and well. Professor Gyatso characterized him as bold and intelligent with amazingly honest energy, pursuing his interests beyond traditional areas of study to include the environment, the status of women and social justice. She concluded by saying that his recent commitment to convene a platform for ordaining women in the monastic tradition followed by Tibetan Buddhists is of historical importance.
In his address to the assembly, the Karmapa began by making a link to his previous incarnation, the 16th Karmapa, who was one of the first masters to bring Tibetan Buddhism to the U.S. and came to Harvard. He was glad to be back, His Holiness said. Turning to the topic of how to care for living beings on the earth in this 21st century, he began by stating that the real essence of Buddhist teachings is dependent arising: all things arise by depending one upon the other. It is vital that we do not leave this a mere abstract philosophical idea, but apply it directly to our lives, he said. “How can I embody dependent arising? How do I know it through my emotional life? In this twenty-first century, we can all see that through social media and the Internet, interdependence is even more obvious, but the mere exchange of information is not enough. From one point of view, the more information we have, the clearer things become. On the other hand, sometimes we have too much information and it obscures, preventing us from truly understanding. Furthermore, interdependence is not just about sharing information or our thoughts among ourselves, but sharing the feelings we have in our hearts, our real experience.”
Following his own advice, the Karmapa related a story from his own life, when he was three or four years old and living with his nomad family. Their main food was meat, and so animals had to be killed in the autumn. “I remember clearly,” he said, “that I could not endure this. I still remember the unbearable feeling in my heart. I don’t know if you could call it compassion as described in the texts with precise definitions, but it was a feeling of great love in my heart.
“When I was young, I had no education, but I did have this natural feeling of sorrow and compassion. Then I was recognized as the Karmapa and put on a throne, but when I think back to the genuine, unfabricated feeling I had as a child, in some ways it surpasses the compassion I can have now. I really appreciate the compassion I had then. Children, especially young ones, have an innate capacity for genuine love and kindness. We can see that when one child is crying, another starts crying too, because they recognize the feeling and naturally sympathize with it. In this way our sympathy can extend to all living beings. This does not have to do with whether we recognize ourselves as spiritual or not; it is an inborn part of being human.
“As we grow up, our circumstances change and this can obscure our innate compassion. We are born with our compassion button switched on and then the button is switched off. As adults compassion does not come so easily to us. When we could take care of others, we think about ourselves: Will this harm me? How will it affect me? As we grow older, we become educated and, therefore, careful: even clever. We hesitate and worry about risks, so we lose our sense of connection. All of this obscures our innate compassion.
“Compassion is not a thought, but a feeling, which cannot be inculcated or encouraged. Compassion is something each of us has to volunteer through our natural courage and benevolence, which is the root of compassion.
“Dependent arising is a concept but it must become more than that. It has to be something we actually experience. We need to recognize that the environment and all the beings who inhabit it arise in dependence one upon the other, and further, that individual beings are also interdependent. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, and air we breathe has all come about through others. We cannot survive independently. The more keenly we feel this, the more we will feel that others’ well-being, their happiness and suffering, is very much a part of our own. This awareness will help us to take responsibility for others. And not just begin to take responsibility, but come to feel within us a compassion that is genuinely courageous.”
The Karmapa continued to comment on our present-day situation. “These days we are made extremely comfortable by the way we do things, but this also conceals a great deal from our sight, such as the process that culminates in the meat we eat. We lose the awareness of our connection to things and so there is a great need to deepen our awareness of our interdependence.
In conclusion, the Karmapa said that he wanted to leave the audience with one thought. “When we talk about disasters in this world, we usually think of things like epidemics and famine, but there is one source of disaster that we often fail to recognize—a lack of love. Due to this people have no help when they need it or no friends when friends are wanted. In a sense the most dangerous thing in this world is apathy. We think of weapons, warfare or disease as terrible dangers, and indeed they are, but once apathy takes hold of our mind, we can no longer avoid it.
“I urge you to feel a love that is courageous. Not in the sense of a grudging undertaking of a heavy burden in feeling responsible for the welfare of others, but a joyous acknowledgment of your interdependence with each and every other living being and with this environment.”
Filip Wolak / His Holiness the 17th Karmapa works on his laptop at the Kagyu Monlam Pavilion in Bodgaya, India.
If an enthusiastic friend raves about "the 17th Karmapa" and you think it's the title of the next Star Wars sequel or an early Bob Dylan song, you should know this: The man his followers call the Gyalwa Karmapa is the 29-year-old leader of a major school of Tibetan Buddhism and of the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) monastery and shrine in Woodstock, which was founded by his predecessor, the 16th Karmapa, in the 1970s.
The Karmapa feels an affinity with America and is interested in the modern world and such issues as the environment, social justice, and gender, according to his supporters. He's now on his third tour of the United States and, among many other appearances across the country, will speak on "The Relevance of Genuine Compassion" at UPAC in Kingston on April 18.
Lama Kathy Wesley, communications director of KTD, says that when the Karmapa—who is particularly popular with college students—visits the country this time, his lectures and teachings will focus not only on meditation and karma, but will also demonstrate a new practicality. "He began as a young teacher talking about philosophy, but quickly he began to teach about how to practice love and compassion even with people you find difficult," Wesley says. "His teachings contain practical ways of developing and practicing love. It's something we all have to practice."
This is after the Karmapa spent many years studying the basic tenets of Buddhism, Wesley says. "Since the Karmapa arrived in India [from his home in Tibet] in 2000, he's really spent a lot of time deeply studying Buddhism with his teachers. When he teaches today he is manifesting the benefits of all those years of study and meditation," she says.
The Karmapa has visited the United States twice before, in 2008 and 2011, invited by KTD and other Buddhist centers around the country. This time he'll give public lectures at prestigious venues including Stanford, Yale, and Princeton Universities. "Everybody is looking for his guidance. There must be something going on between him and youth," KTD President Tenzin Chonyi says. "Many college students from different parts of the United States are coming to India, and every year US students visit him, interact with him. College kids are very much into him."
Chonyi says he has served the Karmapa throughout his life. He relates how the 16th Karmapa visited the United States in 1974 (he died in 1981) and asked his followers to found a center for his teachings. When they sent the Karmapa pictures of different sites, he selected the one in Woodstock.
Chonyi says the 17th Karmapa's visit is an exciting occasion because his teachings manifest the energy and activity of "one thousand Buddhas combined into one. There is total energy of loving kindness and compassion—not in the ordinary sense, but compassion with wisdom, beyond ego, selfless," he says.
Wesley says one only has to look at the title of the Karmapa's book, The Heart Is Noble, to begin to understand his philosophy. "For Buddhists, people have a basic goodness, but they develop so many habits that get in the way of being able to live out their noble heart," she says. "The practice of mindfulness and conscious compassion [such as the Karmapa teaches] are ways we can actualize and nurture the basic noble human heart."
The Karmapa will offer a Bestowal of Refuge Vow and teaching on "The Development of Genuine Compassion" from 10am to noon and from 3pm to 5 pm onApril 18 at UPAC in Kingston. Ticket prices range from $30 to $180, and at press time not many were left. For tickets and more information:firstname.lastname@example.org or Ticketmaster.
Tibetan Community of New York & New Jersey would like to take this opportunity to announce that His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje agrees to Confer Teaching & Public Talk on Friday, April 10, 2015 at Hunter College Assembly Hall (69th Street & Lexington Avenue) from 6:30pm to 08:30pm.
Ticket price $ 25 and $30 will be sold on Friday, April 03, 2015 from 06:00pm onwards at Phuntsok Deshi Tibetan Community Hall.
All the Tibetan's & Himalayan people's are highly encourage to join this rare event.
Harvard Divinity School at Harvard University was eager to host the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen T. Dorje. The Karmapa is the leader of the Tibetan sect of Buddhism and the 900-year Karma Kagyu school for Tibetan Buddhism. Millions of Buddhists are taught in his school.
The 29-year-old was born in Eastern Tibet to a nomad family. He recanted a story from his youth, where he watched his tribe smother an animal for its meat. He was chosen at a young age by the previous Karmapa’s followers, and was put in training. At 14, he escaped to India, where he could remain close to his lineage teachers and the Dalai Lama.
CARING FOR LIFE ON EARTH IN THE 21ST CENTURY
The Karmapa visited Harvard for two days during a two-month trip around the United States to share his lecture, Caring for Life on Earth in the Twenty-First Century. David N. Hempton greeted him, and even presented him with a commemorative bowl. It was embossed with the school seal and dated. The lecture was given through a translator, which the Karmapa joked about saying that his English wasn’t “up to Harvard standards.” His speech focused on the interdependence that every living creature has with everything else.
He spoke of the intensity that children loved with, and their wide capacity to generate and receive it. He encouraged everyone to not lose touch with that ability to love, as so many of us lose that quality as we reach adulthood. He emphasized the importance of compassion, saying it was something we all need to experience. “In a sense, the most dangerous thing in the world is apathy,” he added, saying that we can defend ourselves against warfare, violence and disease, but not the clutches of apathy.
As he stressed the importance of caring for the world around us, he said, “there is so much information available to us nowadays” but no one feels the need to make choices that better the environment. He spent much of his visit with the students of Harvard, sharing stories and talking with them. He raved about the recently opened Buddhist Ministry Initiative, “because it’s not being approached merely as an objective of study or learning or scholarship, but something that can actually be brought to bear on global issues, which means that even though it is connected with Buddhist tradition, in a sense it transcends it or grows beyond the boundaries of mere Buddhist tradition.”
He ended his lecture with an urging to the students: “feel a love that is courageous… the joyous acknowledgement of your interdependence with each and every other living being and with this environment.”
Women’s rights are a reflection of the degree to which everyone enjoys basic human rights, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa said in a lecture on Wednesday.
Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel Alison Boden introduced the Karmapa, noting that Karmapa literally means “the one who carries out Buddha-activity” or “the embodiment of all the activities of the Buddhas.” The Karmapa was born in Tibet and fled to India, where he has continued his training as a monk, Boden said.
The Karmapa explained that he was born into isolation and had no opportunity for formal education as a child. However, he was still recognized as the Karmapa at a young age. The important title has sometimes burdened him and brought him a multitude of challenges since childhood, he said.
Though his life has been difficult, the hardships he has faced have increased his empathy, he said. He is now able to have increasing concern for the challenges that other people face, becoming sensitive to a host of issues including gender, he added.
“We cannot assess the degree to which women are empowered in this society. The degree to which they possess the rights that are their rights,” he said. “We need a mutual understanding, and this understanding has to be real. It has to be founded in basic human benevolence and caring for each other.”
The Karmapa said he works to inspire people to support and facilitate the empowerment of women around the world. Though famous historical steps have been taken for women’s empowerment, including women’s suffrage and the election of female presidents in some places, these steps are not enough to truly empower women, he said.
Societies are still not equal even though many countries appear to have reached gender equality through legislation and social pressure that protect the rights of women, he said. He added that he believed the solution is to develop love, understanding and authentic concern for one another.
There are also two different kinds of activists, the Karmapa said.
Because we live in an interdependent world, everyone’s actions affect each other, and so everyone is an automatic activist, he said. The intentional activist, however, refers to those who have visions and seek to achieve specific goals, he explained.
“We need to be both kinds of activists,” he said. “We need to take responsibility for our own views and behavior as individuals.”
People also need to focus on stewarding the environment and solving other societal issues, he said, and it is important to have pure intentions throughout this process.
People cannot approach activism with arrogance or pride or the mentality that they are somehow better than others, he added. Sometimes, a soft approach is as necessary as a loud and raucous approach, and activists can often be unwarrantedly aggressive, he said.
The Karmapa also used the idea of smoking to explain the concept of motivation. Despite all the public knowledge of the harms of smoking, many still partake and one is only inclined to change when he or she feels a strong motivation to do so deep in their hearts, he said.
Only a similarly deep conviction to change the quality of the environment will result in anything happening, he added.
When asked his opinion on homosexuality, the Karmapa said that love is important, noting that his answer differs from the traditional Buddhist answer.
“If the relationship is founded on true and genuine love, it is authentic,” he said. “But if a relationship is based only on desire and not on love, then whether it is a homosexual or heterosexual relationship, it still is not going to be very good.”
His current visit is only his third visit to the United States, he explained. He wanted to see American universities due to his encounters with American university students in India, he said.
The lecture, called “A Buddhist Perspective: Gender, the Environment and Activism,” took place in the University Chapel at 4:30 p.m. It was sponsored by the Office of Religious Life and the Princeton Environmental Institute.
(March 31, 2015 – Princeton, New Jersey) Shortly after arriving at Princeton University, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa departed the welcome reception held in his honor at the home of the master of Forbes College at Princeton and headed to an underground cafe to attend an open mic night. The student-run weekly open mic has an explicitly spiritual focus, and students read their poetry, performed musical compositions, and read short stories reflecting their Christian, Jewish and Muslims faiths. One non-Buddhist student read a short story depicting her wait to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India, and a Catholic magician made small objects multiply as a demonstration of how a sense of wonder can allow faith to increase and be shared. Bowls of chocolate chip cookies were passed around during this event, which provides an explicitly alcohol-free option for students seeking such an alternative.
The evening event, which marked His Holiness’ first evening at Princeton, reflects the student-centred orientation of his time at Princeton. Each of the various university visits was crafted to allow the 17th Karmapa to engage with a slightly different aspect of university life. One of His Holiness’s aims in making this university tour is to connect more deeply with students and to enhance his exposure to their experiences as young people. His schedule at Princeton was designed with extensive student input, and students themselves helped facilitate his visit. The students had invited His Holiness to attend their open mic night to share with him one aspect of their extracurricular lives that they consider formative to their lives as university students.
During his second day at Princeton, His Holiness will meet with a student activist group that had recently attended a spiritual retreat, and then will share a meal and discussions with a gender-studies group. Following that, he will deliver his university lecture, on the environment, gender and activism. Day two will continue with more student and classroom engagements.
(March 27, 2015 – Cambridge, Massachusetts) The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa this afternoon signed the famous Harvard Guest Book, marking a successful conclusion to his two-day visit to the country’s oldest university. Yet his activities in the Boston area were not complete until he had met with the city’s Tibetan community.
Harvard Divinity School graciously offered a space for the Tibetan community to come to meet with the Gyalwang Karmapa. As His Holiness the Karmapa descended the stairs to the hall that had been prepared for the event, a group of Tibetans sang to greet him. The heart-wrenching sound of Tibetan singing echoed through the stairwell as if bouncing off towering mountainsides, and for one brief moment the distance from the culture’s native home seemed to disappear.
Since the meeting was scheduled for a weekday afternoon, some 300—or about half of the 600-plus members of this hardworking community were expected to attend. However, after the hall had filled to capacity, several hundred Tibetans were still left outside in Boston’s afternoon chill. The Gyalwang Karmapa agreed to address two separate audiences.
He addressed each successive group of Tibetans separately, expressing how deeply important it was to him to meet with his fellow Tibetans wherever he went. He spoke of the importance of averting the possible loss of Tibetan language and culture. “We all carry this responsibility to uphold Tibetan language and traditions, and we are carrying it together,” he told them. He reflected that the Tibetan people had never been more united than they are in this historical moment, and described their extraordinary good fortune to be facing the challenges of preserving their culture in diaspora under a unifying leader like His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
“We are so fortunate to be under his leadership,” he said. “I am afraid we may not truly recognize how valuable this is until it is too late.”
Speaking movingly of the value of the moral guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the 17th Karmapa urged the Tibetans to take courage from the fact that they did have his leadership and to treasure and follow it.
In this way, the ushers filled the room once, emptied it and then brought in a second group. Even so, another 40 Tibetans had been unable to enter the hall either time. Taking care to include each and every Tibetan, the monks in his entourage lined up the last group of Tibetans, and His Holiness the Karmapa gave individual blessings on his way to his vehicle, waiting to take him to his next stop on this two-month journey.
(April 1, 2015 – Princeton, New Jersey) His Holiness the Karmapa today delivered a lecture to the Princeton University community on “A Buddhist Perspective: The Environment, Gender and Activism.” Addressing the assembly at the Princeton University Chapel, the 17th Karmapa called for a genuine gender equality that does not stop at mere external forms.
“It is important to remember that the restoration of women’s rights and the full empowerment of women must go far beyond mere external appearances and institutionalized mechanisms or structures,” the Karmapa said.
“Such necessary steps as restoring the full monastic ordination for women in my own tradition, famous historical steps such as women’s suffrage, and even the election of a woman as president—these steps are in themselves not enough to truly restore women’s rights, or to truly empower women.”
What we need, the Karmapa said, is genuine understanding, love and respect.
“We need mutual understanding and it has to be real. It cannot be fake or contrived. It has to be loving and respectful—and it has to be founded in basic human benevolence and caring for one another.”
The Karmapa’s call to action rang through the tightly packed rows of pews. The young audience listened rapt, as His Holiness’s voice echoed through the vast domed spaces of the chapel.
During his talk the Karmapa pointed out that many countries have used legislation and social pressure in their efforts to protect and promote women’s rights. His comments echoed themes he had raised earlier in the day during interactions with students in the gender studies department and with a group of student activists.
“Yet in spite of legislation, social pressure and political correctness, women still suffer inequality,” he said. “So I think the solution lies beyond mere legislation and social pressure. We must try to truly develop love, understanding and an authentic concern for one another.”
His Holiness explained that the main aim of this visit, his third to the United States, was to visit the nation’s great universities. After enjoying several in-depth collaborations with groups of US college students who had visited him in India, including many students who were around his own age, the Karmapa had felt a strong wish to see a glimpse of their experience.
“It may be difficult for normal people to imagine the challenges that someone like me has to face,” he said. “I suppose some people imagine that being a spiritual leader one leads a life of comfort, luxury and ease, but let me assure you that is not the case. It is filled with challenges and difficulties of all kinds.”
Yet these very difficulties enabled him to increase his empathy and concern for others.
“Experiencing many challenges has enabled me to develop greater and greater concern for the difficulties that others face. This is actually what has made me sensitive to and concerned with issues such as gender inequality.”
As he continued his exploration of the topic of gender inequality, the Karmapa returned to the need for restoring bhikshuni, or full ordination for nuns, within Buddhism. As Princeton Dean of Religious Life, Alison Boden, had explained in her introduction, His Holiness himself this year had historically initiated concrete steps to reestablish full ordination for women in his lineage. His Holiness pointed out that this is not just a spiritual or religious issue, nor is it simply an issue about vows.
“This issue goes to the very heart of the need to protect and promote the rights of women, their empowerment, and to support their innate capacity for leadership,” he explained.
“We first began talking about restoring bhikshuni ordination 20 or 30 years ago,” he continued. “But in spite of all this conversation, so far we have not put it into practice or applied it. I think that activism would consist of actually doing it, actually restoring it instead of just talking about restoring it.”
The Karmapa fielded a range of questions submitted in advance by Princeton students. The topics ranged from different emotions that can motivate activism to how to preserve our connection to the natural world when living in large cities. When asked for his own views on gay, lesbian and transgender relationships, the Karmapa began by cautioning that his views should not be taken as an expression of the doctrinal Buddhist position on the matter. Rather, although he acknowledged that people might take anything the Karmapa said to be the Buddhist view, he was expressing his own thoughts on the matter.
“This issue here is true love,” he stated. “In any relationship, whether it is between two people of the same gender or two people of different genders, if the relationship is based on true and genuine love and not just physical desire, then it is authentic. But if that relationship is based only on desire or gratification and not on love, then whether it is a gay, lesbian or heterosexual relationship it is still not going to be very good. It is love that determines whether or not a relationship is authentic and valuable.”
His Holiness The Seventeenth Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje will offer a Karma Pakshi initiation and empowerment on Sunday April 19 at 7:00 pm at the Ulster Performing Arts Center at 601 Broadway Ave. in Kingston, NY. Those who have taken refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are welcome to receive the Karma Pakshi empowerment from His Holiness.
If you are registered to attend teachings at KTD on April 19 or 20, please email email@example.com to reserve your ticket to the empowerment. All others may pick up their tickets in person at KTD on Friday April 10 from 4 - 8 pm, on Saturday April11 from 10 am - noon and 1 - 5 pm, or on Sunday April 12 from 1 - 4 pm. One ticket per person. There is no charge for the empowerment. Donations to KTD Monastery are welcome.
Karma Pakshi the Second Karmapa (1204/6 - 1283) was a powerful lama who performed many miraculous feats and also tamed the Mongolian emperor of the time. The text for the Karma Pakshi initiation and related practice was discovered by the treasure revealer Mingyur Dorje in the 17th century. 來自KTD寺院的特別邀請：
地點： Ulster Performing Arts Center 601 Broadway Ave. Kingston, New York 時間：4月19日晚上七點 資格：已受皈依的三寶弟子 費用：免費，但歡迎捐款供養 取票地點：KTD寺院，每人只能取一票 取票時間：4月10日下午4－8點 4月11日早上10－12點，下午1－5點 4月12日下午1－4點
(April 1 & 2, 2015 – Princeton, New Jersey) After stopping in on the spiritual open mic night in the basement of Princeton’s Murray Dodge Hall last night, Holiness the Karmapa spent an additional two days eating with students in campus dining halls, sitting in on classes on climate change and sculpture and interacting with groups of students and faculty around several issues dear to his heart: the environment, gender, activism and art.
The classes and conversations allowed the 17th Karmapa to fulfill the long-cherished wish that he expressed during his afternoon lecture at Princeton University Chapel (full report here). His Holiness the Karmapa described his aim as follows: “For a long time, I have had a strong wish to gain at least a glimpse of the experience of American university students, and through that to be able to widen my own outlook. My intention really was to come here as a student, not as a lecturer.”
His first morning on campus as a “student” began with a meeting of undergraduate activists who had recently completed a mindfulness meditation retreat. The students each described to His Holiness their own area of activism, and then explored with him potential inner resources for facing the challenges of sustaining their activism. Like His Holiness the Karmapa’s visit to the university overall, this encounter was organized by thePrinceton Office of Religious Life.
His Holiness then made his way across campus, escorted by Associate Dean Matt Weiner and Damaris Miller. A graduating senior, Damaris has been awarded a Princeton fellowship—the Labouisse Prize—to work in the Himalayas with Khoryug, His Holiness the Karmapa’s environmental initiative. Alongside Matt Weiner, Damaris had the opportunity to serve as the 17th Karmapa’s guide during his visit to Princeton.
Awaiting him at Whitman College’s dining hall for lunch was a group of faculty, students and administrators committed to exploring gender issues. The interaction was hosted by Gayle Salamon, Charles H. McIlwain University Preceptor, but all those attending the meeting with the Karmapa had read the chapter on gender identities in his latest book, The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out. Those present first explained their research interests on gender and their personal reasons for studying the topic, and a roundtable discussion then emerged around ways that the Buddhist philosophy of interdependence and emptiness might serve as a resource for challenging assumptions about gender roles.
As so often happens when His Holiness the Karmapa is present, the conversation moved beyond simply identifying the problems to implementing solutions. The Karmapa described his own efforts to redress gender imbalance through efforts to empower nuns in his lineage, including his plans to re-establish full ordination for women in his Buddhist tradition, beginning next winter.
When the lively exchange had concluded, His Holiness withdrew and soon thereafter delivered his afternoon lecture on gender, activism and the environment. After the talk, a reception was held in honor of His Holiness at Yale’s Prospect House, with both university dignitaries and faculty in attendance, as well as students who had performed during the open mic night and participated in other interactions with the Karmapa.
Where his first full day on campus was rich in discussions of gender and activism, day two focused on art and the environment. The Karmapa’s morning on campus was devoted to an issue that he has long championed—environmental protection.
David Wilcove, Professor of Public Affairs and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the Woodrow Wilson School joined Rob Sokolow, Director, Climate and Energy Challenge, and other faculty and staff from the Princeton Environmental Institute who share His Holiness’ deep commitment to advocacy for environmental change. During the morning, among the many topics explored by the group, the issue of invasive species and Buddhist life release practices was particularly productive. His Holiness contextualized the practice for the scientists and they in turn detailed its impact on biodiversity and on animals themselves.
By the end of the morning meeting, it had become eminently clear to all present just how effective a partnership could be forged between the scientists and religious leaders. Before they left the table, His Holiness and the scientists had together identified broad solutions as well specific steps to implement to effect needed changes.
From there, His Holiness the Karmapa proceeded to the Lewis Center for the Arts where Amber Stewart, a Princeton undergraduate, walked His Holiness the Karmapa through the art gallery where her Senior Art Thesis was currently installed. Entitled Black Balance, her exhibition explored themes of Black experience, including racial profiling, a topic that His Holiness the Karmapa had been tracking in news reports while still in his monastery in India.
At noon, His Holiness the Karmapa met with a group of artists, students and teachers of visual arts. During the extended lunch meeting, the artists shared their personal experiences with the creative process with His Holiness. The conversation explored topics ranging form the importance of failure and discovery in the artistic process to the obstacle posed by goal-oriented thinking poses for an artist and the
Curious about His Holiness’ own practice as an artist, one artist asked the Karmapa whether he experienced any conflict between his spiritual aims of eliminating the ego and the egotistic aspect of artistic self-expression that is implicit in art.
“If your aim in creating art is to make something no one else has ever made before,” he replied, “perhaps it is egotistic. But I do not think creating art is inherently egocentric. Creating a piece of art can be more like working from a space of limitless possibilities. First there is nothing, and then you create something. If we think in terms of the Buddhist view of emptiness, this can be compared to the idea of zero. Zero is the ground from which everything and anything can arise. It does not have to be grounded in ego at all.”
Following the discussion, the 17th Karmapa, himself an accomplished artist, added a new medium to his repertoire – clay – and joined an advanced sculpture class. The teacher, Martha Friedman, designed a collaborative exercise to allow the class to co-create several sculptures from clay during the course of the 90-minute class. Each student, including the Karmapa, contributed something to the design of each piece, and then passed it to the next person. Later, the class discussed the relative merits of each piece and chose one to be cast. As His Holiness the Karmapa and the class created their pieces, his sister Jetsunma Ngodup Pelzom quietly fashioned her own sculpture.
After sitting in on a section of a course on climate change and communication, His Holiness the Karmapa made one final stop before departing the Princeton campus, to visit the “Circle of Animals” public installation by Ai Weiwei. The series of outdoor sculptures depicts the animals that form the traditional east Asian zodiac.
As his time at Princeton drew to a close, His Holiness thanked all those who had worked to make his stay at Princeton possible, including the campus police, for whom he signed a copy of his book, The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out.
The working team led by Associate Dean Matt Weiner offered His Holiness and each member of his entourage an orange Princeton cap and the group posed for one last joyful photo together before they departed for the next stop on this two-month trip: Karma Thegsum Chöling in Shamong, New Jersey.
(Photography by Filip Wolk, with the exception of the last three photos by Tsurphu Labrang Media.)
With the conclusion of his stay at Princeton University, His Holiness the Karmapa has successfully completed visits to four universities during the 19 days that he has been in the United States thus far. Next stop, a fifth university: Yale University, where preparations have intensified, as the team makes the most of each remaining moment until His Holiness’ arrival there next week. Yale itself will be webcasting His Holiness’ lecture on April 7, and a link will be be made available here on the date of the lecture.
The organizing team, comprising faculty and students from several departments across Yale, writes in on their preparations as follows:
In addition to tea with Yale President Peter Salovey, His Holiness will meet with a wide range of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, attend courses on both religion and environmental studies and have an opportunity to explore the acclaimed Tibetan collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
The University Chaplain’s Office is cleaning Yale’s Buddhist shrine (photo below) and preparing a space for His Holiness to meet with the Connecticut Tibetan community.
(April 2, 2015 – Shamong, New Jersey) After an hour’s journey by road from the southern New Jersey town of Princeton, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa arrived at Karma Thegsum Chöling, a Karma Kagyu monastery. He was warmly received there by leading community members, headed by Lama Tsultrim, who had served as His Holiness’ shrine master in Tibet and accompanied the Karmapa on his daring escape from Tibet at the end of 1999.
During His Holiness’ four-day sojourn at Karma Thegsum Chöling, he will offer empowerments and teachings, and enjoy a rare day of rest during this extended tour across the country.
(April 4, 2015 – Mount Laurel, New Jersey) His Holiness the 17th Karmapa is presently making his first stay at a Dharma center on this two-month tour. For his first day of Dharma activities during this stop, he spent the day giving teachings on meditation, answering an extensive series of questions from students, and conferring an empowerment in the afternoon. As is fitting for a tour focused on universities, the first empowerment that His Holiness the 17th Karmapa conferred during this two-month trip to the United States was the empowerment of Manjushri, an enlightened being especially connected with the cultivation of wisdom.
The teachings and empowerment were granted at the request of the Karma Thegsum Chöling-New Jersey (KTC-NJ), located in the nearby southern New Jersey town of Shamong and serving both as a Dharma center and as a home away from home for the Karmapa in the United States.
The day was particularly auspicious to begin this more traditionally Buddhist component of his trip: with a full moon and a total lunar eclipse taking place today, the effects of meritorious actions are considered to be multiplied many times over. The morning was crisp and cool and a light breeze ruffled the air as His Holiness the Karmapa set out in the morning from KTC-NJ where he is residing during this stay. The half-hour drive to the teaching site in the nearby town of Mount Laurel passed through picturesque countryside dotted with farmlands and spacious homesteads. Meanwhile, over 700 people had been filing in steadily to fill the rented hall at the Westin Mt. Laurel well before His Holiness himself arrived.
The 17th Karmapa himself began by noting that after addressing so many university audiences where the topic was not specifically or directly Buddhist, he felt as if he were making a sudden U-turn in giving a Dharma talk.
Reflecting on his experiences during this trip, He went on to remark that during his visits to the headquarters of Google and Facebook, he had seen that they too were creating spaces for their employees to meditate and emphasizing mindfulness in the workplace. “It is excellent that everyone has the opportunity to practice meditation,” he said. However, while commending their efforts, he struck a strong cautionary note.
“Given that meditation must by its very nature be a personal, individual thing that each person experiences in their own way, based on their own needs and dispositions, based on their own investigation, I think it must never be commercialized or used for commercial purposes.”
He returned to this theme later, pointing to the way yoga is sometimes marketed as a form of physical exercise, although traditionally it is a highly rigorous formof spiritual training. “Nowadays many people are interested in Buddhism and especially meditation. But they think of meditation as some kind of spiritual therapy, like spiritual massage. They hope that by practicing meditation they will be able to reduce the stress and pressure that they feel in their busy lives and relax. This is fine, but it is not a complete practice of meditation as taught in Buddhism. That requires a more exclusive or intensive training. I think the hope that meditation will put you at ease and make you more comfortable may cause some disillusion. Actually I think that the intensive practice of meditation will probably make you very uncomfortable initially, because old habits die hard, and in the practice of meditation we are attempting to replace many of our old negative habits with new ones. This goes against the grain of our personalities and therefore will probably be very uncomfortable.”
Presenting meditation within a Buddhist context, His Holiness explained that in general there are two types—placement meditation and analytical meditation. Without the foundation of shamatha, which is considered placement meditation, it would be very difficult to develop vipassana. His Holiness explained that in the beginning, in order to develop shamatha we need a quiet or isolated environment, and traditionally it takes between three to six months to train in shamatha.
“However a quiet or isolated place or environment doesn’t only mean a place that is physically quiet,” he explained. “It also means to be isolated from conditions of distraction such as phones, the Internet and so on.”
Observing that even though in the West there are many meditation groups that meet weekly to meditate for a few hours, His Holiness expressed his doubts that this is sufficient practice to truly develop shamatha. He then made a suggestion that sparked many conversations later in the break between sessions.
“Up to now, Dharma camps where people can focus exclusively on shamatha training or practice for several months are very rare. Therefore I am encouraging you to actually create such venues or opportunities for several-month long intensive shamatha programs in Western countries,” he stated.
Raising the stakes yet further, the Karmapa emphasized the importance that our shamatha practice become an antidote to our disturbing emotions, or kleshas.
“The aim of shamatha practice is not simply to achieve peace of mind and feel comfortable and relaxed in one’s mind. Shamatha practice is actually to improve our minds, and to change our personalities for the better by weakening and finally remedying our kleshas. Some people think the point is just to feel good, relaxed and comfortable, but that is not it. The function of shamatha is to serve as a remedy for our kleshas.
“It is not enough to practice meditation only in our shrine room sitting on the cushion,” he continued. “It is necessary to bring the practice of shamatha into all post-meditation activities, including our work. It is especially important to be able to apply it when we become highly emotional.”
Next the Karmapa invited questions from the audience, asking that they stick to the topic of meditation. One after another, eager students seized the opportunity to directly pose their meditation questions to His Holiness the Karmapa, who opened the floor after the lunch break for additional questions.
The first questioner pointed out that in the modern world it is difficult to find an isolated environment suitable for shamatha practice, seeking His Holiness’s advice.
“In this twenty-first century, along with the tremendous material progress that we have achieved, we have developed extreme habits of consumerism and greed,” the Karmapa responded. “This is of course encouraged by some of the media, and in our craving for stuff we are prevented from having mental isolation and a sense of non-distraction.
“Even if we do not want or crave one thing, there will always be something else for us to crave, because commercialism makes extensive use of psychology in order to beguile us. I think if someone had offered Jetsun Milarepa an iPhone it might have even kept him busy for a few hours!
“The prevalence of our external luxuries and all our devices really forms a net that we are caught in, and it is very hard for us to escape. I think that if we can relax our minds and look carefully at the unreality of consumerism we can regain our independence. I think that independence is the starting place from which we can begin to develop the mental isolation or non-distraction that is required for shamatha practice.”
In response to a question on how to continue our practice in the face of unrelenting obstacles, His Holiness advised that we should actually see our adversities not as obstacles, but as opportunities.
“From the point of view of dharma itself, it is actually better when practitioners experience adversity because it gives them the opportunity both to learn more lessons and to actually apply their practice so that they can mix the experience of adversity with the practice of Dharma.
“The point is how we view adversity,” His Holiness remarked. “If we can view adversity as an opportunity for practice, that seems to be the best way to use it. Once an adverse situation has arisen we no longer have the option to prevent it, so we had better make good use of it. There is no point in just resenting it. What is most important is how we view adversity, and that we see it as an opportunity.”
Another student sought His Holiness’s advice as to whether or not there is any conflict between doing Dharma practice to and taking medications to treat illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
“There is a difference between common or usual emotional states and the actual illnesses of depression and anxiety,” His Holiness clarified. “When depression or anxiety is more than just a mental state but actually a pronounced illness, it is really a physical thing and therefore requires a physical remedy. We probably cannot overcome it by working with the mind alone. Therefore, not only is there no contradiction between practicing the Dharma and taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication under medical supervision, but it is unwise to stop just because you become a practitioner.
“Sometimes people who suffer from depression become Buddhist or begin to practice Buddhism and see that the practice of dharma seems to serve as a remedy for their depression. Then in their initial burst of enthusiasm they stop taking their medications and become very unwell. It is unwise to do that. Of course, we do not want to take these medications because they all have physical side-effects, and we take them only because we have to. Ideally we want to develop to the point where we no longer require them and can gradually get off them, but we should not do so prematurely.”
In response to a question on the best method for increasing our wisdom, His Holiness replied by drawing a distinction between outward-looking wisdom and inward-directed wisdom.
“Outward-looking wisdom is basically knowledge which we acquire through study. Usually our mind becomes learned about everything except itself. We are wise about everything except our own mind, which usually remains utterly ignorant of itself.
“Therefore I think that the most important thing is to gain the wisdom that is the recognition of the mind itself. I believe that is the basis of true wisdom. We call this ‘knowing one and liberating everything’, because when you gain that kind of insight it is all-inclusive and allows the power or intensity of your wisdom and learning to increase naturally.”
When another questioner asked how we can practice meditation continuously throughout the 24 hours of each day, His Holiness cautioned against trying to force this, saying that it wouldn’t help.
“It is impractical to attempt to engage in formal meditation practice throughout the entire day and night. But we might be able to remain in a meditative state of mind continuously. The key to this is to begin each day by forming the intention to do so, making the goal of the day to maintain a meditative state. With this kind of commitment and aspiration, we can periodically remind ourselves to do it,” he explained.
He then offered a creative use of modern technology for helping us to remain mindful throughout the day.
“Smartphones are very helpful because you can set them up to buzz, ring or sing an alarm at you wherever you are. If you set up your smartphone to remind you every two or three hours to be in a meditative state, because you formed the intention at the beginning of the day and are periodically reminded of this intention throughout the day, it should be possible to sustain the momentum of meditation.”
In the afternoon session one questioner asked His Holiness if he could elaborate on advice about scrutinizing our kleshas. In response His Holiness outlined a three-step remedy for kleshas, using anger as an example.
“The first step in dealing with any klesha is to recognize the problems that it causes,” he explained. “This cannot be replaced by hearing the teachings of your guru or studying the teachings of the Buddha about that klesha – you have to recognize it personally, intimately and experientially.”
His Holiness explained that the second step is learning to stabilize our minds so that we use positive qualities like love and compassion as a tool for responding to situations, rather than automatically allowing the kleshas to shape our response.
“The third step in dealing with our kleshas is to make a decision or commitment not to give in to it. Such decisions or such commitments may be forgotten, so it is important to remind yourself periodically that you are really not going to allow yourself to get angry. As time accrues, the habit of the commitment not to get angry will become stronger and stronger.”
(April 4, 2015 – Mt. Laurel, New Jersey) As if to reflect the shift into spring taking place now in southern New Jersey, branches of plum blossoms formed lacy rows of pink and green on either side of His Holiness the Karmapa’s throne at the venue for today’s Manjushri empowerment. On the left, a table held a bright array of multicolored lotuses to be offered to sponsors, and on the right, a shrine had been set up for the Manjushri empowerment this afternoon. Beneath a painting of this deity, who embodies all wisdom, were laid out the traditional seven offering bowls along with candles and the two ritual vases. The one connected to Manjushri was tied with a golden scarf while against it leaned a small image (known as a wong tsak) framed in red and depicting the two emblems associated with him: his gleaming upright sword set above a traditional Tibetan text.
Wearing the formal yellow Dharma robe, the Karmapa entered the hall and took his seat on the throne. He begins the ceremony with the traditional offering to the local spirits and purification. As in all practices, here too, there is an emphasis on giving rise to bodhicitta, the compassionate commitment to practice for the benefit of others. An extensive mandala offering was then made by two monks wearing the classic Kagyu lama hats of red brocade.
The Karmapa spoke briefly about this Manjushri initiation, saying that it is a blessing or empowering ceremony. He continued to recite the text, which spoke of the lama and the yidam deity as inseparable and that the empowerment was for Manjushri and his consort Sarasvati. The Karmapa then bestowed the successive empowerments of the body, speech and mind of Manjushri, which become inseparable from our own.
In gratitude for receiving the initiation, the Karmapa was offered an extensive mandala and Lama Tsultrim, head of the New Jersey Karma Theksum Chöling (KTC-NJ), led a line of offerings for the Karmapa’s long life. As the disciples passed by, the Karmapa leaned forward to drape a red blessing cord around the neck of each one. During the recitation of the offerings to his body, speech, mind, qualities, and activity, the Karmapa completed the ritual, his bell ringing through the chanting voices.
After the initiation, the 17th Karmapa continued the morning’s session of question-and-answer. The last question of the day was: “Since we have received the empowerment of Manjushri, what commitment do we have so that we can receive Manjushri’s blessing and increase our wisdom?”
His Holiness replied as follows: “It’s a difficult subject. Generally, whenever we receive an empowerment, there must be some kind of commitment. Wang means to ‘empower,’ so empowerment means being authorized, being given the permission to do something. Having been empowered, you then have to perform this activity. For example, if you are given a job in an office, you are empowered to perform it, which gives you the responsibility of carrying it out. In the case of this empowerment, which gives you the empowerments of Manjushri’s body, speech and mind, you are empowered to cultivate them, and in the previous example of the office, this would be your job. So I couldn’t say there is no commitment. On the other hand, not all of you are ready to make a commitment to formal practice, so I can’t say that you must do this.
“In sum I would interpret it in this way: Manjushri embodies the wisdom of all the Buddhas, so the commitment is to cultivate wisdom, which is the essence or spirit of Manjushri. This means to look beyond mere appearances, to analyze and see the actual situation. For example, we may think of ourselves as independent, but we are actually interdependent—everything we consume and everything we use down to the air we breathe comes through the work and existence of others. So the commitment is to understand our interdependence and take responsibility based on that understanding.”
The Karmapa then gave a reading transmission for the practice of Manjushri the Lion of Speech, enabling those who have received the empowerment to engage in the practice. He concluded with thanks to the organizers, citing a prayer that offers “praise to all who are worthy of praise,” and transforming it here to give “thanks to all those who are worthy of thanks.”
(April 5, 2015 – Mount Laurel, New Jersey) His Holiness the Karmapa spent the morning with members of the Karma Thegsum Chöling-New Jersey (KTC-NJ) Dharma center that is currently hosting him in southern New Jersey. In a session devoted to meditation instructions and answering practice questions, followed by group photos, His Holiness offered pith instructions and guided a meditation session for some 375 center members.
As he had done the day before in the public teachings held in the same venue, the 17th Karmapa began with an apparently heartfelt disclaimer that he himself had very little personal experience in meditation, yet went on to deliver the sort of pith teaching on meditation that made his humility all the more striking to those present.
He noted that one of the most widely known forms of meditation involves focusing one’s attention on the breath. “One of the reasons for this,” he commented, “is that we are breathing all the time. Because our breath is an ongoing, pre-existing thing, it does not have to be created for the purpose of meditation.” This underscores the fact that meditation is not aimed at seeking out new experiences or reaching some new state. Rather, he stated, we notice the breath by directing our mind to what is already present, without altering or fabricating anything. “We are simply using the awareness of breathing as a focus for developing the mind’s ability to be aware of a chosen object,” the 17th Karmapa said.
“I think there is another particular reason for focusing the mind on breathing,” he added. “The breath is critically necessary for us to remain alive—after all if we stop breathing we stop living. We normally pay no attention to it but take it for granted. Therefore when you focus your mind to the breath, this also instills in you a greater appreciation of being alive, a sense of delight or rejoicing in the fact that your life is continuing.”
He then reflected on the methods used for meditating on the breath, noting that one way is to count the breath. “But,” he observed, “counting can be difficult and actually become a distraction. This depends on the individual, but for many people, using the counting breath technique is problematic. There are other traditions in which one does not count the breath. One simply observes the in-breath and the out-breath, allowing one’s mind to be merely aware of the breathing, allowing one’s mind to rest on, or in the exhalation and inhalation. I think this may be better than counting.
“As for how one breathes when directing the mind to the breath,” he continued, “one should breathe naturally as one does usually. There is no special manipulation or control of the breathing. You do not try to breathe in and out with more force or slow down the breathing or speed it up or anything like that. I mention this because sometimes people expect that a technique where the mind is focused on the breathing would involve some kind of special manipulation or control of the breath, but in this case it does not. The breathing is ordinary. No special effort is needed.”
“The point of this,” he said, “is that while we breathe tens of thousands of times every day, we usually pay no attention to it and are often completely unaware that we are breathing. We continue to breathe, but we do not notice that fact. Here what we are trying to do is notice the breath by directing our mind to it.”
His Holiness the Karmapa then led those present in a meditation session, joking that since he did not meditate much he would also be inexpert at wielding the gong to signal the start and end of the session.
After they had meditated together, His Holiness shared some further reflections. “One problem that can arise when we are meditating in this way is the feeling that the breathing has stopped, or that one is actually unable to breathe. I think that sometimes this is caused by physical posture or our physical state such as if you have a cold and are congested. I think that therefore when we have these odd sensations about the breath when we are meditating, this is something that was already there and we just were not noticing it, and now that we are attending to the breath we become aware of it.”
He commented further on the correct posture for meditation. “It is taught that we should have a straight and erect posture,” he said. “You can sit either cross-legged or on a chair, either is fine. The point of posture is that the breathing be easy and relaxed.”
As the teaching session drew to an end, His Holiness made some final observations. “The aim of meditation practice,” he said, “is to return to our own nature and to sustain the natural state of our mind. It is like returning home from a journey. We want to be able to come to rest and relax in that. Therefore meditation is not the alteration of the mind’s natural condition, nor is it the superimposition or exaggeration of anything. Especially in the practice of shamatha meditation, this is the most important point. We are trying to come to rest in our ordinary, natural state of mind.”
When His Holiness offered to devote the remaining time they had together to answering questions, a line quickly formed in the central aisle. For over half an hour, he fielded each question put to him, yet the line continued to grow. The 17th Karmapa then suggested that each person in line state their question, and he then summarized the questions and answered them as time permitted.
Along with a series of questions about personal practice, one student remarked that she had devotion for her spiritual teachers, yet experienced conflicts with her Dharma friends. His Holiness replied that the way one relates to one’s Dharma friends should be the same as one does to one’s spiritual guide. “Like bees extracting nectar, we should take what is good from our Dharma friends just as we take what is good from our spiritual teachers. Take the virtuous part, and leave the rest alone,” he said.
One of the last questioners described a perceived conflict between the desire to be liberated from samsara and the ambition that one instills in young people to ensure their success in life, such as education or business.
His Holiness pointed out that there is a distinction between apparent happiness and real happiness, just as there is a distinction between what merely appears as suffering and real suffering. In order to attain real happiness, people need to investigate for themselves the distinctions between its apparent and real forms. This investigation itself inspires us to seek to be liberated from suffering and to attain real happiness. Nevertheless, we can still aspire to the ordinary goals that our ambition might indicate, as long as we see them only as temporary goals, not our ultimate or only goal.
(April 6, 2015 – New Haven, Connecticut) The 17th Karmapa arrived today at Yale University at 5 pm, and immediately embarked upon a full evening’s program. The Office of the President of Yale had arranged a special welcome reception for the Karmapa: the university counts among its thousands of employees a total of eight Tibetans. Those eight, along with their immediate family members, were invited by the Office of the President to give His Holiness a traditional Tibetan welcome on behalf of both the university and the Tibetan community. During the emotional reception, His Holiness granted each Tibetan an individual blessing, gave a name to the newborn child of one of those present and took a group photo with the Tibetans.
From there, His Holiness proceeded to Kroon Hall, which serves as a “showcase of the latest developments in green building technology” and houses the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Following that, His Holiness the Karmapa attended a lecture on Himalayan geography, and with that, an intensive first evening on campus was successfully concluded.
Tomorrow, His Holiness will continue this environmentally-focused university visit, meeting with students engaged in various environmental initiatives. In the afternoon, he will deliver a lecture entitled “Compassion into Action: Buddhism and the Environment to a sold-out audience including university faculty and students in the 2,500-seat Woolsey Hall. (The university has issued important guidelines for those planning to attend the lecture.Read those guidelines here.)
HH Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje at Kagyu Techum Chöling, New Jersey, April 4, 2015 Translation by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso
Transcript by Ani Sherab
Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
First of all, I’d like to welcome all of you who have come here to New Jersey, to hear this Dharma teaching.
This is my third visit to the United States of America, and I’m very pleased to be here and to have this opportunity to visit the New Jersey Karma Thegsum Choling again. When I first came to this country in 2008 I had the hope that I would be able to come back frequently and quickly, but it took three years before I was able to return for my second visit and then another four years before I was able to come back for this, my third. Which goes to show that it’s not that easy for me to come here, but nevertheless I’m extremely happy to be here and I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so.
This third visit has primarily been a tour or visit to some of America’s great universities. Initially the plan was that I visit one or two, and then it kind of turned into visiting a large number of them, and I had to give a talk at each university I visit. And the talks that I’ve been giving are not exactly traditional Buddhism, although they are connected to Buddhism. So, now here, in this context I ha
ve to teach Buddhadharma, which is kind of different direction; it’s like pulling a U-turn in a car all of a sudden.
So the schedule today is that this morning I will be teaching, and you’ve asked me to teach about meditation. And this afternoon I will be conferring the Manjushri empowerment.
Meditation Is Not for Commercial Purposes
To talk about meditation – meditation is not something that can be explained or taught; it has to be experienced in practice. And frankly I don’t practice much meditation, because I would say: “I don’t have the time,” which of course is really an excuse. I would also say: “Maybe I’m lazy.” So, it could be difficult for me to talk about it!
The first place I arrived in the mainland United States this time was California, and I toured in the main offices of both Google and Face book, and when I did so I discovered that they have rooms dedicated to meditation practice and that the people who work at and run these places are quite interested in meditation and mindfulness.
It seems that nowadays everyone is interested in meditation and mindfulness, whether they are Buddhist or not, which I think is really good. However, given to that meditation by its very nature must be personal individual thing that each person has to experience in their own way based their own needs and dispositions, and based on their own investigation. I think it must never be commercialized or used for commercial purposes. While it’s excellent that everyone has the opportunity to practice meditation, each of us needs the freedom to choose exactly how we practice it based on our needs as individuals.
I think it would be best if I begin with a general explanation of meditation practice. To start with there are two types of meditation: analytical meditation and resting or placement meditation. Resting meditation is any practice where the mind is brought to rest of focused one-pointedly on a single chosen object. Analytical meditation is the active and rigorous investigation or analysis or scrutiny of something, practice without distraction.
Most forms of shine, shamatha, tranquility meditation are forms of resting meditation, and most forms or techniques of vipashyana or insight meditation are connected with or forms of analytical meditation. This is not always true; for example there are practices where shamatha and vipashyana are combined into one meditation, as is true in the Mahamudra tradition. But basically there is nothing wrong with saying that shamatha practices are resting meditation and vipashyana practices are analytical meditation. Without the practice of shamatha, however, it’s extremely difficult to practice vipashyana, so therefore the practice of vipashyana must always be preceded by the foundation of shamatha.
One of the emphases in the techniques of shamatha meditation is the need for quiet or even an isolated environment in which to practice. However, a quiet or isolated place or environment here doesn’t only mean that it is physically isolated or quiet. It also needs to be isolated from conditions of distraction, such as telephones, the internet and so on. It’s necessary to be in a situation free from distraction, so that the mind can begin to prepare itself for the practice in state of shamatha. If not, if you attempt to practice shamatha without any preparation of the mind, because of anxiety and distractions and the endless current of thoughts it will be more difficult.
Now I think that in addition to that this type of isolated environment, a special place in which shamatha can be practiced free from distraction is essential in the beginning, during one’s initial training, but once one has accomplished some degree of shamatha, I don’t think that it is absolutely necessary.
Intensive Shamatha Programs for Western Countries
Experienced masters have taught that the training in the practice of shamatha requires between three and six months of full time isolated practice. It’s also taught that if one fails to develop shamatha in one’s initial attempt to do so, a subsequent or second attempt will be very difficult.
In our situation for example, in western countries there are many Dharma centers and study groups where people get together and they practice meditation. Usually they get together once a week and they meditate together for several hours at the most. I have some doubt that this is enough, that they are putting enough time in to develop authentic meditation, and I also feel unsure as to whether the necessary conditions for that are even present.
I think up to now dharma camps where people can focus exclusively on shamatha training or practice training for several months are very rare, if they exist. There seems to be up to now to have been very few of them. By saying all this I’m trying to encourage you to actually institute or create such venues, such opportunities for several months’ long shamatha intensive programs in western countries.
Without the practice of shamatha there can’t be any authentic samadhi or meditative absorption, and while one may develop an intellectual understanding of the view of emptiness and one may cultivate to some degree an experience of loving compassion, there will not arise authentic vipashyana or insight. And without shamatha and vipashyana there is simply no way to progress to the paths and stages of the Buddhist path, because the very ground of such progress is one-pointedness of mind, which can only be gained through shamatha practice. And I think this is one reason why people don’t progress lack of one-pointedness of mind through shamatha practice.
My description up to this point of shamatha is basically what we would call common shamatha, which is the usual practice of shamatha, as it’s widely known. There are also ways of practicing it such as found for example in the Mahamudra tradition and in the Chan and Zen traditions, where there is not so much requirement that the practitioner live in a state of isolation, but the practice is done as a daily practice and furthermore integrated with post meditation activities, such as walking, eating and even conversation, during when all of which one attempts to sustain one’s recognition of the mind’s nature. Such approach to meditation is primarily shamatha, but it does include an element of vipashyana, so therefore you could call it a combination of the two.
We all like to hear about the practice of the uncommon meditation, in which shamatha and vipashyana are integrated. It sounds very, very good and we find it encouraging, because after all most of us simply don’t have to time or opportunity to take six months off to spend in shamatha camp. However, as good as the uncommon practice of unified shamatha and vipashyana sounds, I think that to actually do it is quite difficult. Especially I think it would be very difficult to sustain recognition of the mind’s nature in post meditation for someone who has not undergone any training in the common practice of shamatha.
In such a practice one sustains the recognition of the mind’s nature and simply relaxes naturally within that recognition. But this is quite difficult for us. It is difficult for us to rest the mind without alteration or fabrication, because we are so used –too used –to alteration and fabrication of our mind, which makes it very difficult for us to suspend such alteration. It’s like for example when you go a doctor and you are being given an injection and the doctor says: “Take it easy, relax,” and that just makes you more anxious and causes more trepidation.
There is a story about this. The 3rdGyalwang Karmapa Rangjung Dorje had many students who had achieved siddhi, who were great practitioners. And one day someone asked the 3rdKarmapa: “Is there any Dharma that one does not need to practice, that does not require practice?” And the Karmapa said: “Oh, definitely, there is, certainly.” And so the student said: “Well, would you teach it to me?” And the Karmapa said: “If I taught you the Dharma that does not require practice, it wouldn’t help you, because you would try to practice it!” To attempt to practice something in which there is nothing to practice, would be a mistake. And I take this conversation to be primarily about the difference between the natural absence of alteration or fabrication and the introduction of
alteration or fabrication.
Using Meditation to Weaken Anger
The practice of shamatha including the practice where one relaxes in the mind’s nature cannot by itself eradicate the kleshas, the mental afflictions. It can, however, help to weaken them, lessen them and give one more control over them.
To use anger as an example; practice needs to be applied really before the anger arises. Once full blown anger has arisen, it’s too late. So we need to cultivate or sustain a degree of mindfulness and alertness or vigilance that will enable us to know that we are becoming angry just before we actually do. And if we can to do that before the anger becomes a full blown or forceful, then if you can simply look directly at the anger without judging it, without attempting to get rid of it that is how to apply practice.
Anger is an extreme state of mind and it is fundamentally deceptive, because the state of anger does not really accord with reality. So therefore, if you can rest in your mind’s nature and look at the anger you will expose the deception or lie that is embodied in the anger. Many people have told me that when they first met the 16thGyalwang Karmapa, he would look at them with his eyes in a way that felt like a scan, scanning them inside and out, which usually caused them to recollect all the things that they wished he wouldn’t see, their faults and so forth. We need to do that sort of thing with our minds. If you scan the anger, scrutinize it, scan it with your mind you will expose its deceptiveness, its lie, and that will weaken it.
The aim of shamatha practice is not simply to achieve peace of mind, to feel comfortable and relaxed in one’s mind. The aim of shamatha practice is actually to improve our minds, improve or change our personalities for the better by weakening and finally remedying our kleshas. Some people think the point is just to feel good, relaxed and be comfortable. But that’s not it; the function of shamatha is to serve as a remedy for kleshas.
So that’s the practice of meditation, and while I can’t speak from experience, I’ve introduced you to the practice of meditation based on my understanding of it.
In the practice of shamatha it is not enough to practice it only in one’s meditation room or shrine room, sitting on the cushion. It’s necessary to bring the practice of shamatha into all post meditation activities, work and so forth, so that you’d not be disturbed, and especially so that you will be able to apply it when you become highly emotional.
We cannot, however, deal with the kleshas through forceful suppression. Sometimes people have this problem: they lack the intention or the willingness to actually apply remedies to the kleshas, but they seek to suppress or conceal them. For example, someone would say: “I get angry, but because I’m Buddhist I’m very ashamed, when I do, so I try to conceal it, because if I reveal my anger, my family says to me: ‘Aren’t you Buddhist, you are not allowed to get angry.’” In such cases we are concealing or suppressing the klesha out of shame, but not actually applying the remedy.
We should not force ourselves not to get angry simply because we are Buddhists, but for our own individual very good reasons. The reason not to get angry is because it is destructive: it is destructive to our minds, our bodies, our situation, and to those around us. Those are the reasons not to get angry and in that way we need to carefully understand the right reasons for overcoming the kleshas, and not simply do it out of shame or because we feel that as Buddhists we should.
If we try not to get angry simply because we are Buddhists, this really just becomes an excuse, and we really need to know the valid reasons for not getting angry. In order to do that we need to know ourselves and we need to befriend ourselves.
Meditation and Relaxation Are Different
Nowadays many people are interested in Buddhism and especially meditation, but they think of meditation as some kind of spiritual therapy, like spiritual massage. They hope that by practicing meditation they will be able to reduce the stress and pressure that they feel in their busy lives and relax, so they practice it. This is fine, but it is not the complete practice of meditation as taught in Buddhism. That requires more exclusive or intensive training. And I think that the hope that meditation will put you at ease and make you more comfortable may cause some dissolution, because I think that the intensive practice of meditation will probably make you initially very uncomfortable. Because old habits die hard and in the practice of meditation we are attempting to replace many of our old negative habits with new ones, which goes against the grain of our personalities and therefore we will probably be very uncomfortable.
I’m going to stop talking, but now we could have some questions. I ask that you only ask about our topic today, about the practice of meditation. And so, I will point to people.
Question: Nowadays it’s very difficult to find an isolated environment, no matter where you go there are still going to be disturbances and distractions. Would you please speak more in detail of how to create or select an isolated environment for practice?
HHK: In this 21stcentury because, or along the tremendous material progress that we have achieved, we have developed extreme habits of consumerism and greed. This is of course encouraged by some of the media so that in our craving for stuff we are prevented from having mental isolation in sense of having un-distractedness. Even if we don’t want or crave one thing, there will be something else that we will crave, because the commercialism makes extensive use of psychology in order to beguile us.
I think if someone had offered Jetsun Milarepa an iPhone it might have kept him busy for a few hours! The problem of our external luxuries and all our devices and so forth really forms a net that we are caught in, and it’s very hard for us to escape it.
I think that if we can relax our minds and look carefully at the unreality of consumerism, we can regain our independence. We have to ask ourselves the question: what do I really need? And we have to learn to tell the difference between what we want and what we need. By thinking carefully about this we can become independent and I think that independence is the starting place from which we can begin to develop that mental un-distractedness or mental isolation that is required for shamatha practice.
Q: Your Holiness I have a question. Like Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche always said, ngöndrois the foundation of all the practice. So, my question is if it’s necessary to complete the ngöndro and then practice meditation or how to balance foundation practice and the meditation? I think to have a better result from meditation is to finish the ngöndro and have better control of your heart. Sometimes it’s hard to balance which one you should practice more and which one less. So here is my question Your Holiness.
HHK: First of all, the ngöndro, or preliminary practices are of two types: the common preliminaries, the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind, and the uncommon preliminaries which usually people mean when they talk about preliminaries. They usually the Refuge, Vajrasattva, Mandala Offerings and Guru Yoga. But I think actually the common preliminaries are actually the more important of the two categories. The reason why people prefer to spend more time on the uncommon preliminaries is that there is counting, you count numbers of them, and because you count numbers, you feel a sense of achievement, which people like. The contemplations of the common preliminaries are contemplations without anything to count, so therefore there are no markers that give you a sense of achievement. The sign of achievement is that your mind and personality improve. I think however, that the contemplation of the common preliminaries... HHK in English: “That is boring.” ...which idea we find boring, something that we would like to defer until some future time. The contemplation of the four common preliminaries I think is very important, and furthermore it should be continued throughout one’s whole life and one’s whole practice. Because we use the term ngöndro, or preliminary or prelude about these practices, some people have the misconception that they are something you do as a beginner and then throw away once you get to the so called main practice. But the reason we call them preludes or preliminaries is that they must be practiced, especially the common preliminaries, from the very beginning but not only at the beginning; at the beginning, middle and end of the path.
In the early Kadampa tradition of Lord Atisha when one engaged in one of these contemplations, such as for example death and impermanence, one was not allowed to move on from that contemplation, from that meditation, until one gained realization of it. And so people would spend their whole lives doing it. And then, at the time of death they would make an aspiration to continue that same contemplation in their next life, and so they gradually gained realization. This may in a sense be too tight or rigid, but it does give us an indication of how important these contemplations are.
Q: Among them there are so may Dharma gates, so many aspects or practices of Dharma, so many methods. Among all of the Dharma gates that exist, which method is best for increasing one’s wisdom?
HHK: I think there are many ways to increase wisdom; both what we could call artificial or outwardly directed wisdom and inwardly directed wisdom. Outward directed wisdom is basically knowledge which one requires through study.
Usually our minds become learned about everything except themselves. We are wise about everything except our own mind, which usually remains utterly ignorant of itself. So I think the most important thing is to gain wisdom that is recognition of the mind itself. I think that is the basis of true wisdom. We call this knowing one and liberating everything, because when you gain that kind of insight, it is all-inclusive and therefore will allow the power or intensity or your wisdom and learning to increase naturally.
Our minds are a little bit like our eyes: our eyes see everything except themselves, and if we want to look at our face we need to use a mirror. I think we need to do the same with our mind, we do so many meditation practices, but in my experience the most effective thing is in daily life to always examine or scrutinize one’s own mind, so that one gradually becomes closer and closer to rec
ognition of its nature.
Q: [in Chinese]
HHK: This question was probably based on misunderstanding. His holiness said that what I said was that shamata alone cannot eradicate the kleshas. I didn’t say “basic practices are insufficient to eradicate the kleshas.” We need to do the practice that causes the eyes of wisdom to be wide open. That is now exactly what I said. What I said is that the practice of shamatha alone is insufficient; in addition there must be the practice of vipasshyana or insight.
Q: Thank you so much for coming out and seeing us and talking to us today. This is a time when teenagers are extremely emotional and we all seek how to remedize such emotions but we don’t know how to get there. So my question is: do you think it’s important for us...
HHK: Can you slow down; my English is not that good!
Q: I’m sorry! Okay. This is a time when teenagers are often highly emotional and we oftentimes have the intention to remedize those emotions. My question is: do you think it’s important for teenagers to be exposed to meditation and practice meditation? Thank you.
HHK: In my recent visit to several universities I have seen that there is a growing enthusiasm for the practice of meditation. And I think that one does not have to be a Buddhist in order to practice Buddhist meditation techniques. When the Buddha taught dharma he taught it in different ways according to individuals. He did not always teach the Mahayana directly, sometimes he led people indirectly to the Mahayana. So in that way I think that it’s appropriate for people to use techniques of Buddhist meditation employ them, if they are helpful to their minds, even if they are not Buddhist. This is becoming more and more common nowadays. We see there is extensive research into the benefits of meditation in universities and so on. I think this is appropriate and very helpful.
Q: Thank you so much Your Holiness for coming today. Earlier you had mentioned about consumerism, or commercialism, and with that in mind that is often a choice, very much. What would you recommend how would we live our lives, when we have obstacles from distractions? We have no choice, those obstacles are not an optional anymore and it’s like an avalanche. And the more I seem to practice –I am a daily practitioner –I get more obstacles!
HHK: Many dharma practitioners have the expectation that because they practice dharma they are going to collect vast merit, experience every success, have long lives and good health. And sometimes people would ask when a Dharma practitioner is struck by sudden adversity: “They are such a good practitioner, why is this happening to them?” [HHK in English: You can learn more lesson.]
From the point of Dharma itself it’s actually better when practitioners experience adversity, because it gives them opportunity to learn more lessons and to actually apply their practice, so that they can mix the experience of the adversity with the practice of Dharma.
However, don’t worry, I’m still going to pray for your health and longevity and happiness. I’m not going to pray: “May they all become sick and have troubled lives!” The point is how you view adversity. And if you can view adversity as an opportunity for practice, then that seems to be the best way to use it. Because once adversity has occurred, once a problem has arisen, if you could have prevented it, you would have done that, and that’s obviously the best thing to do. But once it has arisen, you no longer have the option to prevent it. You’d better make good use of it; there is no point in just resenting it. So I think what’s most important is how we view adversity and to see it as an opportunity.
Q: Thank you Your Holiness for being here and gracing us with your presence. When we know that we cause harm with the klesha of anger and some of the best anecdotes for that and how do we remedy that. Part 2: What are the thoughts –I’m a daily practitioner too, and student of Lama Norlha Rinpoche, what are the thoughts around medication, for anxiety and depression? Whether that’s a conflict for our Dharma practice or... best view of that?
HHK: To answer the second question first, there is a difference between the common or usual emotional states and the actual illnesses of depression and anxiety. And when depression or anxiety is more than just a mental state but actually a pronounced illness, it is really a physical thing and therefore requires a physical remedy, one can’t overcome it probably by working with the mind alone. So therefore, not only is there no contradiction between the taking of antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication under medical supervision, but it is unwise to stop just because you become a practitioner. Sometimes people who suffer from depression become Buddhists or begin to practice Buddhism and initially, in their initial burst of enthusiasm the practice of Dharma seems to serve as a remedy for their depression and then they stop taking their medications and become very unwell. It’s unwise to do that. Of course one doesn’t want to take these medications because they all have physical side-effects, so one takes them because one has to. Ideally one wants to develop to a point when one no longer requires them and one can gradually get off them, but don’t do so prematurely.
I’m going to address the question about the remedies for anger this afternoon. Last question. There will be an opportunity to ask questions tomorrow. So those of you whose questions I have not been able to take will have a chance then.
Q: How can we practice meditation continuously throughout the 24 hours of each day while walking, talking, sitting, standing, throughout everything we do?
HHK: I think that it won’t help to try to force oneself to practice meditation 24 hours a day. It’s impractical to attempt to engage in formal meditation practice throughout the entire day and night. But one might be able to remain in a meditative state of mind continuously. The key to this is to begin each day by forming the intention to do so dedicating the day and making the goal of the day the maintenance of the meditative state.
With that kind of commitment or that kind of aspiration to periodically remind oneself to do it, for this purpose smartphones are very helpful, because you can set them up to buzz or ring or sing an alarm at you wherever you want. So if you set up every two or three hours your smart phone to remind you that you are supposed to be in a meditative state, because you formed your intention in the beginning of the day and reminded yourself of this intention throughout the day, it should be possible to sustain the momentum of meditation.