Religion très minoritaire en France malgré la popularité auprès d'un grand nombre de gens de certains de ses préceptes, le bouddhisme cherche à se faire connaître en y envoyant ses plus éminents représentants.
Le 17ème karmapa, personnalité la plus importante dans la religion bouddhiste derrière le dalaï-lama, était de passage en France. L'occasion pour la communauté bouddhiste française de rencontrer Ogyen Trinley Dorje, celui qui pourrait accéder dans le futur à la fonction suprême.
La transmission, valeur cruciale
Les disciples, de tous milieux et classes sociales, cherchent dans cette religion méconnue certaines valeurs comme la tolérance, le respect de l'autre et de l'environnement. La transmission de ces valeurs, de génération en génération, est également au coeur des préoccupations des adeptes.
The Conference Hall of the Marriott Rive-Gauche has been transformed a shrine hall. In the center of the stage is a radiant throne topped by cluster of golden flaming jewels. Behind a long thangka of the Buddha is flanked by a 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara and, emphasizing the nonsectarian approach to Dharma, a thangka of the Eight Great Charioteers or the Lineages of Transmission in Tibet (nyingma, kadampa, sakya, Marpa kagyu, shangpa kagyu, shije and chö , kalachakra or jordrug, and Orgyen nyengyu). To stage right is a pagoda with two floating roofs. Inside the upper shrine is a statue of the Buddha and below this is enshrined a lovely four-armed Avalokiteshvara.
With a capacity of 1600, the hall is filled to overflowing. Above, the ceiling lights are set in waves of crystal, recalling the waves of blessing a buddha brings. And it was only recently discovered that this hall is quite special: in 1975 the Sixteenth Karmapa had taught in this very same room. At the time it had another name, PLN Saint-Jacques, so the organizers were unaware of the connection when they made their choice of venue.
After his initial prayers, the Gyalwang Karmapa began his teaching by extending his warm welcome to everyone and saying that this was his first chance to come to France and its capital, Paris. He recalled that the great Sixteenth Karmapa was one of the first major Tibetan lamas to come to Europe and that he visited numerous countries to create Dharma connections with many people. Afterward, his heart sons came to Europe and continued his activity.
The Karmapa mentioned that he, too, wished to visit many countries—it was one of the reasons for his leaving Tibet—and finally he has been able to visit the United States, Germany, and Switzerland. He joked that with precognition, he would have come to France first and afterward, Switzerland, thus avoiding all the rain and the strikes in France. Since he has not yet had the chance to appreciate the famous beauty of Paris, he surmised that he would have to return.
Turning to the subject of his talk, the Karmapa mentioned that the Four Noble Truths are profound and vast; they embody the essence of the Buddha’s teachings and relate more to practice and experience than philosophy. We know the Buddha turned the wheel of Dharma three times, but it is difficult to connect them to a particular time, so they are differentiated through their subject matter. Given to the Buddha’s five original disciples in Sarnath, the Four Noble Truths belong to the first turning and marked the beginning of the Buddha’s long teaching career.
All living beings wish to be free of suffering and to know happiness, the Karmapa stated, and the Four Noble Truths condense all aspects of this basic situation of our lives. The first two truths of suffering and its origin deal with the cause and result of the suffering we do not want and the last two truths deal with the cause and result of the happiness we seek.
“First we have to ask ourselves, however, what we really need and what we should avoid,” he said. If we take the Four Noble Truths as the basis of our discussion and look at them in terms of cause and effect, we can discover how to avoid what we do not want and attain what we do want. But we cannot have we want just through wanting, and we cannot avoid what we do not want by simply not wanting; we must understand how cause and effect work. The Buddha taught the two sets of cause and effect that make up the Four Noble Truths on the basis of what we should leave aside and take up.
The First Noble Truth is that of suffering, and in general, we understand suffering to mean “pain” or “the sensation of suffering.” But suffering does not just refer to a headache or stomach cramps. There are many different kinds of suffering, which can be condensed into three types: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and all-pervasive suffering. Most sentient beings recognize the first type of suffering, which is the pain we experience and try to escape in various ways.
We perceive things based on the data our sense faculties send via the nervous system to our brain. Through this signaling, we experience most of the suffering we know. “If we do not directly experience something, however, then even though it exists and is fearsome or dangerous, we do not perceive it,” the Karmapa explained. “If we look at the dangerous environmental problems that exist, for example, we do not take them so seriously because we do not see them,” he noted. We need physical experience, he said, and the ensuing brain activity to know something is dangerous. Without this, then one day, when we finally learn that these problems pose a great danger and will bring untold suffering, it is usually too late.
“So it is important to understand,” he remarked, “that suffering does not just depend on the signals from our sense faculties that arrive in our brain. We need to capacity to think from the perspective of the object that is causing the suffering and come to know its actual nature.”
The Karmapa then spoke of the second type of suffering, the suffering of change. “The Buddha taught that the feeling of happiness or contentment is the suffering of change, so ‘suffering’ does not necessarily mean the sensation of suffering,” the Karmapa remarked. “We need to distinguish between suffering and the feeling of suffering.”
It could be said that all feelings of happiness come down to suffering. A classic example is carrying a heavy load on one of our shoulders. If we do this for a long time, it will become uncomfortable, so we shift the load to the other shoulder and feel relieved. But after a while, it too will be come uncomfortable. This illustrates the suffering of change: at first we do not experience something as suffering, but then it comes later. Sometimes we can also experience a decrease in tremendous suffering as happiness.
The Karmapa next gave an example from his homeland, where in the beginning they did not have many things, but then motorbikes, cars, and new houses came along and traditional ways felt more difficult. This new lifestyle also brought competition and feeling that one had to keep up with the neighbors. “The more things people had, the more problems they experienced. So at first these new things brought a feeling of pleasure and then they brought more problems,” he remarked. Sometimes people in underdeveloped countries are happier. Now in my homeland, people are not as content as they were before because they are preoccupied with things and experiencing the suffering of change.
Finally the Karmapa explained all-pervasive suffering. “We have seen,” he summarized, “that what is pleasant and unpleasant both create suffering. And it is also true that suffering is created by what is neutral as well–the defiled aggregates (form, feeling, discernment, mental formations, and consciousness), which arise from the afflictions. It is this third, all-pervasive suffering that serves as a basis for the first two types of suffering.
Some of the suffering we seek to avoid we are able to recognize and some not. This is a danger we face because not identifying clearly what suffering is makes it difficult for us to find happiness. The Karmapa added that the situation is compounded by the fact that we take suffering to be happiness.
The Karmapa has noticed that in wealthier countries, some Dharma practitioners feel there is not much meaning in the pleasures and luxuries available to them. They have a neutral kind of feeling resembling boredom, but this does not mean that they have recognized the meaning or nature of suffering. Usually what makes us wish to be free of samsara is the first type of obvious suffering, but to truly liberate ourselves from samsara, we need to be free of this third type of all-pervasive suffering, which is more subtle.
As we saw, the first Noble Truth is the result of the second one. “And in terms of the result,” he stated, “we have some choice, but we usually do not understand the causes, which relate to what we should leave aside and what we should take up.” Since these are more difficult to deal with, this second Truth of the Origin of suffering is important.” “What is the actual cause of suffering?” he asked. Karma and afflictions. Since karma is too vast a subject, the Karmapa focused on the afflictions of ignorance, excessive desire, hatred, pride, and jealousy, and described the root of the afflictions as the ignorance that takes things to be concrete and real. This reification functions as the basis for all the other afflictions; for example, thinking that the object of our hatred is truly existent.
“We project, or superimpose, a reality onto an object that it does not have and our clinging to this can be quite strong,” he noted. For example, in a crowd of people, there is someone named Tashi. Another person calls out this name and says negative things about him, and a person named Tashi thinks he is being attacked and gets angry. But the name is just a label, which we understand to be the case, and still take to be true or real. The usage of the word “true” here is not the opposite of “false” but a clinging to something as if it were real.
If we understood the real situation, the Karmapa remarked, we could see that the “I” to which we cling is not real nor is the object of this “I.” First we cling to a self, understood to be independent and self-existent, and then to the other, which automatically arises since self and other are established in dependence on each other. “There is nothing in this world that does not exist through relying on something else,” he stated. We do not need philosophy, however, to understand this; we can look at our lives and see how our food, clothing, and so forth, all depend on others. The Karmapa summarized, “We need to reverse this clinging to things as real and find true freedom and a spacious mind.
Questions and answers followed.
One questioner asked how to become free of additions like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol even when we know they are harmful. The Karmapa replied that it is not easy to face the afflictions; however, we should look for the solution inside ourselves as Buddhism primarily teaches how to tame our mindstream. We could devote our whole lives to this process and only be partially successful because our habits are rigid and ancient. The afflictions are difficult to identify; difficult to see as faults; and difficult to see as something we should oppose. It is difficult to develop the courage to work against them, and difficult to make the decision to do so. Therefore, we have to deal with them step by step: first identifying them, then understanding how harmful they are, and so forth.
The next question asked “What prayers should we say before we eat?” and the Karmapa expanded it to talk about our attitude toward food in general. “We should see food as medicine,” he explained, “taking it in the proper amount and at certain times.” Food is the main way we sustain our body, so like medicine we need to take it properly. In Buddhism we make an offering of the food we eat and this is especially important for the ordained Sangha because what they eat is offered by faithful disciples and should not go to waste. When we eat it with care and mindfulness, it becomes meaningful. At the beginning of the meal, we make an offering to the three jewels, and at the end we dedicate the merit. In this way, eating food becomes an important practice. With this advice, the morning session came to an end.
Dissolving the “Other” in Emptiness: The 17th Karmapa
Speaking in Geneva on May 22nd, 2016, the 17th Karmapa called for the embrace of science and spirituality. “Today it is important that we find a harmonious relationship between science and religion, one in which there is mutual understanding and support, so that the two can balance each other,” he told the gathering.
“The scientific way turns outward to look at the exterior world, whereas the spiritual path turns inward to look at the interior world of the mind. Science can give us information about the outer world but with this alone, it is difficult to find one’s true nature and to discover the meaning of this life.”
Speaking in Geneva last month, the Karmapa was asked about impermanence. He replied that most people think of impermanence as something negative and would rather not think about it. However, if we reflect for a moment, he said, we can see that it gives us new opportunities. Everything that is born must die, and this process of each instant arising and disappearing, continually affords us new opportunities. The situation of the morning is not the situation of the evening, and this gives us another chance. Thinking about change in a positive way like this can inspire us, he said.
If we accept birth, the Karmapa remarked, then we must also accept death as a natural process. He suggested working with impermanence by imagining that one day is a whole life; we are born in the morning and die in the evening. In this way, the allowance of transience becomes easier, he said.
Buddhism and science are increasingly converging. The synergy becomes poignant in quantum physics, where it has been claimed that no atom can be said to have a fundamental, independent existence as separate from the whole. Quantum physics suggests that our fundamental reality is not formed around a one-body-system, but a two-body-system or an assembly of bodies that surrounds the central or ‘naked’ body. Perception of the co-dependent nature of form as a transient and impermanent flow of cause and effect is fundamental to Buddhism. Freedom in form and compassion arises, when it is possible to reside in emptiness, that invisible, ‘pluripotent’ center-point out of which attachment and entanglement can be released.
Earth has become “other.”
Bridging science and spirituality, the Karmapa himself published an article in the scientific journal Conservation Biology in 2011, drawing parallels between the Buddhist notion of interdependence and the precepts of sustainability. In this, the planet begins to resemble the ecosystem of the individual, and when the individual ecosystem believes itself to be inherently separate from the whole, it suffers.
“Because it is impermanent and intangible, the self is empty of any inherent self-nature. And, because this is so, our happiness, our sadness, our successes, and our failures are also empty by nature. This does not mean that we are nothing, but that we are constantly moving, absorbing, and shedding. Consequently, we need not experience great attachment to our experiences and can develop equanimity regarding all phenomena. To experience this freedom from the conviction of a self and the self-importance it creates means that we can dispense with the artificial distinction between self and other and can be part of all phenomena everywhere,” explains the Karmapa in the article.
“How does this relate to the environment? According to Buddhism, ignorance of the empty nature of self and the rejection of compassion is the root cause of egotism, anger, attachment, and greed. Ignorance is why human beings have degraded the environment and are driving so many species to extinction. Ignorance causes us to place an excessive worth upon the self and anything related to it; my family, my possessions, my country, and even my race. Perceiving the diversity of the world through the limited lens of self means we can impose grave harm upon Earth without concern, because Earth has become “other.”
On tour across Europe, the Karmapa is emphasizing the innate nature of compassion, while stressing that it also needs to be cultivated and supported by the environment and education. The development of a compassionate motivation while involved in scientific pursuits, will create a better future for everyone, he said.
The Karmapa lineage is the most ancient tulku lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, predating the Dalai Lama lineage by more than two centuries. The lineage is an important one as the Karmapa is traditionally the head of the Karma Kagyu school.
It is not existent — even the Victorious Ones do not see it. It is not nonexistent — it is the basis of all samsara and nirvana.
The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje.
Gyalwang Karmapa began the afternoon session with a short recap. He explained that the first two truths concern afflicted states, in terms of suffering and its origin. He then began an exploration of the third Noble Truth, that of the cessation of suffering.
He reminded everyone that there are two aspects to the truth of the origin of suffering— karma and the afflictions—and that the basis of all our afflictions is clinging to what we perceive as reality. “So we need to examine whether what we cling to as being true, as being real, is actually real or not” he explained. This is difficult because we are working from “the perspective of clinging to reality itself.” This way of thinking lacks the capacity to examine whether its objects actually exist in the way it thinks they do. For that reason, in order to examine whether what we perceive as reality is actually the way things are, we need to use another way of thinking. Then, after careful analysis, we will realise that ultimately phenomena do not exist in the way we have been perceiving them. Once we have realised this, we can understand that the way we cling to phenomena as being real is not the actual nature of how they are. Consequently, we will be able to “develop the great confidence that we can liberate ourselves from such fixation on reality and the confidence that we can liberate ourselves from the afflictions”.
Because clinging to reality is the root of all the afflictions, once we have overturned our clinging to reality, we are able to see that this clinging to reality is the source of all the afflictions. In addition, when we realise that this view of reality is based on a fiction, then the afflictions which it supports can be naturally overcome and destroyed. As these afflictions are the root of our suffering, by overcoming them we can eliminate our suffering.
When we say “liberation,” primarily what we mean is freeing ourselves from the afflictions by eliminating them. This is called “cessation” because, once we achieve this, suffering ceases. This is the third of the Four Noble Truths. What remains after we have eliminated the afflictions is also known as the “utterly pure aspect of phenomena,” and this is the happiness that we seek to attain.
The fourth Noble Truth, the truth of the path, teaches that it is possible to achieve liberation from suffering and ultimate, lasting happiness. Hence, it is important to practice the truth of the path. Within the truth of the path, there are the different practices of the three paths in the three different vehicles (foundational, mahayana and vajrayana). Primarily, when we speak of practicing the truth of the path, this includes the practices of the 37 factors of enlightenment, which are practiced in stages along the path. For example, at the beginning, on the path of accumulation, we begin with the practices of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Feet of Miracles, and so forth. Each stage of the path has its own particular practices.
The Karmapa warned that before asking ourselves which level or stage of the path we are on, we should begin by asking whether we have even entered the path. The answer depends on which vehicle we ascribe to. In the Hinayana or Foundation Vehicle an individual is said to have entered the path when they have generated an uncontrived desire for liberation. In the Mahayana, however, an individual has not entered the path until they have generated uncontrived bodhichitta within their being.
“In this way, the Four Noble Truths give a complete explanation of how to achieve ultimate happiness, its causes and results,” His Holiness concluded, “and how to liberate ourselves from the suffering we do not want and its causes.”
The session ended once more with questions and answers.
The first question posed the problem of what to do when you feel happy and in control of your life, and find it difficult to see life as suffering. The Karmapa suggested that this was exactly the situation he had described in the morning’s teaching: failing to recognise suffering as suffering. We needed to be very clear about the three different types of suffering; suffering includes not just suffering but pleasant and neutral experiences as well. Things appearing to us as pleasant may still be suffering.
Further, he continued, we should ask ourselves whether we really do exercise control over our lives, because while we are under the power of karma and the afflictions, we do not have control. “If we want to liberate ourselves from the three types of suffering, and from samsara, then we have to liberate ourselves from the pervasive suffering of formation,” he concluded. If we do not want to liberate ourselves, it’s irrelevant.
Two related questions asked how to increase our inner joy and go beyond sadness. His Holiness replied that these were fundamental questions and difficult to answer. However, drawing on his own experience, he suggested that the labels we attach to an experience alter how we see it. By changing our perspective on difficulties we could generate inner happiness. Ultimately, “if we have inner contentment, we will naturally be happy”, he said.
The third question was how to satisfy everybody’s wishes and accomplish the benefit of others when it seemed that helping one person resulted in upsetting others. His Holiness commented that it is extremely difficult to satisfy the wishes of all sentient beings because they have so many diverse capabilities, interests and inclinations. One act or deed would not be able to achieve this.
The work of the bodhisattvas is to bring sentient beings what they want, and bodhisattvas do as much as they can. However, some things can be accomplished but others cannot. Because they have such extraordinary and vast bodhichitta and great courage, when they encounter things that are difficult to accomplish, bodhisattvas make the aspiration to be able to accomplish them in future. Many people asked the Karmapa for help, he said, and sometimes he was able to help, but not always. “I begin to understand why Chenrezik has four arms or a thousand arms,” His Holiness commented, referring to the huge thangka of thousand-armed Chenrezig hanging to the right of his throne. “Each arm represents something he can do to benefit others, and the thousand arms are so he can multi-task”. It is the capability we need in order to be able to satisfy the wishes of all sentient beings.
It is important to first see whether or not we can accomplish their wish, the Karmapa advised, and if we are not able to do so, we should make the sincere aspiration to be able to do so in the future.
There were several questions about the pervasive suffering of formation, asking for examples. His Holiness quoted from the Buddhist scriptures: “When you have a hair in your palm you can barely feel it; when it gets in your eye, it is extremely painful.” For ordinary beings, the pervasive suffering of formation is like a hair in the palm of the hand, but for the noble ones it is like a hair that gets in the eye.
There was then a question about the best way to help refugees during the current problem in Europe. The Karmapa referred first to the great European tradition of accepting refugees ever since the Second World War. However, he agreed, now it was particularly difficult because of the great numbers; there had been no time to prepare and make plans, and there were cultural differences, so the future was uncertain. Many of these refugees had come because of the civil wars and conflicts in the Middle East, for which Western countries share some of the responsibility, he observed. The real need, therefore, was to find a way to resolve those conflicts, otherwise refugees would continue to arrive.
His Holiness was then asked to clarify the meaning of renunciation. He explained it as the expression of compassion for one’s self. Using the analogy of the two sides of the same coin, he explained that when we have developed the uncontrived wish to free ourselves from karma and the afflictions, we have developed renunciation. When we have the wish to free other sentient beings, we have developed compassion.
Responding to a question on collective suffering, the Karmapa pointed out that in Buddhist literature there were many examples of this during the time of the Buddha. Many people made the mistake of viewing karma in a very limited way such as connections between individuals. On the contrary, the workings of karma are vast and extend across space and time. “We have been making these connections with sentient beings from beginning less time…across the entire universe,” the Karmapa elaborated, and given this huge inter connecting karmic web, it is imperative that we take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
The afternoon session finally concluded, and His Holiness left the stage. The audience reluctantly drifted from the hall to cafés, restaurants, or their hotel rooms, and the security staff prepared for the next event. Outside, in the grey afternoon, lines of Tibetans were waiting to come into the conference hall for a special audience organised for Tibetans living in France. The Gyalwang Karmapa’s work for the day was not yet finished.
Set in front of the throne this morning is a wide sofa chair covered with brocade. The Karmapa entered the hall from the left side and took his place on the chair, which gave a closer, more intimate connection to the audience that fills the hall wall to wall. The question and answer period went so long yesterday, he commented, there was no time for instruction on meditation, so he proposed beginning with meditation today.
On his last tour in the US, the Karmapa related that he had visited the Google and Facebook campuses, each of which have a room set aside for meditation, a sign that interest in meditation is increasing. He was concerned, however, that meditation might go the way of yoga, losing its traditional context and value, and turning into one more thing to market.
There are many ways to meditate, he began, and they can be condensed into calm abiding (shamatha) and insight (vipashyana), or in other words, resting and analytic meditations. There are many kinds of meditation and many different ways of explaining them, depending on different traditions and lamas. For example, in the vajrayana, some types of insight meditation are resting meditations. But usually, insight is correlated with analytical meditation and calm abiding with resting meditation.
“Calm abiding and insight meditations are related as cause and effect,” the Karmapa stated. “Calm abiding must come first. If not, then insight meditation will be difficult, so I will introduce you to calm abiding first. It means bringing all of our mental energy to focus on one reference point, while simultaneously our mind becomes relaxed.”
The usual way of practicing calm abiding is to go to a solitary place devoid of distractions and noise—even a dog’s bark is said to be detrimental—and spend five to six months in meditation. In our contemporary world, he commented, it is difficult for this to happen, as distractions are everywhere so it is a challenge for us to practice calm abiding, for our mind should not be drawn outside by objects, but collected or turned inward. With the constant presence of smart phones and Internet access everywhere, this is difficult.
“What we call meditation,” the Karmapa explained, “actually means that whatever is happening, whatever situation we might meet, our minds remain settled within themselves; in a simple, unfabricated way they just rest there. If we can do this, then there is no need for us to do meditation as a separate activity.”
He then told a story about someone who came to meet the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje and said he did not want to meditate. Is there a teaching for this? Rangjung Dorje replied, “Yes, but if I told it to you, you would check and try to meditate on it. And with that you would turn it into a fabricated practice, imposing something extra. So even if I gave you this teaching of no meditation, it would not benefit you.”
The Karmapa summarized: “When we practice calm abiding, we relax, do not let our minds wander outside, and rest in awareness no matter what is happening.” However, since we are so used to mental constructs and thinking about things, this kind of practice is difficult for us.
How do we practice meditation that needs no meditation? To illustrate the practice with the example of an affliction being liberated as it arises, the Karmapa selected one of the afflictions, anger. When it is on the verge of arising, just as it is emerging, we look into it, for once an affliction is fully present, it is difficult to work with. To do this practice, we need experience; without it, the thought of anger seems to be simultaneous with its arising fully in our mind. However, if we practice and come to know the situation, we can see that there is a sequence—first this happens and then that.
The Karmapa counseled, “When a thought arises, we look at it and simply rest with it. We are not looking for anything special. As soon as the thought arises, we rest our awareness there. This is all we need to do.” We do not analyze, thinking, “What is this concept? Where did it come from? Where did it go?” It is not that kind of meditation here. In sum, we merely need to open up our wisdom eye and look nakedly, just noticing (or paying bare attention to) how the thought is arising. “There is no need to analyze, make an effort, or think. We are simply looking,” he said.
“When we look like this,” the Karmapa noted, “the anger weakens. The usual, powerful dynamic of anger’s arising will lose some of its compulsive force.” He gave the example of a child who is telling a lie. If we look clearly into their eyes, they will naturally become embarrassed and back down. Similarly, since the afflictions are fictitious, having no real underpinning or basis, they will shrink just like the child telling a fib, when we look into them. With this vivid example, the Karmapa ended his discussion of meditation and turned to the topic for the morning, compassion and happiness.
He began by quoting from the Way of the Bodhisattva, composed by the famous Indian pandita, Shantideva: All the suffering in this world comes from wanting happiness for ourselves; all the happiness in this world comes from wanting happiness for others.
The core of the issue, he explained, is that we want happiness in this world for ourselves because we take our self to be real in the sense of being autonomous and self-generating. We think we are independent, not needing to rely on anything or anyone else. Further, the Karmapa said, on the basis of taking a self to be real, we hold it dear and think it quite special. This unfortunate grasping to things as solid and real is extended from ourselves out to other objects, so we think, “My family, my friends, my things, my body, my house, ad infinitum.” Grasping onto the reality of a self seeps into everything.
The Karmapa added, “In general, however, we do need to care for ourselves; it is not a fault but actually a necessity. The danger is that we do this while taking the self to be real and independent. This way of thinking makes problems and could bring about our ruin.” He followed this with an example: taking the self to be real is like a prison with iron walls. “When we are incarcerated in the prison of the self,” he explained,” we cannot make connections with many other people, for only our parents and close friends are allowed in. The doors do not open to others.”
As a consequence of being stuck in the prison of the self, when our loved ones must go to the hospital, we are unable to help them. On a larger scale, he continued, while in this jail we are at a distance from all others, from all the living beings who have been our parents. Thinking about this can be quite dispiriting. So what we need to do, the Karmapa advised, is to take the hammer of a powerful compassion and break down the prison walls.
The Karmapa then turned to the subject of the Buddhist teaching on no self. “If we take the term literally,” he said,” we could think that it means there is no self at all. And people challenge this idea saying ‘If there is no self, then how can you talk about karma, cause and effect?’” But the Buddhism understanding of no self does not mean that the self is a blank or a void. Rather, the negation applies to the self that we think exists as independent and self-existent, as some kind of solid entity. This is the self that does not exist.
“The actual self is like a vast and endless web,” he elaborated, “that connects all possible phenomena. So we have to expand the way we think the self exists so that it can pervade the whole, immense universe and make untold numbers of connections.” “Self and other arise in dependence upon one another and,” he continued, “if we can make our relationships with others based on this understanding, then all living beings will be connected through a vast innernet” (playing off the word Internet). We can connect with everyone and everything through compassion, he said.
If we consider how things really are, then we will come to see that there is no difference between others and ourselves. We are a part of them and they are a part of us, and consequently, their happiness and suffering is ours and visa versa. It also follows that we must be concerned about and take responsibility for others. Most of the clothes we wear, for example, are not made here in Europe but elsewhere; however, we do not know names of the people who made them nor would we recognize them. Yet they have helped us by fashioning our clothes, and do so while receiving low wages and living close to poverty. Their difficulties have created something beneficial for us and so we must take responsibility for them.
Knowing that we depend on each other, we know that we must care for each other. If we do not care for others, then one day when we ourselves need assistance, it will be difficult to find. When we seek happiness, it should not be just for ourselves alone. The self that wishes only for its own happiness is mistaken; actually, from the point of view of how things truly are, that solitary self does not even exist. The central point here is that happiness in this world actually comes from wishing for others’ happiness. Therefore we should do all we can to develop our love and compassion. He concluded by saying that for him with all the difficulties he has known, what gives him real happiness is being able to help others.
A short session of question and answers followed.
Do all sentient beings have a connection with the Karmapa? He replied that one could view the incarnations of the Karmapas in two ways: that he is one individual taking rebirth many times or seventeen different people. In general all living beings have a connection with the Karmapa but there is a difference in being close or distant, which comes not from the side of the Karmapa but is based on the individual’s feeling.
How do we maintain awareness at the time of death? The Karmapa responded that we should train now. If we do not learn to focus our awareness now, it will be difficult to do when death comes. To school ourselves, we can think of one day as a whole life: in the morning we are born from the womb and we die when we go to sleep at night. If we learn to think like this, it will be helpful.
When your Holiness teaches in the West do you use the same terms or adapt the teachings for the audience? There is a slight difference, he said. When speaking to Tibetans, I do not need a translator, and when teaching others, he joked, I do not use a lot of quotes because they give translators a hard time. But actually there is not much difference.
Bringing to a close a day of travel outside Zurich, the Karmapa returned to visit the headquarters of ROKPA, which means “help” or “assistance” in Tibetan. Its purpose is to aid people in remote areas of the world, where it participates in more than 100 projects to provide food, health care, and education. Founded by Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche, Lea Wyler, and Dr. Veit Wyler in 1980, ROKPA has offices in seventeen countries, from Asia through Europe to Africa, while much of its work takes place in the Tibetan areas of China and Nepal.
On this sunny afternoon, the Karmapa climbed the stairs into the elegant building on Boeklinstrasse and was escorted to the main office with its broad antique desk. As he was invited to take a seat there, he joked, “Uh-Oh, now I’m the director.” Lea Wyler, the long-term CEO, laughed and offered him an introduction to ROKPA, saying that their commitment to continue serving would never wane.
The Karmapa spoke in English, saying that he was glad to be able to visit and he was sad that Akong Rinpoche was no longer with us, but his activities were still going on and have benefitted many people. “My aspiration and wish is that ROKPA’s activity continue,” the Karmapa said. “We should work harder than before and support each other. We can benefit and give hope to lots of people. They need support not just materially but spiritually as well. Thank you.”
"On March 16th was Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche's parinirvana anniversary. Our Benchen Monastery, Swoyambhu, and the shedra in Parphing had a nice Tara puja, offered lots of butter lamps, and recited prayers. I am quite sure all of you did the same thing.
The Benchen Monastery administrators are in Thrangu Rinpoche's monastery in Saranath, Benares (Varanasi), right now. This is due to a large three-day Tseringma drubchen that His Holiness Karmapa is holding for the benefit of Kyabje Tenga Rinopoche's reincarnation so that everything will be going well.
Monks and nuns of Thrangu Rinpoche's monastery and the Benchen monastery will join His Holiness. Every morning beginning on March 21st will be a Karma Pakshi tsok offering. The drubchen will be held in the afternoons. The last day will be March 23rd. His Holines asked the great Umdze Bai Karma from Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim, to lead the Tseringma Drubchen together with three Benchen Umdzes.
Isn't it that we would all like to express to His Holiness our immense gratitude from the bottom of our hearts? All the sangha members of Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche, students and friends, we feel it is a great honor that His Holiness is arranging such a great puja in Benares".
On Sunday morning, the Karmapa spoke once more of the interconnectedness of all sentient beings and urged everyone to break out of their prison of ego-clinging through developing their compassion. His emphasis on compassion was evident once more in the afternoon, when he concluded his teachings in Paris with the empowerment of Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara, the meditation deity who embodies the compassion of all the buddhas.
At the end of the morning session, the Karmapa explained that this particular empowerment comes from the Nyingma tradition and is found in the Treasury of Precious Terma collected by the First Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye. In the Nyingma tradition, there are three categories of teachings: ka-ma, ter-ma, and dak-nang. This empowerment is a dak-nang, originating from the pure vision of a lama, in this case the mahasiddha Tsultrim Zangpo. Because of shortage of time, His Holiness said, he would give the empowerment as a jenang,establishing an auspicious connection between the recipients and the deity, and giving the deity’s blessing.
Throughout the teachings in the conference hall, a thangka of Thousand-Armed Avalokiteshvara had hung to the right of the Karmapa’s throne behind a pagoda shrine housing a statue of Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara. For the final session, the shrine had been newly decorated with fresh offerings and was concealed by a patterned silk screen. His Holiness would perform the preparatory and concluding rituals behind this screen, while the audience chanted Avalokiteshvara’s six-syllable mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum.
The ceremony began with a recitation of the Short Vajradhara Lineage Prayer, followed by a brief chanting of “Karmapa Khyenno” (Karmapa think of me).
After the Gyalwang Karmapa had completed the first section of the ritual, establishing the environment in which the ritual would take place, he gave a brief explanation.
The audience would receive a jenang empowerment of body, speech and mind of the Four-Armed Lord of the World, Avalokiteshvara. During the empowerment, as these blessings of Avalokiteshvara would be conveyed primarily through recitation of the six-syllable mantra, it was very important for participants to focus their minds on the mantra, he explained.
His Holiness then led everyone through the three separate sections of the empowerment. As part of the mind empowerment, His Holiness instructed the participants to meditate in the way he had described during the morning session, naturally resting their awareness on whatever was arising. For two minutes the audience sat quietly in meditation, and then the Karmapa continued the ritual.
The organisers of the Paris visit and teachings, headed by Lama Gyurme, offered a body speech and mind mandala for the long life of His Holiness, and the ceremony concluded with dedication prayers for the well-being of all sentient beings.
“That completes the empowerment of Avalokiteshvara,” the Karmapa announced, and then shared some final thoughts on what the practice of Avalokiteshvara entails.
In Buddhism, especially in the Mahayana, Chenrezig is the yidam deity or bodhisattva who symbolises compassion. For this reason, the practice of Chenrezig should not be confined to a shrine or meditation room. When you leave the meditation room, wherever you go, you should carry this practice with you at all times. Practicing compassion means that whenever you make a connection with another sentient being, you should never be separated from the thought of compassion or from compassionate action. That is the practice.
His Holiness brought his teachings to a joyful conclusion with a playful discussion of his hopes for the future. This is the third time that he has visited Europe, he said, and he hoped to be able to visit more countries in future. “This is just a beginning,” he promised.
He thanked everyone who had made the visit to France possible, especially Lama Gyurme, the organisers, and the people who had come to the teachings from near and far.
The Karmapa then performed the concluding rituals at the pagoda shrine, before returning to center stage. After everyone had sung the Dewachen Prayer, His Holiness took the microphone from Damien, the French translator. “I wanted to thank you all again,” he announced, “and I have the hope and prayer that I will see you all many times in the future.”
“Merci,” he said audibly, as he returned the microphone to Damien. The audience laughed in delight at his use of French. And so the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa concluded his first highly successful visit to France, and exited the conference hall, accompanied by long and laud applause.
The Tibetan Buddhist leader on climate change, his future leadership role, and Tibetan issues.
The 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorjee during a teaching in Paris to Buddhist followers in Europe. Photo by Saransh Sehgal (June 5, 2016).
The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorjee is the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, “the one who carries out Buddha activity.” He belongs to the most ancient lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, predating the Dalai Lama lineage by more than two centuries. His dramatic escape from Tibet in 1999 into exile in India brought him to reside alongside the Dalai Lama in the de facto capital of the Tibetans in exile. Exiled Tibetans saw him as a hero as his escape, fooling the Chinese government, caught world attention.
Today, the 30-year-old energetic Karmapa, recognized by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, is both a spiritual leader and the young voice of Tibet. He carries a lot of weight with Tibetans in and outside Tibet and many believe he is the future face of global Buddhism, especially after the current Dalai Lama passes away. The lengthy process of choosing the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation means years may pass before the new Dalai Lama is ready to assume leadership and guide Tibetans. This underlines the Karmapa’s importance more than ever, as Tibetans are looking to the Karmapa to take on a key role and lead them home from exile — especially as the Chinese government is seen as waiting to make its move after the current Dalai Lama passes away and further control Tibet when Tibetans are perceived to be directionless.
Over the years, the Indian government has restricted his travels abroad, bowing to pressure from the Chinese government and of their own suspicion for various reasons. This time after receiving the necessary clearances from the relevant Indian authorities, the Karmapa gave Buddhist teachings in new European countries while embarking on his third-ever visit to Europe.
The 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorjee gave a rare and exclusive interview to Saransh Sehgal in Paris, during the last leg of his recent Europe visit and spoke on a range of topics, including his strong interest in preserving the global environment, his future role (especially when the Dalai Lama passes away), and issues related to Tibet. Excerpts from the interview follow; the interview has been edited for length and clarity.As an influential global figure he has been constantly trying to highlight various world issues, especially focusing on the impact of climate change in the Himalayan region and world peace. His efforts are often regarded as a Buddhist response to global warming.
Saransh Sehgal: Your Holiness, it’s the third time you are visiting Europe, how do you feel?
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa: In the past when I visited, I primarily went to one country, which was Germany. Now during this visit to Europe I actually had the chance to visit Switzerland and France, seeing other countries in Europe. So, it feels differently from before. It feels like I have made progress.
During your teachings you focused a lot on world peace and the environment. Now you are in Paris, where the UN Climate Change agreement has taken place recently and so have marches for world peace, especially after the city witnessed deadly terrorist attacks in 2015. As both the issues are close to your heart, what do you have to say?
Generally, speaking about world peace is not special because whenever we teach Dharma this is the main focus. This is the main aim so that sentient beings who live in the world can be happy. So it’s not particularly special to be speaking about world peace as such. But because of the change in the times in the world, we have reached a different critical situation. There are more and more conflicts in the world. There is more information, we have closer connection with each other, but on the other hand, there are still many conflicts in the world which we do not know about. So no matter how much information we get, we haven’t been really able to bring our understanding toward the positive direction, so for that reason we are seeing more and more conflicts.
So definitely, it’s important that we be able to improve and change our minds and especially, it’s important that from now on we develop a real loving connection with each other, whether this be a loving connection between people to people or be loving connection between people and the environment. This is the essence of the Dharma and is very beneficial right now, especially now because we are in an urgent situation.
Considering you as an environmental activist, what is urgently needed for us as humans to take meaningful action?
Well, I don’t really see myself as an activist, but I have a few things to do for the sake of the environment. I think the most important thing is that we need to learn how to control our human desires. But, this is a time, when our culture and our information and all of the media increases our desires and this has a strong effect upon the environment. So, I think for that reason it is very important to control our desires, which is a very basic thing that we need to do.
Climate Change is an increasingly hot topic, as Himalayan glaciers are melting at a very steady rate. The Tibetan plateau, which is often named as the Third Pole, has seen drastic changes with impacts strongly visible across the Indian sub-continent. You even have a Khoryug that mainly focuses on the environmental protection of the Himalayan region. In your view, how can we save further harm?
Since I was born in Tibet, I have a direct and a strong connection with Tibet and in terms of living, Tibetans are part of the Himalayas. That is primarily the reason it important to focus on. So, I think it’s essential for us to do something and that is the reason why I shoulder this responsibility.
Many people around the world understand or know about the glaciers and the ice fields melting in Tibet and the Himalayas, but maybe some of the locals do not necessarily understand why this is happening and so it is very important that local people understand that it’s not an issue that affects [only] their own area, but this also affects Asia and the entire world. So the idea is to introduce this [awareness] to them. For this, I think it’s important that we begin with the local people and start by educating them in order to protect the environment there.
The Tibetans have had a sustainable lifestyle in their region for thousands of years, but now people are turning towards a modern lifestyle and they need to think about the effect this is going to have. They need to understand what it is that makes them have a sustainable lifestyle, what choices can be made. This is something they need to consider.
There’s a lot of blame on the Chinese government on the destruction of environment in the Himalayan region particularly in the Tibetan plateau. What is your view?
For the Chinese part, I think it’s because they had mistaken policies. They have been ignoring the hopes and wishes of the local Tibetan people. It’s their own mistake and what they are doing in following their policies is that they have hurt the Tibetans, in terms of their feelings, and this is something that has disappointed the people in Tibet.
And, generally, there has been a lot of environmental destruction in Tibet. So, if you look at it from one perspective, this is something the Chinese have done; they have caused the problem. And another way of looking at it is, actually, this is happening in every country all over the world in how development happens. So the mistake or the problem actually comes down to the way we presume material development in the present day.
In any case, this is something that has had a strong effect on the Tibetan inhabitants and the external environment in Tibet. And this has brought many difficulties because of the Chinese politics, it’s very difficult to say anything. It’s also related to the issues of Tibet. So, it’s very difficult to raise your hand and speak up. It’s a critical environmental situation and it isn’t that it only affects Tibet but also all of China and other neighboring countries.
The situation causes a lot of effects on neighboring countries, either helping or harming them. So I think, the neighboring countries as well have the right to have a say. They not only have the right to interfere in what’s happening there [in Tibet] but they have an obligation to interfere. So the environmental situation in Tibet is something that is interconnected to Asia and the entire world. All of us need to take interest in this and provide support. I think this is very important.
How do you see your relationship with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama? The world portrays you as the future global face of Buddhism (especially when HH the Dalai Lama passes away); what are your views?
I think the relationship between His Holiness and me is very simple. You can say it’s a teacher-student relationship or you can say a relationship as spiritual friends. Besides that, it’s mainly a Dharmic relationship. Other than that, we do not have any political relations.
But, of course, lot of people including myself have loads of worries when His Holiness passes away on what will happen to the Tibetan community in exile, the Tibetans inside Tibet, and the Tibetan situation. I think, because we Tibetans rely so much on His Holiness till now, that’s why I think once His Holiness is no longer there, we really don’t know what will happen. Maybe we will lose the direction or maybe we don’t know what will happen.
The issue when His Holiness passes away and whether I will have some extra responsibility or extra role to play, I think that is a little bit obvious. Being the Karmapa, I already have heavy responsibilities, which are not easy to handle. Because I am young, I may have more responsibilities in the future but I do not have any special powers as might be attributed.
What are your views on the issue of Tibet-China? Could you ever see yourself engaging in a dialogue with the Chinese government for issues related to Tibet (even in the case of climate change)?
It’s a very complicated question, I think. Of course, I have some wishes [to engage] spiritually. The population of Buddhists in China is increasing and there has been huge material development inside China. But for Chinese people, their mind and heart is very empty. They are hungry for spiritual instructions or spiritual solutions.
Also, in the past, we [the Karmapas] have had a long-term spiritual relationship with the Chinese people, which dates back more than 600 years. But I’m in a very difficult position, as a lot of things are involved; [there were] a lot of suspicions when I arrived in India. It makes it very difficult, even though I have a simple and sincere motivation, but it’s difficult to apply that because if I do something, then maybe people will suspect or misunderstand it. So this is the difficulty I’m facing. But of course, I still have hope and aspiration, which will continue.
Self-immolations by Tibetans inside Tibet and a few in exile have still not come to an end. You have repeatedly made appeals yet no there are signs of it stopping. How do you see this?
Yes, right from the beginning I have appealed several times that Tibetans everywhere need to cherish their lives because Tibetans are in the minority [in China], so that is why each and every individual Tibetan is precious and important for the Tibetan cause. That’s why, I think, they should continue to live; that is the only way.
But I think my appeals or statements either didn’t reach Tibetans inside Tibet that much for various reasons, such as the information gap, or it maybe were not well-received or circulated. But I do think that in the exile community, we can see the world better than Tibetan people inside Tibet, in terms of the situation. We should give recommendations or suggestions [to Tibetans in Tibet].
Given the current situation of Tibet what message do you have for people inside Tibet?
I do not have any special message for them. I am inspired by the Tibetan people inside Tibet, even though they are [living] under very difficult circumstances. They are encouraging and have sincere motivations devoted to the Tibetan cause and their devotion to Tibetan culture and religion is very strong.
I am revered by the Tibetan people in Tibet. So I will also look up to them and be myself as a stronger Tibetan and can do some service to the Tibetan culture and religion.
There are Tibetans inside Tibet waiting to see you, even your own family and parents. Could you foresee a time when you would be able to return to Tibet?
Of course, my parents are getting old and this is my worry as I am eager to see them. Sometimes, I think a lot about it, on how and where I could meet them, but it’s very difficult to say. However, my strong wishes remain. Because they have difficulty to come to visit me in India, there’s almost no hope. Therefore, I need to make some efforts.
The number of newly arrived Tibetans into exile has gone down to a trickle in the past two or three years. Why do you think fewer Tibetans are arriving into exile? What is the reason behind the decreased numbers?
I think there are many reasons. One major reason is that the borders are more restricted and for Tibetans escaping at the Tibetan or Chinese border is more difficult than before. The Chinese have put [in] a lot of machines and technologies and that makes the escape almost impossible.
Or maybe there are some other reasons or issues. I have heard that a lot of Tibetans in the past, coming from Tibet, studied here [in India] but later realized [there was] no point of continuing living further in India. It’s a difficult situation for Tibetan people as lack of ‘defined’ status for the Tibetan people in India and problems in finding jobs even after good education makes prospects for long term settlement in India difficult.
So then lots of people seek refuge in other foreign countries or they go back to Tibet. I think these are some problems in the Tibetan community in India, so there’s not a single reason but lots of different situations.
Saransh Sehgal writes about Tibet and geopolitics in the Himalayan region. He is based in Vienna, Austria.
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje
The 17th Karmapa, born in 1985, is head of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He has emerged as a global spiritual voice especially around issues of ecological compassion. Karmapa means “the one who carries out buddha activity” or “the embodiment of all the activities of the buddhas.” (See kagyuoffice.org.) Last year, Yale awarded him a Chubb Fellowship, which is devoted to encouraging an interest in public service.
Central to my beliefs as a Buddhist is the view that all of us are deeply interconnected. Whether we acknowledge it or not, from the moment we are born we depend on others in order to live. The source of our food and clothing and even the air that we breathe is external to us. From this perspective, there is no difference between rich and poor, high and low, or between religious and cultural traditions. Our well-being is dependent on others.
Even when one takes into account the various differences in practices and philosophy, the main message of all world religions seems to be the same: The source of our happiness lies in helping and giving to others. Though religions may diverge in metaphysics – for example, whether there is a God or not, or whether the law of karma, cause and effect, is accurate or not – their ethics converge. World religions have codes of conduct intended to stop actions that will harm others. They encourage people to act compassionately, to give to those in need, to forgive. Furthermore, they all seem to agree that ultimately happiness cannot be derived from material possessions alone.
Religions exist side by side in most parts of the world. Many people think of old Tibet as exclusively Buddhist, but in Lhasa there was a thriving Tibetan Muslim community, which has successfully re-established itself in Ladakh, and Tibetan Christians lived in the borderlands with China. And India, the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, has been a multicultural society for more than 2,000 years – also home to Zoroastrian refugees from Persia, different Islamic traditions, as well as one of the oldest branches of the Christian church. We have always lived in a world of diversity.
Religions have evolved within specific cultural histories and unique environments. With seven billion people in the world, it would be impossible for everyone to follow the same religion. However, we need to recognize that each religion has a treasury of good qualities to offer that are of great practical help. For instance, in Buddhism, we emphasize the quality of lovingkindness. Christianity emphasizes forgiveness. Islam encourages almsgiving. When we are confident in our own religious path, we have no need to feel threatened by others.
I often draw on a simple analogy to describe how we should relate to differences of religion. When we eat in a restaurant, we don’t expect everyone to eat the same food. If other people prefer different food, we are happy for them to choose the food they enjoy. We don’t get upset because they don’t like the food we like. Religions, likewise, are not in competition with each other but meet different needs and conditions.
When I visited universities in the US, including Yale University, I had many heart-to-heart discussions with members of other faiths. These experiences confirmed my view that connections between people of diverse religious traditions need to develop not on a public level but at an interpersonal level, so that people’s experience of other faiths develop into feelings of empathy and mutual respect. Nowadays, unfortunately, there are many negative actions taking place in the name of religion. In the same way that we may have attachments to our own ethnic group, we may have attachment to our religion; these attachments are based on irrational and unreflective habitual ways of thinking.
It is vital that we present the qualities of the religious path in a proper way. We must raise our voices to echo positive and peaceful messages of the various world religions.
Our 21st-century world is facing many dangers and difficulties: the environmental crisis, war and conflict, large migrations of refugees, and deep social divisions, to name a few. One of the most important things religious traditions can do is to shift people’s attitudes towards empathy and simple living. Scientists are very clear about the damage being done to our environment because of our unsustainable lifestyles, but most people seem indifferent to the implications. If people’s attitudes and motivations are to be positively transformed, religious leaders must show the way.
This means that all of us in the religious traditions have a great responsibility. As spiritual leaders, we need to remind people of the essence of the teachings of our respective traditions, not as mere philosophical concepts but as a practical guide to modern-day living. We have to transcend the borders of our affiliations and harness the potential of all religious traditions. It seems to me to be of the utmost importance that all religious traditions work together to ease the suffering of the world.
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This afternoon The Conference Center of the Marriott Hotel on the famous Left Bank of Paris was filled with thousands of Tibetans of all ages, from an old woman with sweet smile who wore an elegant chupa in brown brocade and her thinning grey hair tied back in a bun, down to the young generation of men wearing jeans under their chupa and their hair in the latest style, part cut very close and other long, looking in this context as if they were half lay and half monk. A group of ten in white shirts and black chupas joined eight young women, who were also dressed in back and white with their hair in long plaits down their backs, as they all welcomed the Karmapa with a Tibetan song.
The leader of the association of Tibetans offered an official welcome to His Holiness, explaining that they sought to improve the position of Tibetans in France and had established a school for Tibetan language while also studying Tibetan culture. He requested the Karmapa to give the transmission of Avalokiteshvara’s six-syllable mantra and the mantra of Guru Rinpoche, and in closing, supplicated him to sustain a nonsectarian approach and live a very long life.
In a resonant voice the Karmapa first gave the reading transmission for a brief practice of Avalokiteshvara and repeated the mantra with the audience, which was followed by a transmission of the Guru Rinpoche mantra. As he has in other talks to Tibetans, the Karmapa emphasized the critical importance of all the Tibetans in the three traditional areas of Tibet coming to think of themselves as one people and developing harmonious relationships with each other. “They should consciously sustain the feeling of being close brothers and sisters,” he counseled, and take the Tibetans in Tibet as their models for courage and dedication.
The Karmapa also spoke in general of the difficult situation of refugees in Europe, and in particular the Tibetans who were a small part of this group. He advised them to meet directly the problems they face while keeping their spirits up and not losing their determination. He sympathized with them, saying that he, too, has faced great difficulties since leaving Tibet but, he said, these problems could be reframed as opportunities to learn. “Most successful people,” the Karmapa remarked, “had to deal with troubles at first, which they faced without losing heart, and this led to a favorable outcome. So Tibetans should not give up. They have the support and concern of HH the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration as well as the good will of many people around the world.”
Returning to a major theme of his talks to Tibetans, the Karmapa underlined once more the importance of sustaining written and spoken Tibetan, which is the very root of the Dharma in Tibet and its culture. He empathized with them saying that when living in a country where the culture, view, and language are different, it is difficult to sustain one’s own traditions. Nevertheless, it is essential that they make an effort to train themselves, especially in the Tibetan language. The Karmapa remarked that based on his experience of studying languages, what we need in the beginning is a feeling for the language, an interest based on a great fondness for it and what it represents.
The Karmapa concluded his talk with a plea for religious tolerance. All the Buddhist traditions in Tibet come from one source, the Buddha, so the differences between them are not great. There is one current of the teachings, within which a few variations may surface, such as the way the bell and dorje are handled; however, it is a huge mistake to inflate these small distinctions into a basis for attachment and hatred, asserting one’s own tradition to be better than another’s.
To illustrate his point, the Karmapa related a cautionary tale. It is said that toward the end of his life, the Buddha had a conversation with Mara who, of course, did not want to see the Buddha’s teachings spread, as he would be out of work. The Buddha said that even though he would not be present, his teachings would persist. And Mara replied that he would make obstacles to destroy them. How? Mara would send his emanation in the guise of a holder of the Dharma to incite discord among Buddhist teachers.
So the reason for the decline of the Buddha’s Dharma would not come from outside, but from within, from disputes between the holders of his teachings. The Karmapa reiterated that the differences between lineages are minor in terms of view, meditation, and action, and urged everyone to keep this in mind. He concluded with thanks to everyone for taking the time and making the effort to come.
The City Hall of Bulach was filled to the brim with Tibetans who have come to receive the Karmapa’s blessings. After he arrived on stage and took his seat, young Tibetan women and men in traditional dress, standing in front of the audience sing a special song for the occasion. Drum, flute, bells, and the dranyen, sometimes called a Tibetan guitar, accompany their voices, while their song has the refrain, “Our place of trust is the Karmapa, the lama in who we can believe.”
His Holiness began with his prayers, which he followed by a transmission of the six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteshvara. He then spoke from his heart to the Tibetans, expressing his sympathy for all the unprecedented difficulties they have gone through. However, we do have, he said, the omniscient HH Dalai Lama who supports all the Tibetan religious traditions and works tirelessly to help the Tibetan people abroad and in India. We should all be deeply grateful to him, the Karmapa stated, and try to fulfill his wishes.
The Karmapa then revisited topics central to his thinking. He spoke of the need for Tibetan unity, for the three traditional areas of Tibet to consider themselves as one people and one country. He also encouraged Tibetans to remember why they had left Tibet and the lack of freedom they had experienced there. They should sometimes bring to mind, he counseled, the Tibetans who remain in Tibet and hold them in their affection. Finally, the Karmapa stressed the importance of learning Tibetan well, since it gives access to their precious heritage of the Dharma and the Tibetan culture.
Towards the end of his remarks, the Karmapa emphasized how important it is for the Tibetans to be in harmony with one another, to be free of bias toward their place of birth and their particular religious tradition. He himself is forgetting that he is from Eastern Tibet, and of course, he thinks about the Kagyu lineage as he has the name of Karmapa, yet he sees all the Tibetan traditions as being the precious teachings of the Buddha. It is critical to keep this in mind, since it is said that the cause for the decline of the Buddha’s teachings is not something exterior, but the internal conflicts among Buddhists themselves. After expressing his wish to return to Switzerland many times, the Karmapa closed his talk in wishing everyone very good health and success in all their endeavors.
In celebration of HH the Gyalwang Karmapa’s 31st birthday, the Karmapa Khyenno Foundation has requested him to give four days of teachings and an empowerment in New Delhi, India, from June 22 to 25. Karmapa Khyenno Foundation was founded in 2008 under the auspices of His Holiness and his Office of Administration, the Tsurphu Labrang. As a non-profit, charitable organization in Hong Kong, the Foundation seeks to support the aspirations of His Holiness for the wellbeing and happiness of this world through making Dharma teachings available and compassionate engagement in social and environmental activities.
With this motivation in mind, Lama Dawa—the chairperson of the Foundation, which coordinated the efforts of 13 Dharma centers in Hong Kong—worked with the Karmapa to set up a series of teachings in harmony with their goals. They decided on the overarching title of the seminar as Compassion in Action, and the four talks would create a path from compassion into activity. The first talk covers perhaps the most basic reflection, not only in Buddhism but other meditative traditions as well—impermanence and death. This brings into high relief what truly matters and urges us to take action before it is too late. The second talk is about love and compassion, the motivation that opens us to others and moves us to act. Thirdly, our decisions should be founded on wisdom and informed by intelligence. How to we do Dharma activity in a smarter way? And for the fourth, how do we develop inwardly while seeking to create social and environmental changes outwardly? In the context of Buddhism, how to we balance our inner and outer work so that they complement and nourish each other?
This program has drawn over 500 people to Delhi, mainly from Hong Kong and also from Southeast Asia. This afternoon, they all gathered in the Regency Ballroom of the Hyatt Hotel, its floor covered in row upon row of deep brown meditation cushions. They faced a stage with a wide sofa, covered in brocade down the middle, indicating the more informal nature of the talks. The backdrop was an evening image of Hong Kong’s brightly lit skyline as viewed from the waters of Victoria Harbor.
Carrying a long red and yellow incense holder, Lama Dawa led the procession accompanying the Karmapa into the hall. Once the Karmapa had taken his seat, he was offered an elegant mandala and the representations of body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities along with a heartfelt request to live a long life for the benefit of the teachings and living beings. The final two offerings were a lustrous, immense conch shell and a brilliant Dharma wheel, recalling the offerings of the gods Indra and Brahma, who supplicated the Buddha to rise from his deep samadhi after enlightenment and teach the Dharma for the first time. During the teaching, the two offerings adorned either side of a table set in front of the Karmapa.
He began by welcoming everyone and thanking the members of different centers in Hong Kong for creating this opportunity for Dharma teachings in India. He noted that some countries have many Dharma centers but they do not necessarily work together. It was wonderful that for these teachings different centers in Hong Kong cooperated, deepening and improving their relationships as well.
The Karmapa said that he would not be giving teachings based on a text; rather he would speak to the topic of how to bring practice into daily life and how it can help us deal with the problems we face. He lightly remarked that it was easier to teach from a text since he just has to explain what is there, and more difficult to speak based on his own thinking.
The topic for this afternoon was how to face life and death. These are events we all know, he remarked, we see them repeatedly in the news or in our own lives. “We see these instances of death,” he remarked, “but usually we do not think that one day, it will come to us as well. We are not aware of this. And using reasoning will not bring a true understanding. We must look into our own feelings and experience, which will allow us to understand what others are going through as well.”
“It is in the nature of things,” he continued, “that once we are born, we will die. We need to be very clear about this, for once we are familiar with this fact, our fear of death will diminish.” The Karmapa explained, “Especially these days, few people have patience for suffering or problematic situations. Comfort is promoted everywhere so we loose the mental strength and courage to deal with problems.”
Some people say that Buddhism is a religion of suffering because it is discussed so often in the texts, such as the explanations of samsara as suffering and the different types of suffering in the six realms. “Last winter in Bodh Gaya,” the Karmapa commented, “it took several days to explain the section on suffering the Ornament of Precious Liberation, but if I had gone into detail, it would have taken months. Some people might have thought, “We’re practicing the Dharma to find happiness, but there’s only talk about suffering.’”
“These days when someone gets sick,” the Karmapa observed, “they seek out every kind of treatment and also hope to avoid aging, convinced that some method will work. Some in the medical establishment make it seem that there is a solution and on the other side, the patients want to believe it. People are even trying to avoid death.” In the older generations, when someone tried different medical procedures and they did not work, then the person made up their mind that enough had been done and turned to accumulating merit and Dharma practice. So there is quite a difference, he noted, between the two approaches: one keeps trying and spending a lot of money, while the other sees that it would be pointless to pursue more treatment and engages practice for however much time they have left.
The Karmapa suggested a way to develop our patience for suffering. Physically, he said, we could not endure the agony of the hell realms, but we can practice mentally opening up to that suffering so that our ability and courage to endure suffering will grow.
“In brief, when speaking of birth and death,’ he explained, “we can see that birth actually has the nature of death, so we could say that birth equals death. Once we are born, we do not need another cause or condition for dying. Having been born, we will die for sure.” All things are impermanent, he reminded us. Their nature is to change instant by instant.
When we say that all things arise and perish, impermanence is a problem for us if we cling to things. On the other hand, this fact of coming in and going out of existence is part of the very beauty of life, giving it more forms than it had before. The Karmapa illustrated this with the shifts of landscape in the changing seasons, which make our lives interesting and beautiful.
Therefore, he remarked, the fact that all things have the nature of impermanence can be reframed in a positive way: each moment of impermanence also brings with it a new opportunity, a new life, a new feeling, another chance. “Explanations of death and impermanence, “the Karmapa stated, “are not meant to instill fear, but rather to point to a continual opportunity for change.”
“We tend to think of death as a final ending, a single event,” the Karmapa explained, “just like a movie that comes to an end and that’s it. There is no second chance. But this is not the case here. The progression is not linear, beginning at one point and stopping at another. Birth and death go around in a circle.” With each moment come birth and death, or we could see one day as a whole lifetime. In the morning a new life begins, in the evening it passes away, and the next day another life begins. Thinking in this way, we become very familiar with death; it resembles an old friend.
In general, we fear death for many reasons he continued. While we are living, we cannot really know when or how death will come so we fear the unknown. Further, we also fear the suffering that death could bring. The Karmapa recalled that when he was recently at a university in Switzerland, he spoke with medical students about death, and a topic was the best way to die. One student said that to die during sleep would be the best. You would simply not wake up the next morning and there would be no suffering or fear.
However, he explained to them, “In Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism, when dying, we hope to have a clear consciousness that is at ease. This is different from your wish to die unaware. For us the occasion of death is important, because it is a time when the signs of our life of practice are revealed.” Our state of mind at the time of death is crucial, he continued, especially if we have not practiced a lot in this life. How we think while passing away is key, so to die unaware and without mindfulness is considered a negative thing.
We may think that we will die one day, but we do not think it could happen now, the Karmapa said. But actually, we do not know when we will die nor the cause or circumstance of our death. As a result, we do not prepare ourselves, especially these days when people think “everything is possible” including warding off death, which makes it difficult to face the fact of dying.
“Meditating on death and impermanence, however, is not to create fear of death. We all have this fear even animals,” the Karmapa noted. “We meditate on death and impermanence so that we do not waste our time, so that we treasure the life and friends we have, and so that we live a life we will not regret.”
Reprising his main point, the Karmapa stated that at all times, in each moment, a new opportunity presents itself; it is up to us, however, to take advantage of it. The choice is ours. For example, Milarepa killed many people, accumulating tremendous negative karma, but Buddhism does not say, “You did something evil, so you cannot practice the Dharma.” Once you make the commitment to practice, you are a practitioner. Some people might think that because they have done something very negative, they have become an awful person, and since that will not change, they might as well continue their negative ways. But this is not the case: we have a choice, and it is up to us not to lose the opportunity that offers itself.
Meditating on death and impermanence can also lead us to appreciate the beauty of change. When summer comes, we enjoy the fullness of its landscape; when winter comes, we can admire its special beauty.
Some people find it difficult to deal with the death of a loved one. However, if they had clearly faced their own death beforehand, they would experience the passing of someone close to them in a different way. In another example, we often pray, “May I not be separated from the perfect guru,” and in spiritual terms the glorious or root lama is like our father, so his passing away would bring great suffering. But as we have seen, death is not an ending. So if we can take to mind a good understanding of death, when it does occur to others, we will experience their passing in a different way.
The Karmapa closed the teachings with repeated praise for the Hong Kong Dharma centers and their work together. He said that the centers belong to the Sangha, and this word means “to be in harmony” or “to have harmonious aspirations,” such that these relationships are indestructible like a diamond, impossible to break or shatter. This is important. It is also critical that the holders of the teachings are in harmony with each other. The Karmapa told the story of how Mara, a negative spirit, said he would take the guise of a Dharma teacher and sow discord so that the Buddha’s teachings would disappear.
To counteract this, the Karmapa counseled, “We should genuinely praise each other. This does not mean flattering someone by saying they have realization or qualities they do not possess, but giving authentic praise, based on what is real. We should see our faults and others’ qualities. Through praising and respecting each other, the teachings will last a long time.”
On this positive note, the Karmapa concluded his first teaching, which was webcast live to over 3,500 devices, each of which could also be connected to a mobile phone, iPad or TV screen in a Dharma Center. In another form of outreach, near the Regency Ballroom entrance, the Tsurphu Bookstore from Sidhbari, HP, made available books, DVDs, and images, either by or related to the Karmapa.
June 23, 2016 – New Delhi. In the second of his four talks, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa explored what Buddhists mean by the terms love and compassion and how they can be enacted in daily life.
He began with two warnings. Most scientists these days maintain that everyone has the capacity for empathy and they describe compassion as hard-wired into human beings. However, it seems that caring for others is something we can turn on and off, so that our empathy decreases and our compassion becomes latent rather than manifest.
Secondly, the development of our potential for compassion depends heavily on our environment. Using language acquisition as an analogy, His Holiness spoke of children abandoned in the jungle: though they have the innate human capacity to develop language, without exposure to a language, they never learn to speak. Similarly, the home environment is crucial in the development of a child’s capacity to love and care for others. Frequently hearing the word love leaves a powerful imprint on the child.
His Holiness went on to explain that whereas the term love may refer to many different forms of love, such as the love of parents for their children, the love between friends, or the love one has for one’s teacher, in contrast, the term compassion in the Buddhist context usually refers specifically to great compassion, the impartial wish that all sentient beings be free of suffering.
For many people, the everyday experience of love is accompanied by pain and suffering, His Holiness reflected. How then can the quality of our love be transformed? The answer lies in the difference between worldly love, which is possessive, and binds people with fixation and attachment, and the love taught in Dharma, which frees you from fixation and attachment.
“Love is a huge topic for study and practice,” he said. “We can gradually increase our level and deepen our capacity for love within ourselves.” Love cannot exist in isolation, he emphasised, and it has to be expressed within a social context, for it only exists in our mutual connections with others. Consequently, if people are not prepared to study or change, it is very difficult for them to develop love and goodness.
In order to develop this latter type of love, we must diminish our fixations, he advised. In the Vajrayana tradition, the metaphor used for relative bodhicitta, which is the actual bodhicitta, is the full moon. Our limited love, on the other hand, is characterised by a crescent moon, because we have only partially developed the potential of the love we possess. It is biased and limited, restricted to family and friends. Meditating on bodhicitta as a full moon serves as an inspiration for us to develop impartial love completely.
The root of these two types of love is also different. The Buddhist view of love and compassion is based on the common ground shared by all sentient beings. Others are just like us, they experience pleasure and pain, they want to avoid suffering and be happy, and this is the fundamental reason which motivates us to develop love and compassion. When we know how to practice correctly, no one is excluded from our love and compassion. Though there may be people we feel particularly close to, such as our parents or teachers, our love and compassion will also include those we perceive to be our enemies. Ultimately, we need to practice equanimity for all sentient beings, while recognising that special karmic connections exist too, and that these two aspects are not exclusive. Shakyamuni Buddha had a special connection with his wife Yasodhara, which extended over many lifetimes. We pray that we will never be separated from our guru. In the same way, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara maintained his special relationship with his teacher, Buddha Amitabha, who is the lord of his Buddha family.
“It’s important for us to train our minds and practice love,” His Holiness emphasised. ”Putting it into practice is very difficult… For as long as we have friends and enemies, we will naturally feel great attachment to some and hatred towards others. The more we feel protective of our friends, the more we automatically feel hatred towards our enemies.” The Karmapa continued, “It is especially difficult to feel love if we haven’t trained. If we train our minds and are able to practice loving kindness, it will turn out well. If not, that love tinged with attachment will lead to suffering.”
Returning to the theme of compassion, His Holiness made it clear that compassion goes beyond feeling sympathy or affection for others. When a person has compassion, there is no sense of separation from the object of that compassion, but rather a direct experience of the problems and suffering of that other sentient being. “In comparison with love, compassion takes much more courage, is more involved, more active and direct,” the Karmapa explained.
As the power of our compassion increases to the point that there is no difference between self and other, we are able to experience the sufferings of others physically as well as mentally. In Tibetan history, there were many stories of bodhisattvas and people who had trained in tong-len (the practice of exchanging self with others) and who were able to do this. Particularly famous were the Kadampa masters. In one story a renowned Kadampa master was teaching when someone in the vicinity threw a stone at a dog. When the stone hit the dog, the master flinched and clutched his side, and was forced to take a break from the teaching. Later it was revealed that the master’s side had actually been bruised but the dog had not been hurt at all.
Thus, we should always bear in mind the true power and nature of compassion. Finally, the Karmapa cautioned against complacency. There is always the danger that we will fool ourselves into believing that we are Buddhist practitioners when we are not.
The difference between the Foundational Vehicle and the Mahayana is not a question of lesser or greater value between the two, he explained, but rather a question of our own capacity to practice the Dharma, and how much responsibility we are able to assume. If we are unable to carry all the responsibility of the Mahayana, we should practice the Foundational Vehicle. And even that is too difficult for many people.
Dharma practice is not about external appearances but about what is happening in our minds. Referring to a popular Chinese text, the Diamond Cutter Sutra, His Holiness pointed out that though this is classified as a Mahayana sutra, whether it becomes a Mahayana practice or not will depend on the state of mind of the individual.
“Whether we are Hinayana, Mahayana or even Buddhist, depends on the state of our mind when we practice and not on the texts we use,” he commented. ”We need to continually correct and revise our minds and examine ourselves.”
With these final words of advice, His Holiness concluded his teaching for the morning.
Continuing a thought from this morning’s teaching on love and compassion, the Karmapa noted that all people are born with the innate capacity to love. In a few minutes children can make friends with someone they do not know. As people age, however, they learn more, become more one-sided, have greater attachment to those close and hatred toward those farther away, and their innate, loving thoughts toward others decline. This morning’s topic, he notes, complements this afternoon’s topic of wisdom; it is often said that compassion and wisdom are two parts of a whole. The aspect of wisdom, however, is more difficult and deeper than the aspect of compassion.
When we are making wise choices between virtue and non-virtue or what has faults and what does not, the point of view we hold is important since it forms the basis for how we choose. Of the many different viewpoints, no self (or selflessness) and emptiness are the basic or foundational ones. These two can explain anything we think about, whether it be the individual, actions, or things. “No self” has two aspects—the no self of a person and the no self of a phenomenon—and could actually be included within emptiness; the two come down to the same fundamental point.
When people hear an explanation of no self (dak mepa in Tibetan), they think it means that there is no “I” (nga me pa in Tibetan). But we need to understand the deep or inner meaning, not just the word. The Karmapa explained that self or person is an imputed object, just a label, or one could say that it has only a nominal existence. If in fact we would look for this self, we could not find it, and that is why the self is said to be merely imputed.
Another way of thinking about the self, the Karmapa explained, is in terms of two types: an instinctive or innate (lhen kye) self and an imaginary (kun tak) or superimposed (tro tak pa) self, which is learned through study or absorbed from the social environment. It could be said, however, that the self does not exist in the way we think it does. The Karmapa elaborated, “We assume there is an independent self and an independent other, both of which are in control and autonomous; however, in terms of the way things are, neither one exists.”
Actually the self is interdependent or interconnected; it exists in a relationship of mutual dependence, in which everything relies on everything else. We could take our body as an example. For its existence, it depends on our parents and on the various substances of its make up; it relies on food, clothing, and air that come from outside. So in reality, the self is a part of others; there is no separate, independent self to be found.
The Karmapa then turned to the question of what is really beneficial in working with with this question of a self. Whether the self exists or not, or whether this universe has an end or not are big questions, but they do not help us much to live our lives. This question of the self’s existence should be explained in terms of whether it has a positive or negative effect on our lives. No self should not be a philosophical question that absorbs us, but rather a perspective or value in our lives.
For example, the Buddha sometimes debated about vast philosophical questions with scholars of logic from other religious traditions. One time he was asked, “Does the Universe have an end?” and he replied with another question. Suppose, he said, you went into a dark forest where hunters roamed with poisoned arrows. Mistaking you for an animal, they shot a poisoned arrow deep inside you. Would you spend your time thinking, what direction did this come from? East? West? Would you think about what the arrow is made of? Of course not. You would try to save yourself and do something practical like removing the arrow.
The big question about no self is like this—a philosophical question that would be discussed for hundreds of years—and these long exchanges would just give us headaches. The Karmapa stated, “The real question is: Will the attitude of no self benefit us in this lifetime? If it doesn’t bring about change in this life, it is not helpful just like trying to figure out where the poisoned arrow came from.”
“No self does not mean that the self is completely nonexistent or that it is nothing at all,” the Karmapa clarified. “Not knowing this, however, we think of self as small and limited. This prevents us from knowing the big or greater self that is connected to the whole universe; it experiences everything as interrelated and relying one on another. This greater self is not independent but interdependent. And it is not just a viewpoint or some philosophical position, but it has value because it can transform us.”
If we look at how things are in the world these days, he continued, we can see that through the Internet and information technology, we are all becoming closer—countries, Dharma centers, and individuals. This relatedness is clearer, more obvious than before so we can see that others’ suffering and happiness is a part of us, and our suffering and happiness is a part of others.
This way of seeing is important to understand, the Karmapa remarked, because for our intelligence to increase, we need a fundamental point of view that is unmistaken. If it is correct, then our prajna will gradually increase. These days many people are studying Buddhism, but if their basic viewpoint is not right, in the end they become rather strange, as if their heart were corrupted.
The Karmapa then turned to the subject of the relationship between teacher and disciple. Many people come to see him because he carries the name Karmapa, he said. If he did not have this name, they would probably never meet. Some people think that he has extraordinary intelligence and they request a special teaching that would eliminate all their problems, which, of course, is not possible.
Another attitude that is not quite right, he said, is that people could believe in a lama or become involved in Dharma because it has become the latest fashion. Their connection is an emotional one, which is not completely negative, however, meditation practice is to bring peace and stability to our minds so that they can rest in their nature. We do not need not emotional ups and downs in our lives, but rather a steady conviction, so that we can make the time we have in this life meaningful.
The Karmapa stated, “As for myself, I do not have the thought that I am a superior person and am going to help others. I am an ordinary person but I still do all that I can.” He has the wish to help other people and dispel their suffering and tries to bring together all his abilities and see what he could do that would be beneficial. This is often simply suggesting a way that someone could come to protect or care for themselves. This is what is meant by the blessings of the name Karmapa. He explained,
Actually, the Karmapa counseled, we need to have confidence in ourselves and find our ability to take care of ourselves. The blessing of the name Karmapa, he said, sometimes can sometimes bring benefit, but it mainly comes through our taking care of ourselves, so we need to be self-reliant. If we place our hopes outside of ourselves, in someone else or something else, it will be difficult for us to practice Dharma.
For the intention or mind of the lama and the disciple to become ultimately the same, he advised, a disciple places their hopes in the lama and also brings forth hope in themselves. One day, the two will become the same and gradually the thought or intention of the lama and that of the disciple will become the same. But it will be difficult for this to happen if we have no hope in our own efforts, stop doing anything ourselves, and placing all our hopes on someone else.
If the lama remains separate as the lama and the disciple remains separate as the second-rate, inferior disciple the relationship will not work. We need to discover the same kind of confidence and belief in ourselves that we have in the lama. One prayer states, “May I achieve their level,” where “their” refers to the lama. To do that, we need the impetus of hope and belief in ourselves.
Since everyone is mutually related, we carry responsibility for our personal way of thinking and acting. Buddhist practitioners, for example, do not immediately start eating but make an offering of the food. This might include rice, which was planted by someone else, perhaps far away so that the one who labored and the one who consumed the results of that labor might never meet. Reflecting on this, we feel gratitude to them and enjoy the meal in that state of mind. This is not just following a custom and repeating some verses, but considering the actual situation and carrying responsibility. We do not necessarily have to say a prayer.
The clothes we wear reflect a similar situation. They are made in a distant factory by low-salaried workers in regrettable conditions. Their hard work brings us happiness, so we have a relationship with them and an ensuing responsibility. We should consider whatever we do in the light of how it affects others. Will it benefit or harm them? In this way we can study and reflect on karma with its patterns of cause and effect. With this summarizing statement, the Karmapa closed his discussion of making wise choices.
The Karmapa shifted to a new topic and said that the Hong Kong Dharma centers collaborating on this event reminded him of the Sixteenth’s Karmapa’s profound connection with Hong Kong and with Ven. Kok Kong. After the Karmapa’s visits, many Dharma centers were started in Hong Kong. And today it is an historic occasion that so many centers could come together and everyone could make this Dharma connection.
The lineage of the Karmapas has had a connection with China for hundreds of years, he recalled, and in the future it will become deeper and have a wide impact. The Second Karmapa Karma Pakshi had a pure vision of Manjushri with 1,000 arms and each hand holding an alms bowl. The yidam deity of wisdom spoke to Karmapa Pakshi saying, “In the future your activity will spread all the way to the Eastern Ocean,” which indicates that it would cover all the areas of China. Karma Pakshi also made the aspiration that this would happen. Later, the terton Chokgyur Lingpa in his predictions about the lineage of the Karmapa foretold that the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Karmapas would engage in extensive Dharma activity in China.
Through these teachings and events organized here by the Hong Kong centers, the Karmapa noted, we could actually meet and make an auspicious Dharma connection. In the future, he made the aspiration that the activities of the Buddhas would spread throughout the earth and especially to Hong Kong.
In the twenty-first century, the issue of the environment presents the greatest difficulty we face. If we do not deal with it well, it will become an immense problem for the next generation. Scientists have done a lot of research and gathered extensive data but this alone is not enough to change people’s minds. The information is stored in our brains but does not reach our hearts or minds to alter them. Knowledge alone is not enough: we must allow it to change the way we think.
The situation with smoking is similar. Everyone knows that it is dangerous to their health, and cigarette packages even have warnings printed on them, but that is not enough to break the habit of smoking. Having put a warning on the package, the cigarette companies do not feel responsible to do anything further. Their interest lies in promoting their own business, not in protecting people’s health.
To bring about change in the way we relate to the environment, it is important that scientists and religious leaders connect and work together; the scientists can provide the information and spiritual leaders can give advice for our hearts. This collaboration between the scientific and spiritual will support and augment the activity of environmental activists.
The Karmapa related that from the time he was born until he was seven, he grew up in a natural environment where modern development was unknown and a traditional life style was followed. People lived in harmony with their surroundings and had a natural respect for them. This way of living made a lasting impression on his mind.
For some years now, the Karmapa has been talking about the environment and encouraging people to be aware of the situation, but he said that he has not done all he wished to. These days many people live in cities far away from the natural world. The Karmapa mentioned that when he was in the United States, he learned that in books the words dealing with the natural world are decreasing. Researchers have discovered that when city dwellers go to the parks—the natural, though man-made environment available to them—it benefits their mental state and gives them a sense of ease. Nevertheless, in print, it is the words related to technology and machines that are increasing.
“As we have seen,” the Karmapa remarked, “to bring about change, information is not enough; we have to transform our motivation, what it is that really moves us. Since there is a relationship between the environment and the way we live our lives, until we change our motivation, it will be difficult to change our attitude toward the environment.”
The main point is that we need to restrain our wanting and increase our contentment. Of these two, being content is more important. When we talk of decreasing our wants, the question arises, how do we measure the extent to which we decrease them? What does the “few” of having few wants really mean? Further this does not mean that we have no wants at all? So there is also some difficulty with the wording.
In our modern world, consumerism has become the new religion in which we place our faith. Consequently, we see no difference between what we need and what we want. We actually need very little, but we want everything. Scientists have explained that we could have three or four planets and this would still not be enough to satisfy our desires. This creates a very difficult situation since our wants have no limit, but the natural resources do have limits and cannot possibly fulfill all of our desires. Therefore, we have to become more content with what we have.
The Karmapa explained, “In our daily life, whatever we do has a direct effect on the environment and we should consider this in a practical way. Being an activist, going to demonstrations, or several days of a conference by themselves will not really help the situation. Instead of this, we need to deal with the issue in our daily lives.”
Giving up eating meat and being a vegetarian is one of the best things we can do for the environment. The Karmapa said that he had only spoken about this officially one time and that was at the Kagyu Monlam. He had intended to talk about it on the first day, but was a bit reluctant to be telling people what to do, so it did not happen until the last day when a Tibetan animal rights group also asked him to talk about being vegetarian. He spoke about it perhaps more strongly than he had intended but then if one is going to talk about something, one should do it with conviction, otherwise it is not really worth saying.
If we are going to give up meat, we have to connect this decision with who we are, he said. In the Karmapa’s case, he is Buddhist and Kagyu, and then a link also has to be made to an individual’s way of living. In his talk he also mentioned that giving up meat would help his life force and vitality.
Previously in Tibet, it was difficult to be vegetarian as there were few places where vegetables could grow and people relied on dairy products. Nevertheless, some Tibetans gave up meat, and among the Kagyu, the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, was vegetarian and even said, “If you eat meat, you are not a Kagyu.” When this citation spread beyond the Monlam, it somehow was attributed to the Karmapa, so it made for a very strong statement coming from him.
Even though his favorite food is meat, the Karmapa wanted to do something meaningful and so he became vegetarian, something that has given him great satisfaction. But he does not force people around him to follow his decision, for each person has to make the choice for themselves. In a restaurant he will even order meat for them. If we do eat meat, however, we should think about the animals and also the effect on the environment. Sometimes, he sympathized, it is difficult if you are the only vegetarian in the family and special food has to be prepared for you. Or if you have to cook meat for others, which can make us uncomfortable. He reiterated that we need to think about this and make our own decision. If we are concerned about the environment, not eating meat is one decision we can make.
The Sessions of Questions and Answers
The first question asked about blessings. What are they?
The Karmapa replied that from one perspective, people think of blessings as something secret that we cannot see, but actually there is a simple way to understand them. We could think of a little child in the lap of its mother or being near someone whom they know loves them. That feeling of being secure and happy is like a blessing. Even though there is nothing we can see, due to the power, charisma, or the love of that person, the child’s experience is transformed.
Sometimes when I’m on the way to visit a lama, my mind might feel a bit tight or not peaceful, but when I leave and go home my mind feels more calm and joyful. That is what blessings are like. Someone else’s powerful, caring presence can change our experience. Blessings do not refer to being struck by some powerful energy, as some people describe it these days.
The second question was about Buddhist Dharma becoming commercialized. What does the Karmapa think about this?
The Karmapa replied that it is not just Buddhism that is becoming more commercialized but everything—politics thinks about the bottom line, hospitals look to make money from their treatments, and so forth. Since Buddhism is embedded in this world, naturally it will be influenced by it. It is also true, he said, that not all Buddhists are wealthy, so sometimes they have no choice. When we think about Buddhism and business, we have to consider the overall situation as well. One cannot say right off that this is good or bad. What is important is not to lose the essential Buddhist principles and to hold these more important than any business you might be doing.
“What I’m more concerned about,” the Karmapa stated, “is that Buddhist meditation, especially abroad, is being taught outside the context of faith and devotion to the Dharma. People just think in terms of how they can benefit themselves by creating happy states of mind.” Meditation, he cautioned, is becoming a product for the market or a subject of research projects. This resembles what happened to yoga, which in ancient India was not just physical exercise, but profound mind training. For Buddhists, it is key that we do not lose the essential principles of Buddhism.
The following query asked about donating our organs after dying.
The Karmapa responded, “This question relates to the Vajrayana. Whether to give or not depends on our bodhicitta, our resolve to donate for the benefit of others. If this is strong and in place before we pass away, then I do not see a problem. The bodhisattva Great Being gave his body to the tigress when he was still alive without any thought for the state of his prana, nadi, and bindu.” It really depends on our altruistic resolve to donate our organs.
The next question dealt with divination and astrology. Can a divination change your karmic destiny?
The Karmapa replied that sometimes he has done divinations, for example when he was leaving Tibet. Performing divinations is a special Tibetan tradition. They can be helpful when people are stuck and cannot decide on something. At the Kagyu Monlam, we had numerous meetings about whether or not to give donations during the pujas or not. We simply could not make up our minds. So I was asked to do a divination, and however it turned out would be accepted. In modern western management, there’s nothing like this, so issues have to be dealt and talked about with until there is a final decision.
Whether a divination will change our karmic destiny or not is difficult to say. What really has to change is our character. If we can transform this, then our karmic destiny will be altered. Changing our character does not mean modifying how we look or behave or talk; it involves a basic shift in our way of thinking and being. Once a person changes like this, it is possible for our karma to shift as well.
Divinations are related to specific individuals and situations, so whether it is suitable to make divinations or not is a very difficult question to answer. In Buddhism the teachings on karma are complex and subtle, and it is not at all easy to predict what will happen in the future. It resembles the difficulty in forecasting the weather, given all the changes due to global warning, or the problems in predicting earthquakes.
After this, there was a question from parents who asked about difficulties they were having in relation to their homosexual child.
The Karmapa replied that he had spoken about this several times. Many religions, and probably Buddhism as well, prohibit homosexuality. However, to say it simply, whether people are of the same sex or not, what really matters is the actual love they have for each other. If people meet and their hearts are moved, and if they live together with love and affection, there is no problem. In Buddhism we encourage people to be loving and affectionate toward each other, so if hearts and minds are attuned, living together is fine.
However, it can be the case that on an individual level, people get together mainly on the basis of lust and attachment—a relationship will not last long because these feelings are unstable, ready to change at any moment. More deeply, in Buddhism generally, we are seeking to give up lust and attachment, so relations that foster these feelings would be opposed. In sum, on one side there are religions that oppose homosexuality, which is also problematic in Buddhism; on the other hand, if there is love and affection, I think it is fine.
The final question was: How do we prepare for death while we are still alive?
The Karmapa responded that there are many ways, and one of the most effective is to imagine that one day is an entire lifetime. In the morning when we wake, we are born from our mother’s womb and in the evening when we lie down to sleep, it is on our deathbed. Another meditation on death is to think about what the situation around us will be when we die. What will happen to our body? What will the situation be? In working with this, there are even people who get into a coffin and spend the night with the lid closed.
Every day we meet birth and death, which always come together, just like the rising and setting of the sun. If we can meet death on a daily basis, it will become familiar to us, and the more familiar it is, the less fear we will have. That is a benefit stemming from meditation on death and the impermanent nature of our existence.
Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje began a 4-day teaching to around 500 Hong Kong based Chinese Buddhists at Hotel Hyatt Regency, New Delhi on June 22, 2016. The first day teaching was on "Life & Death" followed by other teachings on "Love & Compassion", "Making Choices With Wisdom", and "108 Green Solutions in Our Daily Life". Karmapa will also confer "Thousand-Armed Avalokiteshvara" initiation on the last day of the teaching on June 25, 2016. The teaching program was organized jointly by 13 Karma Kagyu Dharma Centers from Hong Kong led by the Karmapa Khyenno Foundation (KKF) in Hong Kong.
The focal point of the spacious hall has become the tall, radiant thangka of a brilliant white Avalokitsehvara with 1000 arms and 1000 eyes. Right beneath it is the Karmapa’s throne and to stage right, wood screens have been placed in front of the altar where the Karmapa would perform his preparations for this empowerment. In the middle of a procession, he entered the hall from the back door, walking down the long main aisle as monks led the way with incense. While disciples chanted Om Mani Padme Hung and Karma Khyenno, the sound of Karmapa’s bell rang through their voices from behind the screens.
After he finished and took his seat on the throne, a mandala was offered. Soon the Karmapa paused during the ceremony to explain the vows to come. There are two ways to go for refuge, he said. Taking refuge alone is to foster our faith, but when we speak of the vow of refuge, that involves a commitment to be kept and precepts to follow, so we have to prepare ourselves for it. The way we go for refuge is to think of the Buddha as the teacher, the Dharma as the path, and the Sangha as our companions along this path. His Holiness then gave the refuge vow and read from his text, explaining that refuge and bodhicitta are given before an empowerment to purify our mindstreams.
He continued, “There are three initiations to bless our body, speech, and mind. The initiation of the body facilitates visualizing the deity; that of speech, the recitation of the six-syllable mantra and the longer dharani; and that of the mind, receiving into our minds the blessings of the emblems of Avalokiteshvara, such as the white lotus.”
After the Karmapa had bestowed this initiation, the offerings of thanksgiving were made by most everyone present. He remarked that in order for people’s minds to feel comfortable and satisfied, he would personally give the blessing of the empowerment to everyone, so he descended from the throne, and ringing the bell with his left hand, he blessed everyone with an image of Avalokiteshvara in his right—one that had been on the shrine from the time of the preparation. While the Karmapa passed along the long rows, the sound of his bell locating him in space, everyone chanted the six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteshvara.
Once back on the throne, His Holiness finished the empowerment and gave three reading transmissions. Then the time of offerings from everyone began, first to the Karmapa and, once he had walked back down the central aisle and left the hall, everyone stood in a long line to make offerings to the ordained Sangha of monks and nuns, drawing the ceremony to a close with their kindness and generosity.