His holiness the 17th Karmapa is the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism. After his travel and teachings were restricted by Chinese authorities, the Karmapa fled to India where he still lives. Currently touring the U.S., His Holiness joined us in the studio.
Dark clouds threatened as dharma students gathered Friday afternoon April 18 to await His Holiness’ arrival. The walkway had been painted with chalk emblems of the 8 auspicious emblems and a red carpet rolled out to smooth His Holiness’ path.
KTD Abbot Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, left, and visiting Lama Norlha from Kagyu Thubten Choling of Wappingers Falls NY sit together on the front porch of KTD’s Shrine Building (Gompa). Behind them is a stack of portable drums to be used in the welcoming ceremony.
Lama Tashi Dondup, left, holds a gyaling horn for Lama Tenzin Dakpa as they both prepare for the serbang, or “golden procession” to welcome His Holiness Karmapa to KTD.
His Holiness, ushered by the monks, nuns, and lamas, enters through the Gampopa Gateway and into the KTD Monastery courtyard, seeing his monastery for the first time in almost four years.
Among the dignitaries meeting His Holiness is KTD President Tenzin Chonyi, far right, who welcomed His Holiness with words of gratitude for the care and leadership His Holiness has given his American sangha.
His Holiness at ease and at home at his North American Seat.
During the formal tea and rice welcoming ceremony in the KTD shrine room, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche holds up and offers desi, sweet saffron rice.
A smile of delight on the face of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, who has been teaching at KTD on behalf of His Holiness for almost 40 years.
Among the many visiting lamas, Lama Lodu Rinpoche of San Francisco (far left) and Lama Dudjom Dorjee of Dallas are part of the welcoming party.
In his first major teaching at his American monastic seat in almost four years, His Holiness Karmapa spoke on the Four Dharmas of Gampopa in the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Main Shrine Room on April 19, 2015. The teaching was preceded by a heartfelt expression of welcome by KTD President Tenzin Chonyi and a Long Life Offering to His Holiness.
After greeting the assembled lamas and guests – including the Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and KTD Abbot Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche – His Holiness said he was delighted to be visiting his seat, which has grown much in recent years.
Looking over the crowd of more than 200 invited guests from all over the United States and the world, His Holiness granted a teaching that he called the essence of all Buddha dharma. However, he began with a moment of modesty. “The great mahasiddha Drukpa Kunley said that to teach Dharma well one has to be a perfect being or an extremely boastful being – I am afraid I am the latter.”
His Holiness went on to say that the Four Dharma of Gampopa comprise an explanation of the complete path to liberation for the three types of persons. His discussion in the morning session centered on “The Dharma becomes Dharma,” which is the path of the lesser individual, who either practices to achieve a higher rebirth, or simply to gain benefit in their current life.
The remainder of the teachings touched on both the philosophical – and truly practical – aspects of the teachings, using examples from everyday life. “Consumerism has become our true religion nowadays.” “When we practice it is best not to have it mixed with the eight worldly dharmas.” “The problem is that often we maintain a dharma demeanor on the outside but don’t maintain dharma on our insides. Much of what we display is mere outer demeanor.”
“We actually have to tame our minds.” “When we use the traditional methods of explaining the Eight Worldly Dharmas people don’t seem to get the point.”
“Obsession with this life is the inability to think or see clearly because our obsessions blind us – for example, advertising manipulates us to lose sight of what we need and what we don’t need.” “We lose our mental autonomy.”
“We may practice Dharma but we don’t crave Dharma the way we crave other sense pleasures.” “What we dream is a sign of what we are really attached to in the depths of our mind.”
“Nowadays our craving for material things has made us a little crazy – we surrender our autonomy to them – you need to ask yourself, what do I really need?”
“What do I really need – what is my true goal?”
“What do I need?” “What is my purpose?”
“As long as we are blinded by material things, we can’t even see the path.”
The Karmapa plants a tree Wednesday morning at the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist center in Woodstock. Photo by William J. Kemble
WOODSTOCK >> A Tibetan Buddhist leader said during a local visit Wednesday, Earth Day, that cultivating a love for the environment amounts to providing love for everyone.
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, the spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, visited the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra on Meads Mountain Road in Woodstock early Wednesday to plant two trees as a symbol of care needed around the world. He was to be give a 45-minute address during a public event at Andy Lee Field in Woodstock later in the day.
The Karmapa, whose name is Orgyen Trinley Dorj, chose not to speak during the tree-planting ceremony, which drew about 100 people, because his voice had been strained by recent talks.
Town of Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilber said the Karmapa’s visit was appropriate in a community where people value a legacy of treating the planet with respect.
“Not many people realize this, but there’s a very old, almost ancient spirituality that runs through the town of Woodstock, originally expressed in its very simple white templed, white spiraled churches,” Wilber said.
“It’s always been a very strong presence, particularly at the turn of the last century, when different creeds came to this area and flourished [and] more lately with the [Woodstock] Jewish Congregation that started with a few families 40 years ago and is a very significant part of spiritual community of Woodstock,” Wilber added. “The Buddhists came here about 40 years ago and detected that spiritual vibe in the town. They wanted to be here and they struggled to build what they’ve built here.”
Wilber also noted the Karmapa included environmental themes in his book “The Heart is Noble.”
“You will find in it not only very deep understanding of the Tibetan faith, but you will also hear the words of very committed environmentalist,” Wilber said.
The Karmapa meets with US Institute of Peace President Nancy Lindborg on his current tour. (April 16, 2015). Photo by US Institute of Peace.
Five years ago, when I wrote “New Face of an Ancient Lineage,” a profile of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, he was twenty-four years old and making his first visit to the United States, ten years after his dramatic escape from Chinese-controlled Tibet. I had been taken with his predecessor, and wanted to see what the new one was like, what he had to say. Now, he is in the middle of his third tour of the United States, and once again when I saw that he would be within striking distance, I bought a plane ticket and made the trek to New York to see firsthand what he’s up to.
He’s clearly been doing his job for a while now. He has the mark of someone who is in charge, as befits his role as the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, responsible for maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of a body of teachings and practices that’s been around for over a thousand years. His teaching events draw a wide variety of people. He is a spiritual and cultural icon for the Tibetan diaspora, a sought-after teacher by Chinese Buddhists, and an important teacher for a number of Western “convert” Buddhists. At the events I attended over a weekend at several large venues in Queens, there were folks covering a very broad range of interests and aspirations.
On Sunday, the teachings were largely about anger, and about forty of us ended up being locked out because the #7 Train was closed down at certain stations, causing us to have to board a train in the wrong direction before we could go in the right direction. We were delayed by about a half hour—your classic annoying first-world problem. Some of us were listening to His Holiness on a special channel on transistor radios (I actually had to buy one from a table set up by the organizers, the kind I used to listen to ballgames on in school when I was a kid). As he was talking about the deleterious effects of flipping our lid, one would-be participant—who did not have the benefit of a transistor radio—brandished his ticket and said loudly, “This is an outrage. We should demand our money back!”
We were let in shortly thereafter, having been made to wait no more than a few minutes. Coming in late and not wanting to distract, I made my way to the back of the room of several thousand people, where sleeping children were splayed across chairs and whole families huddled together sitting on the floor. The domesticity was comforting. A couple in front of me each had their smartphones out and were playing Candy Crush.
And there’s the rub. His Holiness exemplifies what is best about tradition—it can maintain truly valuable cultural and spiritual practices and values and hand them along intact to a new generation. He also faces the great challenge of all standard-bearers of any worthwhile tradition: for the tradition to be carried on, it needs to connect with people in a new era, reaching them where they live. Otherwise, tradition becomes a gilded cage.
The Pope faces this challenge, and so do the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa. In the Karmapa’s case, he has sought out young people and contemporary scholars by visiting a number of universities on this tour. It appears he wants to not only teach but to listen and learn, in particular to people who, like him, might still be around forty years from now. He wants to hear what they’re thinking about the world they’re inheriting, about the environment, about gender issues, about life in the digital age. He is a student not only of dharma, but of people, and that will hold him in good stead if he wants to ensure that the dharma he offers is relevant on the largest possible scale.
He frequently seems to connect deep teachings and current everyday concerns, lest they be thought unrelated: Buddhism over here. Social concerns over there. In discussing aggression, he mentioned the scale of our mechanized meat industry and the breadth of our impact on the planet today across so many fronts. As we seek to make a comfortable life for ourselves, we are doing damage. That’s aggression. He noted, brilliantly I thought, that the proliferation of the internet and social media means that our karmic impact is greatly amplified. If you were walking around in the middle ages, you could have an impact only on a relatively small scale. Today, your shit can go viral.
If I caught his drift, he seemed to be saying that, we human beings have “perfected” a lot of things. We can fly, we can download, we can eat food brought to us from anywhere and everywhere. But what about the perfections laid out in the path of the bodhisattva: generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, mindfulness, and wisdom? How well have we perfected these? And could we do something far greater than make a comfortable life for ourselves? Could we not make a better world?
That’s why people flock to see someone like the Karmapa. He reminds us, not only with his words, but in his way of being, of what matters most. At the end of the event, he wished all of America well, and he meant it. Here’s wishing him well. May he find the means to be increasingly relevant in this time. We need it.
(April 19, 2015 – Kingston, New York) In the Ulster Performing Arts Center, an appliqué thangka of the Buddha, flanked by his two main disciples, descended from the ceiling of the stage to its floor, filling the space with a vibrant cascade of rich color. This special image was last displayed publicly decades ago, when it was unfurled by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche on the exterior of the old building of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD), which was sponsoring this evening’s event. Immediately below the resplendent Buddha was the Karmapa’s throne and on his right, the two tiers of an altar held the traditional offerings and crystal for the ritual purification. As the Karmapa sat on the throne, his golden and maroon robes blended seamlessly with the hues of the thangka so that he became a part of it, bringing the image to life.
After a mandala offering, the Karmapa spoke to the audience about the lineage of the Karmapas. He noted that usually Karma Pakshi is identified as the 2nd Karmapa but in a strict historical sense, he is the first to bear the name Karmapa. This is because Dusum Khyenpa, who is usually seen as the 1st Karmapa, was not known as Karmapa, although this was his secret name. Various other Karmapa reincarnations similarly bore as their public name the secret name of their predecessor, His Holiness stated. It was with Karma Pakshi that the name Karmapa became well-known, and he even referred to himself as “the one renowned as the Karmapa.”
The Karmapas are also famous as the first lineage of reincarnate lamas or tulkus, and His Holiness explained how this tradition began. The first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, had planned to institute a lineage descending through his nephew but the latter was killed, so Dusum Khyenpa decided upon a succession of tulkus instead. The Master Orgyenpa encouraged him in this and was given the responsibility of finding and instructing the next reincarnation. His Holiness related that when a very young boy announced to Orgyenpa that he was the Karmapa, Orgyenpa tested him and found this to be true, so the child was enthroned as the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. This recognition of tulkus, which began as an aspect of the activity of Karma Pakshi, became a special trait of Tibetan Buddhism.
Another unique aspect of Karma Pakshi’s activity, His Holiness explained, mirrored that of Guru Rinpoche, who tamed the spirits and local deities of Tibet so that the Dharma could flourish there. In a similar way, Karma Pakshi subdued the emperor Kublai Khan, who tried to kill him in eighteen different ways, none of which succeeded. In his autobiography, Karma Pakshi wrote that these brought him close to death and the most difficult to overcome was being immersed in fire. By demonstrating this inconceivable resilience, the Karmapa was able to subdue the pride of Kublai Khan who became his disciple and opened the door for the Kagyu Dharma in China. His Holiness added that although he had not yet researched this himself, some say Karma Pakshi met a contemporary, Marco Polo, who recorded that at the court of the Chinese emperor, he had met a Tibetan lama who performed great miracles.
After this brief biography, His Holiness turned to the empowerment itself, which is based on the sadhana practice discovered in 1862 by the treasure finder Yongey Mingyur Dorje. “In essence,” the Karmapa said, “this guru sadhana concerns a mandala which in nature is the fivefold mandala of Jinasagara, a form of Avalokiteshvara. In form it is a mandala conatining all of the three roots (guru, yidam deity, and dakini). The principal of the mandala is Karma Pakshi himself.”
He continued to explain that Karma Pakshi once said that one could think there is a lineage between himself and Jinasagara, or that there is no lineage linking them―a way of indicating that he himself was the yidam deity. Therefore, instead of the usual placement of the yidam deity in the center of the mandala, we find Karma Pakshi in that central place.
His Holiness added that another aspect of Karma Pakshi’s connection to Jinasagara is that this yidam deity was his and the 1st Karmapa’s main practice, which they maintained throughout their lives. This evening His Holiness counseled the many people present who engage in Karma Pakshi practice to bring their experience into the context of the empowerment, in order to enrich it.
After transmitting the blessings of Karma Pakshi’s body, speech, mind and qualities, the Karmapa took time to thank the people who had made his visit to the United States possible. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to travel for two months at a time. This opportunity has arisen through the generous support and kindness of many friends, both in the Indian Government, which has been extremely supportive, and also in the Central Tibetan Administration. This opportunity to be here has not come easily. It has come through the hard work of many people, and therefore, I want to publically express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who had a role in making this possible.”
The Karmapa related that even though it has been fifteen years since he left Tibet, people still ask him what his reasons were for doing so. There are several reasons, he said, but the main one is that India is a free and democratic nation and he wished to have the freedom to travel internationally. The first place that he was able to visit abroad was the United States, and this was made possible through the blessing of the 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, and the sustained commitment of his American disciples.
The Karmapa concluded the evening by talking about his very full schedule. When he first came in 2008, his schedule was tight and he thought that on subsequent visits, he would have time to relax. This did not happen in 2011, but he thought that for sure with two whole months that he would have a less packed program this time. But that was not to be the case as the schedule is as tight as ever. So two months was really not enough time and he hoped that in the future he would be able to spend more time in the United States. A loud and sustained applause confirmed that he was not alone in this. Finally, the Karmapa wished each and every one a long, happy life and all success. Filled with these blessings, a crowd of radiant faces moved reluctantly toward the exits and the bright evening outside.
By William J. Kemble, firstname.lastname@example.org POSTED:
The Karmapa, left, speaks through an interpreter, second from left, Wednesday at Andy Lee Field in Woodstock. Seated second from the right is town of Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilber. At far right is town Councilman Bill McKenna.Tania Barricklo — Daily Freeman
WOODSTOCK >> The Tibetan Buddhist leader known as His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa told about 800 people in an Earth Day speech Wednesday that Woodstock — which he called the “land of hippies” — is laudable for its environmental activism. “There’s no doubt that the greatest challenge that we face is the environmental emergency in climate change,” the spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism said through a translator during and address at Woodstock’s Andy Lee Field. “The people of Woodstock have repeatedly demonstrated the courageous spirit of environmental activism that we’re all going to have emulate if we’re going to heal our environment,” the Karmapa said in afternoon remarks that lasted about 15 minutes. “As people of Woodstock seem to know so well already, we must begin to accept that we all depend on one another; that our connection with one another, and especially our connection with the environment, is an interdependent one.” The Karmapa, who’s name is Orgyen Trinley Dorj, said he “first heard of the town of Woodstock when I was a child, while I was still living in Tibet, which I left when I was 14.” “I heard lots of stuff about Woodstock, that it was the land of hippies,” he said to laughter from the crowd. “That means something to me because it means that the town is filled with people who are devoted to personal freedom and environmental activism.” Father John Nelson of the Church of the Holy Transfiguration — a small log church next to the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Buddhist center on Meads Mountain Road — praised the Karmapa’s remarks. “I thought it was beautiful,” Nelson said. “He talked as a member of the community, and the community is kind of adopting him as someone from the outside coming in as a pivotal world leader.” Earlier Wednesday, the Karmapa visited the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra to plant two trees as a symbol of care needed around the world. He did not speak during that event, which was attended by about 100 people. Town of Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilber said at the tree planting that the Karmapa’s visit was appropriate in a community where people value a legacy of treating the planet with respect. “Not many people realize this, but there’s a very old, almost ancient spirituality that runs through the town of Woodstock, originally expressed in its very simple white templed, white spiraled churches,” Wilber said. “It’s always been a very strong presence, particularly at the turn of the last century, when different creeds came to this area and flourished [and] more lately with the [Woodstock] Jewish Congregation that started with a few families 40 years ago and is a very significant part of spiritual community of Woodstock,” Wilber added. “The Buddhists came here about 40 years ago and detected that spiritual vibe in the town. They wanted to be here, and they struggled to build what they’ve built here.” Wilber noted the Karmapa included environmental themes in his book “The Heart is Noble.” “You will find in it not only very deep understanding of the Tibetan faith, but you will also hear the words of very committed environmentalist,” Wilber said.
On April 16th, 2015, USIP hosted His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa of Tibet. At a roundtable discussion with USIP staff and invited guests from the religious peacebuilding community, he spoke about efforts to redress gender inequality within Tibetan Buddhism, the relationship between peace-building and the recognition of interdependence, and the causes that lead people to join violent movements.
USIP President Nancy Lindborg greets His Holiness the Karmpa.Photo by USIP
Susan Hayward, Interim Director, Religion and Peacebuilding, Center for Governance, Law and Society, greets HH the Karmapa. Photo by USIP
Group photo with HH the Karmapa. Photo by USIP
l-r Susan Hayward, Interim Director, Religion and Peacebuilding, Center for Governance, Law and Society; Nancy Lindborg, USIP President; and HH the Karmapa. Photo by USIP
Welcomed warmly by Father John Nelson, the Karmapa viewed the sacred objects of this one-room church of the Western Orthodox tradition. Father John expressed to the Karmapa his satisfaction that two of the world’s ancient spiritual traditions are sharing the mountain as neighbors, and the two spoke quietly of their shared appreciation for the world’s sacred spaces.
On the day following this visit, Father John walked the same path the Gyalwang Karmapa had traversed to reach his church, returning the visit and joining a tree-planting ceremony at KTD in observance of Earth Day. When he arrived at KTD, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche showed him a photo taken many years earlier of Father John’s predecessor at the log church, Father Francis, together with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa’s predecessor, the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa. Also appearing in that photo was Father John, then in his twenties.
(April 19, 2015 – Woodstock, New York) Long-time members of the KTD community had the opportunity to spend the day with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa in the shrine that is both the heart of their practice community and His Holiness’s own North American seat. The 17th Karmapa taught in the morning and in the afternoon, taking as his topic the Four Dharmas of Gampopa, which he described as containing the entire teachings of the Buddha within them.
As explained in the opening address by KTD President Tenzin Chonyi, the KTD community had grown far beyond what the main shrine room could hold. As a result, His Holiness had agreed to offer two separate days of teachings at KTD, to allow all those who have been members of KTD for the past three years or longer all to have the opportunity to receive teachings from the Gyalwang Karmapa directly in their Dharma home. In order to share the teachings with all those not present due to space restrictions, the teachings were webcast live with translation into English, Chinese and Spanish.
Reflecting on the situation at the time His Holiness the 16th Karmapa first began traveling to the West, Tenzin Chonyi noted that in the 1970s, other than the occasional university inviting a Buddhist teacher to give a class, interest in the Dharma was highly limited. Since then, there has been a tremendous upsurge in interest in Buddhist teachings in the United States and elsewhere, he observed. That growth is reflected in the fact that no matter how large each center builds its shrine rooms nowadays, the need seems rapidly to overtake capacity.
The mandala offering brought to the fore another contribution to Dharma in the West made by KTD, in the form of its associated three-year retreat center, Karme Ling. The sixth cohort to engage in the traditional three-year Karma Kagyu retreat are currently in retreat nearby in Karme Ling retreat center. Led by KTD President Tenzin Chonyi, the retreat masters for the men and women’s retreats along with other retreat lamas from Karme Ling formed an offering procession to commence the events at KTD.
His Holiness the Karmapa began his talk citing a saying of the Drukpa master Drukpa Kunley to the effect that in order to teach the Dharma, either one needed to have flawless Dharma realization, or one needed to be very boastful indeed. He said that he must belong squarely in that second category, since he clearly did not belong to the first, he insisted.
Turning to the topic for the day, the Four Dharmas of Gampopa, His Holiness began by exploring the textual basis for this teaching. He began by making clear that the presentation of the four Dharmas of Gampopa in fact condenses all of the Dharma taught by Buddha without exception, and does so in a way suited to each of the three levels of practitioners. The 17th Karmapa then launched into a scholarly discussion of the source within Gampopa’s own writings for these four Dharmas, comparing the positions on this questions held by various Karma Kagyu and Drukpa Kagyu masters.
When he turned to the four dharmas themselves, he mapped each of the four Dharmas onto the three vehicles, as well as onto the three scopes of person according to the lam rim presentation created by Lord Atisha for Tibetans and transmitted in Tibet through the Kadampa tradition.
The Karmapa noted that Lord Gampopa carried both the lineage of the Kadampa tradition as well as that the Six Dharmas of Naropa and Mahamudra, but was quoted as saying that of the two, it was due to the kindness of the Kadampa tradition that he was able to benefit beings. His Holiness commented that Gampopa taught practices such as Mahamudra and Naropa’s Six Dharmas, commonly called the Six Yogas of Naropa, only after he saw that disciples’ minds had been prepared through training in the Kadam teachings of lam rim and so forth.
Taking up the first of the four Dharmas of Gampopa, the Karmapa pointed out that this first of the four appears in two variants – the dharma becoming dharma or the mind becoming dharma. Of the two, he would primarily be referring to the first formulation, he said. This first instruction is designed primarily for persons of lesser capacity, generally defined as those motivated by the desire for pleasure in future lives. As such, the primary Dharma teachings referred to in this first of the four Dharmas of Gampopa are those on the eight worldly dharmas and those on karmic cause and effect. However, His Holiness said that the category of persons of lesser capacity also includes as a secondary group those who do not have confidence in the existence of past and future lives, whose spiritual development can also take place through the practice of this first Dharma.
In the 21st century, His Holiness said, a major impediment preventing the dharma from becoming dharma is the intensely materialistic focus of our lives. The overwhelming sense that our happiness lies in sense pleasures leaves us prey to a great deal of confusion as to where happiness can actually be found. Our obsession with material things and sense pleasure leaves us blind to the real aim, and therefore we cannot see clearly what path we should follow to reach that goal.
For this reason, for those in the beginning stage of the path, His Holiness stated, the real practice consists not so much in contemplating high concepts or meditation topics, but in making a sincere and clear-eyed assessment of one’s own life. “We should ask ourselves very carefully,” the Karmapa said, “‘What do I really need? What is the real purpose of my life?’”
His Holiness then tackled the question as to how realistic it is to free ourselves entirely of the eight worldly dharmas. Even bodhisattvas, he said, might have some slight presence of worldly motivations in their mind, such as some mundane concern for food. Thus it is difficult to demand of ourselves that all our actions be entirely free of any mundane concerns. However, what would be terribly sad, the Karmapa reflected, is if our practice of Dharma became mixed with eight worldly Dharmas. “If we are not able to keep our engagement in Dharma teaching and formal practice free of the eight worldly motivations and concerns, it is highly unlikely we will be able to keep our ordinary activities free of them.”
On that note, His Holiness joked that he would now promote the worldly dharma of seeking food, as it was time for lunch.
Along with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, other eminent lamas in attendance today were Zurmang Garwang Rinpoche and Drupthob Rinpoche. They and the entire assembly adjourned for a noonday meal, returning in the early afternoon for the second session of the day.
During the afternoon teaching, he moved through the three remaining dharmas, beginning with the dharma becoming the path. This dharma was aimed at both persons of the middle scope and of the higher scope. It was also suited for practitioners of all three vehicles. If the path in question in the phrase ‘the dharma becoming the path’ was the path leading to liberation, then the practice was a common vehicle practice, whereas if it was practiced with the aim of attaining the highest happiness of omniscient buddhahood, it became a practice for a person of highest capacity, and therefore a Great Vehicle, or Mahayana practice.
In order to practice so that dharma becomes the path to liberation from samsara, His Holiness emphasized the importance of cultivating renunciation, or desire for liberation from samsara. He reflected that some of his Western disciples had commented to him that this was the practice that posed the greatest challenge to them, and stressed that it was paramount to gain an understanding of the distinction between real happiness and that which merely appeared to be happiness, such as intense forms of pleasure, and similarly of the distinction between real suffering and that which merely appears to be suffering.
“Material things are not the problem,” he said. “It is our own craving for them that harms us.”
When the second dharma of Gampopa—that of the dharma becoming the path—refers to the Mahayana path, the cultivation of bodhichitta takes on a paramount role. Some people think that a bodhisattva is just a kind person and that bodhichitta is equivalent to benevolence. This is incorrect, he said, because bodhichitta encompasses not only compassionate benevolence but also profound wisdom, His Holiness stated.
Since our selfishness is the greatest obstacle in developing impartial love for all, we need the wisdom that recognizes that there is no real difference between self and other, the Karmapa said. He spoke movingly of all beings waiting for us to extricate ourselves form our self-absorption and come to their aid, as if we were their only child and were trapped in prison while they remained unprotected outside, urgently needing us to emerge and come to their aid. It is our selfishness, he said, that keeps us neglecting them, enmeshed as we are in our own selfish interests.
The third dharma of Gampopa—the path dispelling delusion—refers primarily to Vajrayana, he said. “What is meant by delusion here is the subtle habit of dualism,” the Karmapa explained. Since the practice of secret mantra is the only vehicle that finally eliminates the subtle habits of dualism, the two stage of tantra are the main practice for this third dharma of Gampopa. Professing that he was unable to explained these well, and commenting that in any case there was no need to do so, he moved on to the fourth and final Dharma, that of transforming delusion into wisdom.
The fourth dharma of Gampopa refers primarily to the practice of Mahamudra, he observed, and then gave pith instructions for Mahamudra practice, focusing on the inseparability of thoughts and Dharmakaya.
In conclusion, he reflected that the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa had had great plans and great hopes for North America. Although many of those are already “mostly complete,” he expressed his hope to be able continue working to bring them all to full completion. In order to do so, he uttered his wish to be able to return again and again, frequently, to round applause.
(April 22, 2015 – Woodstock, New York) The many peaks of a large white tent rose like snow mountains above Woodstock’s Andy Lee Field and sheltered a crowd of 800. In front a stage had been set with an elegant chair for His Holiness the Karmapa, and rows of seats at the side for local dignitaries, including the present Town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber along with past Town Supervisors, Town Board Member Bill McKenna, the Chief of Police and several clergy members from Woodstock churches.
After giving them all a warm welcome, David Kaczynski, the Executive Director of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, indicated two trees placed to the Karmapa’s right and said that a teacher had approached him and related that her students were planting trees to celebrate the environment and wanted their trees to be close to the Karmapa. David continued, “The Karmapa’s vision for the environment is changing the world and transcending religion. It is an opportunity for us all to understand that we share this planet together.”
Woodstock’s own Town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber then introduced the Karmapa, greeting him in Tibetan with a verse of welcome. The Karmapa began his own talk by thanking the audience for making him so at home in Woodstock, and explaining that by the time he came home to Woodstock, he had given so many lectures that he was not only physically depleted but also verbally, and was fresh out of things to say. Nevertheless, he said, “meeting with all of you is extremely important to me”.
He then told the attentive audience that he had first heard of Woodstock while still a youth in Tibet. “I heard a lot of stuff about Woodstock,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “I heard it was the land of hippies, which meant a lot to me because it meant Woodstock was a town filled with people devoted to personal freedom and environmental activism.” The Karmapa noted that the realized masters in his lineage and the hippies had similar life styles of staying “natural” and close to nature.
Continuing the Earth Day theme and elaborating on a topic close to this heart, the Karmapa stated, “In this 21st century there is no doubt that the greatest challenge we face is the environmental crisis of climate change. The people of Woodstock have repeatedly demonstrated the courageous spirit of environmental activism that we will all have to emulate if we are going to heal our environment. As the people of Woodstock seem to know so well already, we need to accept that we all depend on one another, and that our connection with one another, and especially with the environment, is an interdependent one.”
“In the Tibetan view,” he continued, “the relationship a species has with its environment is one of container and contained; our environment supports us, holds us and nurtures us. In return, since we live in this environment and depend totally on it for our survival, we all have the responsibility to nurture this environment back.”
Another special trait of Woodstock is its acceptance of difference and diversity. The Karmapa observed, “This world is filled with diversity, including spiritual and religious traditions. It is the variety of this world that gives it beauty. Within that diversity, of course, are things that we all have in common. We all depend on the resources of this planet; we all wish to be happy and not to suffer. The fact that our situation is one that we all share could only be heightened and brought closer to us by the variety that we experience. In Woodstock one finds a great warmth for a variety of spiritual traditions, for people from different cultures and diverse national origins. I want to express my appreciation for this as well.”
Along with the many people sheltered under the white tent, two hundred more were also standing outside, and as it began to rain, the Karmapa wrapped up his talk after expressing “the heartfelt wish that I be able to meet with all of you as soon and as often as possible.” He then walked over to the children’s two trees, and gently poured water on them from a bottle wrapped in a brilliant yellow scarf, fulfilling the children’s wish for a closer connection with him.
The Karmapa at the tree planting at KTB with supervisor Jeremy Wilber and town religious leaders. (photos by Dion Ogust)
Two full houses at UPAC last week for a Bestowal of Refuge Vow and Teaching, followed by a public greeting at Andy Lee Field in Woodstock punctuated a week-long visit to town by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. The Karmapa spent a week at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) in Woodstock, his monastic seat in North America, as part of a two-month tour of American universities and Buddhists centers.
Throughout town Tibetan prayer flags were fluttering and “Welcome Home” signs unfurled for the spiritual leader and in a private ceremony Wednesday morning the Karmapa, Abbot Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and Woodstock Town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber planted a tree on the KTD Monastery campus.
Just 29-years old, the Karmapa was recognized in 1992 as the 17th incarnation of the Karmapa, making him head of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He was born in 1985 to a nomadic family in eastern Tibet and discovered by a party of lamas searching for the Karmapa’s young reincarnation. At the age of seven he began his training in Buddhist philosophy and practices, enabling him pass on centuries-old teachings.
This is his third trip to the United States.
During his appearances here, he spoke on different topics.
On The Environment:
“The reason I like to speak about the natural environment is because I feel a special connection with it. I was born in a very isolated village in eastern Tibet that was surrounded by the great beauty of the natural environment. I had an opportunity to sleep in the lap of the mother earth.
Where I was born, we experienced our environment as a living system. The mountains, the sources of water, were all regarded as the dwelling places of what I would call holy spirits of various kinds. We didn’t wash our clothes or even our hands in flowing water sources. We didn’t cast any kind of garbage or any kind of other pollutant into the fire in our hearth. We regarded the entire environment as innately sacred.
Tibetan teachings talk about the environment as container, and living beings as the contents, a metaphor that speaks very clearly to our relationship as living beings with the world around us. It gives a very clear picture – the world is continually sustaining us. It is holding us, it is supporting us, and it is protecting us.”
On Being The Karmapa:
“I was born in an isolated place in an undeveloped region, and there being no schools, I had no opportunity initially for any kind of formal education. But when I was 7 years of age, without any preparation or warning — certainly without any wish on my part — I was recognized as the Karmapa. For me it was just being given a name, but also being handed a burden, a source of trouble and many challenges. It wasn’t, as some people think, the instant resolution of all problems for me.
I suppose some people imagine that being a spiritual leader, one leads a life of comfort and ease. Let me assure you that is not the case. It’s filled with challenges and difficulties of all kinds. But the difficulties that I’ve had to face have increased my empathy because they have enabled me to develop more concern for the difficulties that other people face.
Despite the challenges, I must say that having been given the name Karmapa and told that I bear a great responsibility to look after the well-being of others was of great benefit to me. We are all interdependent, and receive so much from others and depend on others in countless ways, therefore we all equally bear responsibilities to look after others’ well-being.
Most people have few opportunities to be made aware of those responsibilities, but being given the name Karmapa allowed me to recognize what is the case for all of us. Therefore I take this as a good opportunity to be of service to others.”
On Karma, Consumerism and Freedom:
“If we understand interdependence — the fact that everything depends upon everything else — we might begin to understand karma. For example, where do the food we eat, the clothes we wear or even our body composed of the four elements come from? They come from millions of interdependent factors, causes and conditions.
Belief in karma entails feeling real gratitude for the understanding that everything you are, everything you have, everything you use, has arisen through innumerable causes and conditions. The point of living according to karma is not surrendering your self-control to emotions that have arisen through transitory conditions, but being purposeful enough to remain in control of yourself.
I’ll give you an example that’s drawn from my experience in India but I think it might be more apt in the United States. There are more than 20 million people who live in Delhi and five million cars in that city. When I first came to India 15 years ago I didn’t see many cars. Every year I see more and more. On the way to Delhi I once asked the person driving me, ‘why are there so many cars in Delhi?’
He said there was no real reason except that when people see that their neighbors have cars, they feel if they don’t buy a car themselves, they’ll lose their status. We don’t think when we make a purchase: ‘Do I really need this thing?’ We just buy it to keep up with our neighbors.
At the moment we were purchasing the car we might have felt we were making a purely personal choice. But we do not drive everywhere on our own private roads.The minute we take our car on shared public highways, it becomes clear that we are deciding for everyone when we make our apparently personal choices. But through traffic jams and other situations involving cars, we can readily observe how much an one individual’s personal choices affect all of us.”
On Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Relationships:
“There might be a difference between a traditional Buddhist answer to this and my own personal answer. The way I think of it, however, is this: the issue here is true love.
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’s authentic. But if a relationship is based only on desire, only on gratification and not on love, then whether it is a gay relationship, lesbian or heterosexual relationship, it’s still not going to be very sound. So the issue here is love, and that is what makes a relationship authentic and valuable.”
On Women’s Rights:
“The restoration of women’s rights and the full empowerment of women must go far beyond mere external appearances and institutionalized mechanisms or structures. Necessary steps such as restoring the full monastic ordination for women in my own tradition, famous historical steps such as women’s suffrage, even the election of a woman as president – these steps are in themselves not enough to really restore women’s rights, to really empower women.
We cannot assess the degree to which women are empowered in our society, or the degree to which they possess their rights, by such externals alone. We need mutual understanding, and this understanding has to be real. It can’t be fake or contrived. It has to be loving, it has to be respectful. And it has to be founded in basic human benevolence and caring for one another.”
On the Karmapa’s Activity and KTD:
From the time of the 4th Karmapa up to 10th Karmapa, the Karmapa primarily moved from place to place traveling in a great encampment, living in tents. One reason for the establishment of the great encampment was, while many people wished to meet the Gyalwang Karmapa, most were unable to do so. So Karmapa decided to go to them and traveled throughout Tibet, even to some of the most isolated areas.
Therefore an aspect of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s activity is to travel all over the place and meet disciples of different nations, cultures and languages, fulfilling all their aspirations. The great encampment ended during the life of the tenth Karmapa. However, the great 16th Gyalwang Karmapa traveled from Tibet to India and after that, began to travel all over the world, meeting with people of different nations and languages. So in a sense he greatly reactivated this aspect of the Karmapa’s activity.
What am I saying? I am saying that as this is a hub of the Karmapa’s activity, we need to be welcoming. We must make everyone who comes here feel welcome, without any bias, without any limitation through sect, color, nationality or gender.
We regret to inform you that we have just been notified that His Holiness the Karmapa has had to postpone his trip to Madison, Wisconsin due to illness. He has canceled some of his events on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Unfortunately, we do not expect the Madison events to be rescheduled as he is scaling back his programs to protect his health.
We sincerely hope that His Holiness is feeling better soon.
Hey, he’s only 29, right? It’s got to be tough being the spiritual head of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He’s been that since he was he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa at the age of seven. He delivered his first public religious discourse to an audience of over 20,000 people at the age of eight.
Then he had to escape from his home in Tibet when he was 14. This is his third trip to the U.S.
He’s a passionate environmentalist, as befits any spiritual leader. The goal of his eco-monastic movement is to “safeguard the Earth so that all sentient beings can benefit and live in harmony with one another.”
At the tree planting ceremony Wednesday, he sat with Woodstock officials and religious leaders. Even Father John, of the Church on the Mount, the fragile tiny chapel that is dwarfed by the Monastery’s (relatively) new building, was there. We like seeing the communities in harmony.
The literature tells us that “’Karmapa’ literally means ‘He Who Performs the Activities of the Buddha…’” That’s got to be an incredible responsibility.
Dion, our photographer, saw him up close, said he looked tired. He said as much in his Rec Field talk. He’s been on a whirlwind tour, bestowing thousands of Refuge Vows, conducting teachings, surrounded by his security people, being whisked from one location to the next.
And I wonder…lots of us have kids his age…wouldn’t you just like to take him out for a beer? Or get him over to the rec field and shoot some hoops? Come on down to the Bluegrass Clubhouse at Harmony, or something? Just let him have some down time and hang out, see how we live? I mean, he’s 29, right?
Make no mistake, our admiration for His Holiness is boundless. He’s a man in the position to accomplish goals that make this life better for all of us and from all appearances, he works at it all the time. It’s clearly his mission.
In his Andy Lee Field talk, he spoke of Woodstock (and its ‘hippies’) as being advanced in its environmental awareness and that he feels at home here.
We welcome him, and wouldn’t mind if he stays around a while.
Today, in the morning of the 25th of April, in Nepal, the land where Lord Buddha was born, there occurred a devastating earthquake. Many thousands of people have been killed or injured, and historic buildings and private homes have been turned into ruins. As soon as I learned of this painful and distressing situation, I made my deepest aspiration prayers and dedications for all the people affected, and continue to do so. Especially at times when we are faced with such a desperate situation, we cannot sit idle, unfeelingly. We must join forces and carry the burden of sorrow together. It is important that each one of us light the lamp of courage. Additionally, it is important that each of the Karma Kagyu monasteries in Nepal, while looking after their own pressing needs for immediate protection, also extend any and all aid and protection they can to the public in their surrounding communities. From my own side, I will make every effort to come personally in the near future to offer my solace and support as well. http://kagyuoffice.org/message-from-the-gyalwang-karmapa-concerning-the-recent-earthquake/
David Kaczynski, Executive Director of KTD, opened the morning calling for moral, political and active ethical leadership on the issue of environmental stewardship. “Our earth is very old,” he said, “but our recognition of the need to care for the earth is very young.”
Addressing those assembled, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, abbot of KTD, expressed his profound delight at celebrating Earth Day with His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, particularly since the event was being marked by both political and spiritual leaders of the local communities. His Holiness the Karmapa was joined at the tree planting by Woodstock Town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber, Bill McKenna of the Town Board, Jim Hanson, Chair of the Woodstock Ecological Commission as well as leading members of Woodstock’s various faith communities. As such, the town’s secular and religious leaders shared the space under a tent that had been erected since rain threatened to mar the morning.
Woodstock’s Town Supervisor, Jeremy Wilber, took the microphone to observe that the Karmapa had written a book, The Heart Is Noble: Changing theWorld from the Inside Out, and that anyone who read it could plainly “hear the words of a very committed environmental activist.” Sandy Hu, KTD board member, described for those assembled some of the Karmapa’s environmental initiatives, and then the time came for the palpable demonstration of care for the earth.
Two trees had been made ready for planting, including a Japanese maple that had graced the stage during theKarmapa’s teachings in Kingston’s Ulster Performing Arts Center. As if waiting for the moment to take action, when the speechmaking was complete, the 17th Karmapa strode over to the first planting site and at once began preparing to plant. Once the tree had been placed gently in the ground, he himself shoveled the earth and poured the water with great care. As he was adding the mulch, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche approached and playfully aided him by tapping on the earth with his cane.
Once both saplings were in the ground, His Holiness reached down and touched the trunks, moving them gently. After he had determined that the trees had been firmly planted, he departed, entrusting them to the care of the earth and sky, which would oblige by releasing rain to water them after the ceremony was safely completed.
(April 23, 2015 – Delhi, New York) His Holiness the Karmapa spent much of his day today on a daytrip to Karme Ling Retreat Center, located in a quiet, wooded corner of upstate New York. Karme Ling Retreat Center was built under the guidance of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, in response to a suggestion made to him by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa during his last visit to New York over 30 years ago. At present, a cohort of yogis and yoginis are engaged in the center’s sixth consecutive traditional three-year, three-month retreat.
Each of the three times the 17th Karmapa has visited the United States, he has made a point of visiting Karme Ling. In turn, the weather itself had made a point of displaying anomalous meteorological conditions each time the Karmapa paid a visit. This year, the anomalies began even before His Holiness had left KTD, with an unusual rainbow striping the clouds shortly after sunrise above Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD). The temperature in Woodstock yesterday had hit 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 celsius), yet by the time His Holiness had completed the 90-minute drive from KTD to Karme Ling, his car was moving through dancing flakes of snow. Somehow the elements had managed to conspire to create yet another first for His Holiness, since among all the diverse experiences he has had on this two month trip, this was the first time he had experienced snowfall.
The lamas of Karme Ling had arranged a ceremonial procession to greet the 17th Karmapa when he arrived, and many supporters of the retreat center were there to receive him as well. On hand too were seven aspirants to monastic ordination, newly shorn yet glowing with anticipation at having His Holiness the Karmapa himself receive their first offering of crown hair. The sudden drop in temperature gave them an early opportunity to experience what all monastics eventually discover, that shaving the head is much like taking off a permanent hat one did not know one had been wearing.
One of the monks in His Holiness’s entourage, who was raised in the Indian Himalayas, queried as to whether what was falling was actually snow, since each drop that fell looked like a flower here, whereas back home the snow was more round. Indeed, each flake that fell on the maroon robes stood out on contrast as a perfect and uniquely shaped white crystalline flower—that is, until the moment His Holiness’s vehicle pulled into the driveway. At that moment, the snow intensified exponentially, and the flakes at once gave way to the round and full balls of snow more familiar in the Himalayas. As the horns blew, the snow fell with great enthusuiasm as the Gyalwang Karmapa emerged into the air, now crisp and white.
Once inside the main building at Karme Ling, which serves as the primary residence of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, the Karmapa ascended to the shrine room for a traditional welcome with tea and rice. Once the customary offerings of body, speech and mind had been made, His Holiness summoned the aspirants forward. One by one, they kneeled and inclined their hands, palms together, as His Holiness cut a tuft of hair from the crown of each of them, thereby offering his blessing for them to enter the monastic path.
Everyone was asked to remain in the central building as His Holiness departed with Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and the three-year retreat masters to tour the facility, beginning with the men’s retreat house. As is the tradition, men and women engage in retreat separately. At Karme Ling, the men’s and women’s retreats each take place in a central building containing the shrine room and individual rooms upstairs, with a kitchen and dining area below, and surrounded by an encircling fence set some fifty feet away from the building.
His Holiness entered the retreat compound alone, accompanied only by the retreat masters, and spent half an hour with the male retreatants, giving them a short teaching and answering some individual questions posed by them. As there are both Tibetans and Westerners engaged in the present retreat, His Holiness made his remarks first in Tibetan and then repeated himself in English.
Among the comments he made to them, according to the retreat master who accompanied him inside, was to remind them that the purpose of their retreat was to transform their personality. He told them too that if one does not have right motivation, retreat can be like a prison. Conversely prisoners, including many practitioners who were imprisoned in Tibet after 1959, turned their prison sentence into a retreat by having the right motivation, and served their time in prison not in a depressed state but with a happy mind.
Following the talk, he entered each retreatant’s room and blessed it individually, and then called the retreatants to join him for a group photo. He suggested they take a photo together outside “Milarepa style,” as he described it, in the snow that was still falling with wild abandon.
From there he proceeded to the women’s retreat, where he spent an hour and a half. As the female retreatants include native English and Chinese speakers, to everyone’s delight His Holiness gave a talk in English, and then translated himself into Chinese. After entering each room to confer an individual blessing, he shared a leisurely meal with Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche in a library located behind the shrine room. The noon meal had multiple courses, and each retreatant had the opportunity to enter and personally serve one dish to the two lamas who so inspired them in the long years of their retreat.
After a group photo together in the shrine room, His Holiness departed, stopping to turn back and give the yoginis a final wave of farewell before exiting the sealed compound.
At this point, the weather had transformed completely again, and all was clear for His Holiness to stride out to a site where two new buildings are being constructed. Each of the two structures comprises a row of six self-contained units, to be used for individual retreats, both long-term and temporary. The Karmapa entered the rooms that were closest to completion, to find carpenters still toiling away installing cabinets and other fixtures. After inspecting the site, His Holiness personally planted a tree between the two structures.
Following a brief stop back at the residence of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, the 17th Karmapa headed down the hill to the Dewachen Colombarium. Built in 2005, the columbarium holds hundreds of niches that can hold the ashes of the deceased, and is the site of the annual Amitabha puja and purification ritual on behalf of the deceased. His Holiness the Karmapa entered and offered his blessings to the deceased.
His final stop on this visit was to a residential building located on the way out of the retreat center. The residents offered snacks and drinks for the road trip back to Woodstock, all of which were readily accepted by the attendants and security personnel accompanying the Karmapa. His Holiness himself accepted a bottled drink with a broad smile, and left his blessings behind one last time, entering the quarters of each resident.
As the caravan of cars rolled down the hill, the weather spirits appeared to have completed their display of delight, and the day settled back into something much more common for a typical late April afternoon in upstate New York, partly sunny but brisk.
(April 24, 2015 – Red Hook, New York) On a particularly cold day, with a smattering of snow still drifting through the air, His Holiness the Karmapa visited the Kunzang Palchen Ling center where he gave a mantra transmission and a short teaching on Medicine Buddha.
Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, the center’s founder and spiritual director, first welcomed His Holiness with a private tea and rice ceremony in the center’s Guru Rinpoche library. The Karmapa then entered the main shrine room where about 250 people had gathered and took his seat before a burnished golden buddha statue, flanked by 16 glinting bodhisattvas to either side. A further 200 people waited in front of a live screen downstairs, unable to all fit inside the shrine room yet eager even for the chance to simply be close to the Karmapa. When they heard the organizers explain to His Holiness at the opening of the event that there was an additional group seated below, they uttered calls and shouts loud enough to be heard in the main hall, drawing a smile from the Karmapa.
The Town Supervisor of Red Hook, Sue Crane, offered words of welcome to His Holiness the Karmapa and thanked him for once more gracing the town with his presence. “Thank you for your wisdom,” she said to the Karmapa, adding, “The world longs for wisdom.”
Many people think of the Medicine Buddha as a kind of doctor, His Holiness began. They believe that if they recite the Medicine Buddha mantra it will help them heal their own illnesses, or, if they are themselves healers, those of others. But what we really need to understand is the point behind why we call this Buddha the Medicine Buddha.
The Karmapa explained that the four medicinal tantras that form the basis of all Tibetan medicine describe an immediate (or proximate) cause of illness, as well as a fundamental (or distant) cause.
“The fundamental cause of illness is the three poisons, attachment, aversion and delusion,” he explained. “The reason we call the Medicine Buddha by this name is that while physical illnesses can be treated and cured by worldly physicians, the fundamental cause needs some kind of special or even supreme medicine.
“It is never said that dharma practice can cure all physical illness or solve all of one’s problems,” he continued. “But while many physical illnesses can be cured and others can not, we at least recognize physical illness as such. However, we usually fail to recognize our fundamental mental illness, the three poisons of aversion, attachment and delusion, as illnesses. So one function of the Buddha’s teachings is to point out that these are a form of disease.”
The Medicine Buddha practice serves two purposes, His Holiness explained. It helps us to recognize our own illness of mental afflictions and apply appropriate remedies, and it also helps us to recognize these things in others and thus have more love and empathy toward them.
“Our three poisons are not only like illnesses, they are also like demons,” he said. “If we understand our own three poisons and how they affect and afflict us, then when we see others who are heavily ill with the three poisons, making them very angry or very jealous, we will understand how it is they have become that way. They have no control over their three poisons, and this has made them, as it were, a little insane. So another benefit of this practice is that it will make it easier for us to have understanding and therefore to be more loving toward others who are afflicted.”
Concluding his comments, His Holiness added that he wasn’t going to say too much about the Medicine Buddha because he himself was feeling a little ill at the moment.
“Given that we usually think the Medicine Buddha magically cures all illness, we would expect a practitioner of the Medicine Buddha who is qualified to teach, to at least not be ill while they are teaching it,” he noted wryly.
Attentive to the wishes of all those who had made efforts to come to connect with him, His Holiness then took time to go downstairs and visit the crowd waiting in the overflow room below, much to their (once again) audible joy.
(April 24, 2015 – Wappingers Falls, New York) On a brisk afternoon, the road into the monastery was lined with the bright colors of tall banners in a formal procession to welcome His Holiness. This was his third visit to Kagyu Thubten Choling, founded in 1978 and set on a gentle cliff above the Hudson River. Following the lineage of Kalu Rinpoche, who emphasized the importance of three-year retreats, Lama Norlha Rinpoche has guided students through eight of them here in upstate New York.
After a traditional welcoming ceremony of tea and rice during which he consecrated and offered lamps to several sacred images, His Holiness was invited into a spacious white tent where five hundred people waited to hear his talk and receive the transmission of the Medicine Buddha mantra. The Karmapa began by noting that during hisfirst visit there, in 2008, the weather had been cold and now it was also chilly―the blessing of the Kagyu lineage with its austere practices transmitted by the yogi Milarepa who spent his life in mountain retreat. Along the walls of the tent, paintings of the “golden lineage” of Kagyu masters were displayed and the Karmapa joked that not only was he himself cold but the whole lineage was freezing.
Earlier in the morning, the Karmapa had also spoken of the Medicine Buddha, and here in Wappingers Falls, he further emphasized the role of deeply engrained mental habits that follow us from lifetime to lifetime as the fundamental cause of our disease. Running deeper than mental illness, these imprints cannot be cured by traditional medication, he said, yet they are the cause of our more coarse physical ailments. Essentially, the practice of the Medicine Buddha is to cure us of these and the afflictive emotions they engender. The primary instruction for the practice of the Medicine Buddha is to point out these habitual patterns so they can be uprooted.
The Karmapa explained that through our training in identifying our own afflictive emotions as forms of illness, we become better able to empathically recognize the mental afflictions of others and see them as an illness. He drew the analogy of a doctor who is treating a mentally unbalanced person. Since doctors know the person’s condition, they are not overwhelmed by the unusual behavior. In the same way, His Holiness commented, we can work with others who are overpowered by their afflictions and take them in stride. The understanding that our illness is not caused externally allows us to see that Dharma practice is essential to our lives. At this point, he said, we can take our spiritual teacher as a doctor, the afflictions as our illness, and the Dharma as the cure.
When we engage in Dharma practice, we need to feel that it is an integral part of our lives, he counseled, so that there is no gap between practice and the lives we lead. Usually when we engage in formal practice, we set aside a time for it and that is good, because it means we will do the practice. The Karmapa noted that setting a particular time for practice is especially important for Americans who are so busy; otherwise, they might not find the time to meditate at all.
He continued, “For Dharma practice to be truly effective, however, we cannot just leave it on the seat, but must bring it outside into the world of our daily lives.” He clarified that this does not mean that we carry a mala everywhere and hold our hands in the meditation mudra while sitting at our office desk. “What we do need all the time,” he remarked, “is the spirit of Dharma, the courage that Dharma gives us, the vast openness of mind and the power of love. We need these all the time and throughout our lives.” There should be no separation between the person we are and the Dharma we practice, he said.
“Dharma practice has to accompany us outside our shrine rooms and temples,” he stated. “It must be more than sitting on a soft seat for some time and dreaming that deities are showing themselves to us. It is not like taking a recreational drug. Practice has to help us make changes in ourselves and become less rigid and more loving.”
After receiving symbolic offerings for his long life, the Karmapa left the tent for a tour of the Maitreya Center, an impressive new building that is being constructed next to a large stupa overlooking the Hudson River. The shell of the new structure is complete and Lama Norlha led the Karmapa on a tour of the shrine halls that will shelter a 34-foot image of Maitreya and 10-foot images of Guru Rinpoche and Shakyamuni Buddha. The underground floor is home to the kitchen and dining room while the top floor includes a suite for the Karmapa and his attendants. When he was invited out onto the veranda of his quarters, the Karmapa joked, “Oh, now you’re taking me into the cold again!”
After the Maitreya Center, the Karmapa entered the men’s and women’s retreat centers, walled off from the world with high wood fences, painted a brown that blends into the forest around them. He spent about twenty minutes in each retreat center, and then partook of a sumptuous meal in a private dining room with a view of the Hudson River flowing by.