December 31, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya

The tremendous efforts undertaken by organizers seeking to fulfill His Holiness’ vast vision for this year’s monlam came to their fullest fruition today, as the 27th Kagyu Monlam drew to a joyful close. From early morning until the deep chill of the night, thousands of disciples who had gathered from all corners of the planet spent the final day of 2009 in the presence of His Holiness. During the first session of the day, students were able to receive Mahayana sojong vows directly from His Holiness, who began by reminding students of the great purpose of taking such vows.
The day included many special events, including two sessions devoted to Guru Puja (lama chöpa) practice using the exquisite text that His Holiness himself compiled. In his customarily inclusive fashion, Gyalwang Karmapa drew on guru puja texts from multiple traditions in his preparation of this new Offering to the Gurus text, published by KTD Publications. During the Guru Puja practice, His Holiness paused to confer bodhisattva vows, following an extended generation of Bodhichitta section included in the text itself.
In a special address to the gathering, His Holiness reiterated his commitment to working for the environment. He noted that like the stage of a theater, this planet can serve as the site for whatever dramas we wish to produce on it, good or bad. However, if the stage is destroyed there can be no performances of any sort.
Gyalwang Karmapa further announced that Kagyu Monasteries this year would be undergoing education in health and hygiene. The program of raising awareness of health and hygiene is not aimed solely at monks and nuns, but is envisioned as a means of improving the level of health in Tibetan society overall. Echoing his earlier comments on the need for Dharma practitioners to take an active role in working for society, His Holiness said monasteries should serve as examples to society, and should acting as leaders in effecting positive changes. This program in health education was one instance where change could be made.
His Holiness concluded the address by expressing his wishes that the New Year be a year of peace, free of prejudice and racism. He offered his prayers for the long life and activities of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for the new Ganden Tripa (formal head of the Gelug order) to have no obstacles for his plans, and for the reinvigoration of the Jonang tradition that once flourished in Tibet but is now in peril.
In a ceremonial expression of gratitude to the kind sponsors whose generosity made these eight days possible, Gyalwang Karmapa evoked Milarepa’s words, that yogi and benefactor go together to enlightenment. During the final session of the afternoon, His Holiness lent his voice in chanting Milarepa’s own aspiration sing to his disciples:
You have been very kind to me.
I have been very kind to you.
May we, master and disciples, equally kind,
Meet in the realm of Abhirati.
In the evening, supremely kind master and disciples met one last time by the bodhi tree for the last session of the day, Marme Monlam the song offering and Lamp Prayer. During this final event of this eight-day festival of prayers, blessings, teachings and the inspiration of aspiring in one voice to enlightenment for all beings, chants were offered in Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Korean and Vietnamese, and rousing choral performances in Chinese and English.
His Holiness lit a flame that was then passed, person to person, until everyone present held a softly glowing light to offer the buddhas—as if this entire international community of practitioners were transferring to others the love and blessings radiating from His Holiness, each giving to the next without losing anything themselves in the process. With this most appropriate act, the vast assembly was bathed in the gentle candlelight, the Lamp Prayer was sung and the 27th Kagyu Monlam drew to its beautiful close.
As the crowd dispersed into the shadowy Bodhgaya night, the long process of carrying His Holiness’ blessings and the transformative beauty of his teachings out into the world and into the New Year had begun.

2009.12.31 第二十七屆噶舉大祈願法會第八天 27th Kagyu Monlam: Day 8

27th Kagyu Monlam: Day Eight
Kagyu Monlam Comes to a Rousing Conclusion


December 30, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya

By inviting and embracing attendees from all over the world, providing translation into nine languages and sending out a live webcast viewed by people all over the globe, and by generating aspirations that encompass other worlds as well, the Kagyu Monlam has truly expanded to fill all space. On its seventh day, the scope of the Kagyu Monlam also stretched to fill time, with activities to protect the environment as well as to honor the Kagyur, or the canon of Buddha’s teachings. As such, the day’s focus spanned from 2,500 ago in India when the Buddha first taught, to a distant future that monlam participants actively seek to create, so that our heirs to this planet may still find it a viable and welcoming home.
As part of the morning’s focus on the Kagyur itself, Gyalwang Karmapa and the other Kagyu lineages holders led a solemn and stately procession of bhikshus and bhikshunis (gelongs and gelongmas) to carry the 108 volumes of the canonical collection on a circumambulation around the stupa. The procession path was lined with the reverential public, white scarves and flowers in their hands, and deep faith in their hearts, as the members of the sangha moved past with great dignity as each respectfully bore a single volume of the Buddha’s teachings on their shoulder.
The next session was devoted to a reading of the entire Kagyur by the monks and nuns present. Gyalwang Karmapa prefaced the activity with a talk about the precious Kagyur itself. He first described the history of the translation of Buddha’s teachings in Tibet and the formation of the Tibetan canon. This collection, he noted, is the single source for all the Buddhist traditions in Tibet. All the Dharma we need is contained within it, including personal instructions. It is excellent to prostrate and show reverence to it, but actually it is something to be read and put into practice. If it is read carefully, it can help us develop our devotion and gain clarity and certainty. With great joy, the reading then commenced.
The air of the stupa grounds then filled with the magnificent sound of the Dharma, as the many tens of thousands of page of the collection were distributed among the sangha and read aloud simultaneously.
At the end of this session, His Holiness swiftly proceeded from the reading of the Kagyur out to the Gaya Airport shortly after eleven o’clock. Inside the airport VIP lounge he was received by various Indian dignitaries including the ADM Uday Kumar and the Airport Controller Mr Prabhu Dev.
Under the auspices of the 27th International Kagyu Monlam, Rangjung Khoryug Sungkyob Tsokpa, the environmental organization for Kagyu monasteries and centers established by His Holiness, has begun a small reforestation project on scrubland within the grounds of Gaya Airport, with the blessing of the State Government of Bihar.
On Tuesday fifty monk and nun volunteers from Khoryug came out to the airport to clean the grounds as a gesture of friendship, and to prepare the holes for the saplings. During today’s inauguration ceremony, His Holiness was the first to plant one of ten young ashoka trees in a small garden area in front of the terminal entrance. The rest were planted by the ADM, the Airport Controller, Drupon Rinpoche and Lama Karma Choedrak, Chief Executive of the International Kagyu Monlam, and other guests. Tergar Monastery is taking the lead in this project and will have responsibility for nurturing and protecting the saplings.
Commenting on the work of the monks and nuns, Mr Prabhu Dev said how impressed he had been by their active leadership in protecting the holy and sacred sites of Bodhgaya, and he hoped that other members of the community would follow their example.
Because of the aridity of the environment, this is the wrong time of year to plant some species of native trees and a separate area of 15 000 square metres has been set aside for the second stage of the project, planting a greater variety of trees during the rainy season, June and July 2010.
The project has been dedicated as a long-life prayer for His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, and a commemorative stone has been erected bearing his words:
“Protect the Earth. Live simply. Act with compassion. Our future depends on it.”
At the same time, the day also saw a massive undertaking by monlam participants to clean the vast field where His Holiness the Dalai Lama will soon be conferring teaching— the Kalachakra grounds in Bodhgaya.
The effort to render the space spotless for the teachings ahead is only one of several projects to work for the local environment. Earlier, the area surrounding Tergar monastery, including marshland, was restored to a healthy state of cleanliness. A separate day was devoted to cleaning the market square outside the Mahabodhi Temple itself. Each of the 36 Kagyu monasteries and nunneries delegated 5 of their monks or nuns, and many lay volunteers offered their time as well. Volunteers reported that the clean-up brigades worked with great enthusiasm as they filled bag after bag with garbage. These projects were undertaken in partnership with Sacred Earth Trust.
The issue of cleaning the area around Bodhgaya is intimately connected to the overall purpose of the Kagyu Monlam. As His Holiness explained last year during his commentary on the King of Prayers, the Aspiration for Excellent Conduct. This prayer involves three main activities, including purifying.
We are praying for the impure realms to become pure, and in the Kagyu Monlam we have begun working towards the actual purification of the environment of our world. This is our short-term aim, and our long-term goal is to transform this all into a Buddha realm, so these two aims are conducive to purifying the realms.
As monlam attendees have witnessed, the vastness of His Holiness’ vision is matched by an aptitude for finding supremely practical steps to actualize that vision. Under the guidance of this exceptional master, there is little doubt that even the most vast of aims to benefit beings can indeed be achieved.
For many days before this special ceremony people have been giving the names of their close relative and friends, living or deceased, to monks who are sitting at tables in a large tent next to the Mahabodhi Society. The donors are seeking to benefit their loved ones through the ceremony that His Holiness will perform this evening. Akshobya (in Tibetan, Mitrukpa, “The Immovable One”) is considered to have a special ability to help those who have died and are in the intermediate state of the bardo. His Holiness will perform this fire ritual with a small group of fully ordained monks and select attendants; no one else is allowed in the shrine hall. For the ceremony, the names that have been collected will be placed in two boxes, from which His Holiness will select seven or eight to be read aloud. The rest he will bless and offer to the ritual fire.
Before the ceremony begins at eight o’clock at night, the white marble veranda around the shrine room, especially in front of the windows, has been filling up with people who wish to witness the ceremony and send their prayers to all living beings, headed by those they especially care for. There is quite a chill in the evening air and everyone is bundled up for the three hours the ceremony will take.
Inside the temple, elaborate preparations have been made to set out all the offering substances and symbols. The same rectangular alter that was present for the Milarepa feast offering, is now placed in the middle of the hall. In front, facing the main shrine, is a throne for His Holiness, the same height as the alter. The image of Milarepa has been replaced with one of Akshobya in the Chinese style. He is indigo blue with his left hand in the earth touching gesture and his right in the meditation mudra. As if descended from the sky and barely resting on his palm is a shimmering golden vajra.
At eight o’clock, His Holiness enters the shrine hall and first speaks to the assembled monks. Taking his seat in front of the alter, he asked that all but a few central lights be turned off and this gives a soft and warm wash of color to him and the alter. He then performs the self-empowerment and places a white kata around his shoulders. Opening prayers, such as the Seven-Branch Prayer, are recited. The microphone is placed in front of His Holiness; with a slight echo in the almost empty space, his strong, resonant voice fills the hall and flows out to those sitting outside and beyond into the night.
After the fire in the center of the alter is lit, the vajracharya (shrine master) and his assistants bring to His Holiness the various substances to be offered. He also offers ghee from a long-handled spoon. As he reaches forward in rhythm with the chanting, the light from the fire flickers across his face. Occasionally, additional sticks of wood are offered to keep the fire burning well and finally all the substances have been given for the benefit of all.
Then His Holiness descends from his throne and walks out the front door of the shrine to a place next to the reflecting pool where thick branches have been arranged in an open, circular structure about five feet in diameter. It is into the middle of this blessed circle that His Holiness will offer the names. The two boxes are brought outside and placed next to him, and he begins to offer the myriad pieces of paper to the fire. It blazes higher and higher and some of the names float up into the sky as they turn to ashes and fall back down. Surrounding His Holiness and the fire is the crowd of people who had been sitting on the veranda. His Holiness empties one box and then the other. He finishes and returns to the shrine for the closing prayers while many remain around the fire to chant Om mani padme hum and with hearts warmed by the fire, remember their friends and relatives.

2009.12.30 第二十七屆噶舉大祈願法會第七天 27th Kagyu Monlam: Day 7

27th Kagyu Monlam: Day Seven
Stretching into the Deep Past and the Distant Future



December 29, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya

The sixth day of the 27th Kagyu Monlam offered students numerous ways to continue connecting to Milarepa and the Kagyu practice lineage. In the morning, the Gyalwang Karmapa conferred a Milarepa Empowerment to a massive gathering, including to such holders of Milarepa’s illustrious lineage as: His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche, His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Khenchen Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche, His Eminence Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche, Bhayoe Rinpoche, Khenpo Lodoe Dhonyoe, Drupon Dechen Rinpoche and Drikung Gyese Rinpoche.
Also among those fortunate enough to receive such an empowerment, directly from the Gyalwang Karmapa, was the entire troup of actors who will be performing the drama on The Life of Milarepacomposed by His Holiness, to be staged at the conclusion of the Monlam.
Continuing the day’s celebration of Milarepa’s life and practice heritage, in the evening His Holiness led a Milarepa Ganachakra gathering, at Tergar Monastery, for those who had completed the Four Preliminary Practices (ngondros) of the Kagyu tradition.
His Holiness had recounted earlier, in his reading of the biography of Milarepa, that Milarepa had buried several sacred objects for his disciples to unearth after he passed away. Among the inheritance Milarepa left was a piece of cloth that he had worn throughout his meditative awakening. This cloth was blessed so that its qantity would never be exhausted, no matter how many times it was cut up and distributed. His Holiness possesses of a piece from this cloth, and as a gesture of his appreciation for their efforts in their practice, His Holiness offered a piece to each of those in attendance at the ganachakra gathering.
In between the empowerment and ganacakra gathering, His Holiness attended the afternoon session of the Monlam. He the led the aspiration prayers for the flourishing of the Dharma in Tibet, and for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Sakya Trizin and masters of all sects who are maintaining Tibetan Buddhism. His Holiness began the session by commenting on the phrase ten si, used in Tibet to refer to the productive relationship between the Buddhadharma and the sphere of government, or politics. The term si can be taken to refer to politics or to the activities aimed at benefiting society more widely. It can also refer to future lives, and thus future generations, and implies our responsibility to care long-term for our society.
"Some people say that politics and religion should be kept separate and that Dharma practitioners ought to steer clear of politics," His Holiness commented. "However, this is entirely mistaken," he said. He cited the example of Buddha Shakyamuni himself, who began life as a prince and later, after his enlightenment, actively guided and advised numerous kings. Nagarjuna and many other holy beings also addressed kings in their compositions. Gyalwang Karmapa especially hailed His Holiness the Dalai as a consummate example of one who actively applies the Dharma to social needs in a manner that benefits not only Tibetan people but also the entire world. This reflects the fact that the Dharma exists as a means of creating peace and harmony in the world.
If Dharma practitioners remain completely aloof from society, even though it is clear that the Dharma has so much to offer society, then we are failing to allow our Dharma practice to live up to its fullest purpose. Gyalwang Karmapa noted that people in Tibet are undergoing a very difficult period of great instability. If we choose not to seek to act in response to this situation, we cannot call what we are engaged in Dharma or compassion.
"If we had only our own well-being to think of," His Holiness said, "it would be fine to simply remain in mountain hermitages meditating alone. However, this is not the case. Given the extreme sufferings taking place in the world and in Tibet in particular, we cannot afford to sit back and do nothing for society."
However, His Holiness cautioned that there are negative and positive ways to engage in politics. If we engage in politics, or political activism, interacting with our ‘opponents’ in an egocentric manner, this goes against the principles of our Dharma practice. But with what he called ‘positive politics,’ our engagement is completely motivated out of a concern for the well-being of others, and of future generations and future lives as well. This form of ‘politics’ is entirely consistent with Dharma.

2009.12.29 第二十七屆噶舉大祈願法會第六天27th Kagyu Monlam: Day 6

27th Kagyu Monlam: Day Six
Milarepa Empowerment, Ganachakra & talk on "Positive Politics" 



December 28, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya

The recitation of the Twenty-Branch Monlam, that which provides the structure for the prayers recited during the Kagyu Monlam, is a powerful means by which we can deepen our relationship with Buddha Shakyamuni. By reciting these prayers, we prepare a place for Buddha; invite, greet and offer ablution to him; and we praise, make offerings and requests to him. To do these things beneath the Tree, where Buddha himself was enlightened, exponentially intensifies our daily encounters with Buddha.
Today, His Holiness completed a long project which is intented to enhance his disciples’ connection to the great Tibetan master Milarepa. His Holiness has given the oral transmission of the entire life story of Milarepa, page after page, year after year, for three consecutive years. Today that story drew to a close; but in coming days, the Gyalwang Karmapa will further extend the process of deepening students’ engagement with Milarepa by offering a Milarepa empowerment, a Milarepa Ganachakra, and with the live performance of a play depicting Milarepa’s life, that His Holiness composed and directed himself.
Following the reading transmission, His Holiness gave a talk on developing compassion and bodhichitta. "If there is one single thing that unites all the teachings of Buddha, it is compassion," he said.
In describing how we can actively cultivate compassion for others, the Gyalwang Karmapa focused on the sevenfold practice for generating bodhichitta. This practice begins by recognizing that all sentient beings have been our mother, remembering their kindness, and then generating a strong wish to repay that kindness. His Holiness noted that some people have difficult relationships with their parents, a statement exhibiting His Holiness' attentiveness to the diverse needs and experiences of his students, an example of his own great kindness. His Holiness said that people with such difficult relationships may take as their object of contemplation someone whose kindness to them they do recognize and appreciate deeply. Gyalwang Karmapa pointed out that there was once a Kadam Geshe who was raised by his aunt, after his mother died in his infancy. Since he was unable to recall his mother, Kadam Geshe used to reflect that all sentient beings had once been his extremely kind aunt!
In the afternoon, the Gyalwang Karmapa led a session to remove obstacles, featuring requesting prayers to Guru Rinpoche. He prefaced the prayers by telling the biographical story of Guru Rinpoche. His Holiness observed that there are many different presentations of Guru Rinpoche’s life story, including one tradition that places his birth shortly after the Buddha’s parinirvana. However, His Holiness chose to relate the biography as presented by Jetsun Taranatha. As one of the greatest scholars of Indian history in Tibetan history, Taranatha’s knowledge and account of Padmasambhava’s life and activities is exceptional. But also, continuing the theme of aiding disciples to connect with the great masters, Gyalwang Karmapa also noted that he had chosen this biography with the thought that it would make it easier for listeners to connect with Guru Rinpoche.
His Holiness concluded the session by guiding a meditation on compassion.

27th Kagyu Monlam: Day Five
Karmapa completes the Oral Transmission of Milarepa’s Biography

Gyalwang Karmapa concludes his teaching on The Life of Milarepa

December 28, 2009Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgayareport by Jo Gibson, photos taken by Karma Norbu, Pema Orser Dorje

The second session of the Monlam, saw the successful completion of Gyalwang Karmapa’s four year reading transmission of and commentary on The Life of Milarepa.

His Holiness  read the concluding part of Chapter Nine which describes  the miraculous and auspicious signs witnessed during the time between Milarepa’s  death and the conclusion of the funeral rites, a  testimony to his attainment of the supreme liberation, and his having passed intothe crystal clarity of the Dharmakaya.  Milarepa  had completed his activities. Rechung  declares: He caused the teachings of the Buddha to blaze forth like bright sunshine. Furthermore: He will serve sentient beings till the end of samsara throughout cosmic space

In  his commentary on the text,  Gyalwang  Karmapa lauded  Jetsun Milarepa as one of the greatest, yogis of Tibet, an exemplary dharma practitioner whom we should follow. His Holiness then referred to the Milarepa Ganachakra to be offered the following  day, mentioning especially  the pendants participants would receive. Each contained a sacred relic of Milarepa – a small piece of his white robe. Gyalwang Karmapa explained that Rechung had entrusted this precious cloth to Gampopa, and it was said that anyone who had this cloth would be spared rebirth in the lower realms for seven lifetimes. Only those people, ordained or lay, who  had completed the Kagyu ngondro would be allowed to participate because as members of the  practice lineage we had to hold to the root and that meant completing the Kagyu ngondro.

The assembly  then sang  Milarepa’s  Song of the   Six Essential Principles,  Milarepa’s last set of instructions, sung  to Rechung from within the cremation cell,  and one of the miraculous occurrences at the time of  the funeral  rites.

Listen Rechung, dearest to my heart, to this song of My Last Will of Instructions.
In the ocean of three samsaric levels
The illusory body is the great culprit,
Striving toward fulfillment of material aims
With little time to renounce worldly efforts,
Rechung, renounce worldly endeavour.

In the city of the illusory body the illusory mind is the great culprit.
Enslaved by the flesh and blood of the body,
With little time to realise the ultimate reality
O Rechung discern the true nature of mind.

On the border between mind and matter inner consciousness is the great culprit.
Drawn into the realm of conditioned perceptions
With little time to realise the uncreated nature of reality.
O Rechung, capture the fortress of unborn emptiness.

On the border between this world and the next consciousness in the intermediate state
of the Bardo is the great culprit.
Seeking a  body even though deprived of body,
With little time to realise ultimate reality.
O Rechung work your way towards that realisation.

In the deceptive city of the six classes of being
There is a gr4eat accumulation of defilements and evil karma following impulses of desire and hatred.
With little time to perceive the all-encompassing emptiness.
O Rechung abandon desire and hatred.

In the invisible realm of the heavens,
There is a Buddha who skillfully uses falsehoods,
Guiding sentient beings towards relative truth.
Little time hav ethey to realise ultimate truth.
O Rechung abandon concepts.

Lama, yidam and dakinis, three united in one—
Invoke them!
Perfect seeing, contemplation and practice, three united in one―
Mqster them!
This life, the next, and the intermediate―
Unify them!

This is my final instruction and my very last will.
O Rechung there is nothing more to say,
My son, devote yourself to this instruction.

This concluded the section of His Holiness’ teaching on The Life of Milarepa.

Gyalwang Karmapa now began a short teaching on developing compassion and bodhicitta, using the sevenfold training. He started by emphasising that view, meditation and action cannot be separated; all three must be practised to gather.  View and meditation are inner qualities and action is their external manifestation. The afflictions are the basis from which we perform the actions which harm others.  Hence we need to train our minds in bodhicitta, but this  also has to be transformed into compassionate action.

The first step of the seven-fold training is to recognise  that at some point in time all sentient beings have been our mothers, and in this life we do not know what our previous connections to other sentient beings may have been. His Holiness referred to a famous illustration of this:
“Your father was reborn as the fish you are eating. Your mother was reborn as the dog you are beating. Your enemy is the newly-born child in your lap.”

At this point, Gyalwang Karmapa, detoured briefly to explore the Buddhist argument for the existence of previous lives.  If people required evidence, then the fact that some people could clearly remember their previous lives, should cast some doubt on the claims of those who did not believe in rebirth, he argued. Also, from the point of logic, the consciousness of a newly conceived child must be dependent on the existence of a previous moment of consciousness.  His Holiness explained that in today’s scientific, materialistic world, it was important to have  logical arguments and evidence.

The second step  in the sevenfold training is to remember the kindness of our mothers. Gyalwang Karmapa reminded us of how our mothers underwent the difficulties of pregnancy and birth, and once we were born, fed us, clothed us, taught us to walk and talk, and nurtured us “from a size as small as part of a finger in the  womb to the size of a yak!”  Sometimes a mother was even forced to commit non-virtue such as killing or stealing in order to protect and nourish her children.

In short, as infants and young children, we were totally dependent on our mothers. 
 Consequently, we owe our mothers a great debt of gratitude and should wish to repay them, the third step. His Holiness explored this idea further, extending the field of gratitude. Though we only have one mother in this life, because of the interdependent nature of our existence, there are many other people who are like our mothers, working by their millions in fields or factories to produce the things we need to eat, to wear, and to use in our daily lives.
His Holiness reminded everyone of a saying: “A good person given a night’s lodging will be grateful for the rest of their life. A bad person, even though you save their life, will not be grateful.” 

Having gratitude to our mother and all these mother-like sentient beings, and the wish to repay their great kindness, it would be shameful if we felt no compassion for them, if we were to be governed only by a selfish motivation. Unbearable compassion should rise within us when we see the suffering of our mothers. This is the fourth step. The fifth step follows naturally from this, that we should also want the best for them, which is an expression of loving-kindness.

His Holiness reminded everybody of the power of compassion and loving kindness: under the bodhi tree, Lord Buddha had vanquished the Maras with loving-kindness and compassion.
Step six is developing the altruistic intention to alleviate the sufferings of all our mother sentient beings.

Gyalwang Karmapa observed that in meditation we start with the mother of this life, however, if  anyone had difficulties because of their relationship with their mother of this life, they should think instead of  an alternative mother-figure, someone who has shown them kindness and nurtured them. He told the story of a Geshe who was orphaned and  raised by an aunt, so he. would visualise his aunt during the sevenfold meditation.

The final stage is generating bodhichitta, the wish to become enlightened for the  benefit of all sentient beings, which cannot be generated without first developing strong compassion, the type of active compassion that bodhisattvas display when they work  selflessly for kalpas or are prepared to go to the hell realms to help one sentient being.

At this point His Holiness drew attention to the need to protect the environment for the sake of ourselves and all sentient beings, and to consider the hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying in conflict worldwide because of lack of compassion. “We must wear the armour of bodhichitta, ” he proclaimed. “Even though it may seem at times that the world is so full of negative people that there is little point in having a good heart, we are dharma practitioners and we have to take a positive attitude. If we become a positive person, at least that is one less negative person in the world!”

Finally, as the session moved to the dedication prayers, Gyalwang Karmapa reminded everyone of the importance of sealing all we do with the dedication of our merit.

This year’s Monlam theme is gratitude, and His Holiness has especially highlighted the debt of gratitude that  members of the Practice Lineage – the Kagyupa- owe to Milarepa.  In commemoration of the conclusion of the transmission, there will be three more activities related specifically to Milarepa. On Thursday 29th His Holiness will bestow a Milarepa Empowerment, followed in the evening by a Milarepa Ganachakra. Finally, on January 1st in the evening there will be the premiere of Gyalwang Karmapa’s first musical drama, based on the Milarepa’s life.



December 27, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya

As the 27th Kagyu Monlam reaches its half-way mark, thousands of disciples spent the day offering their voices, hearts and minds to generate vast aspirations for the well-being of the world. Along with those who traveled from over 52 countries to attend in person, many more have been able to participate this year from their homes, since this year’s Kagyu Monlam is being webcast live atkagyumonlam.tv with prayers and teachings transmitted in eight languages, including English, French, German, Polish and Russian.
Today Gyalwang Karmapa brought his reading of the life story of Milarepa to the moment of Milarepa’s passing into nirvana. He then gave advice on how to use adverse conditions for spiritual growth. Taking the example of a common situation faced by foreigners attending Monlam in Bodhgaya—physical ailments and sickness—His Holiness indicated several ways to make such problems fruitful for our Dharma practice. For one, we can use sickness to deepen our recognition of the teachings on death and impermanence. We can also reflect that by undergoing that particular form of suffering, we are experiencing the result of negative karma we created in a past life. We can consider that had we not faced it now, that Karma, in all likelihood, would have ripened in a much more painful form in a future life. Contemplating in this manner can even allow us to face painful situations with a sense of joy. As His Holiness noted in an earlier day’s teachings, our suffering is a potent means of deepening our renunciation.
Quoting a verse from Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Verses, His Holiness said that for bodhisattvas, there is not much difference between samsara, with its many problems, and nirvana, which is entirely free of problems. All the difficult situations that arise in samsara have a completely different meaning for those with bodhichitta, since the main aim of bodhisattvas is to work for the welfare of others. His Holiness observed that when some people hear that it took Buddha Shakyamuni three countless great eons to accumulate the merit needed to become enlightened, they feel this is too long to wait. But in fact, whether they have reached enlightenment or not, the principle aim of bodhisattvas is simply to benefit others, and so their orientation before and after enlightenment is the same. Bodhisattvas’ main goal is not to become enlightened; their main goal is to free others from suffering and bring them to happiness.
The third session was devoted to Tara, a female buddha who embodies enlightened action. His Holiness began the session with an explanation of the Praises to Twenty-One Taras, a prayer that he noted crosses all boundaries and is widely practiced in Tibet by members of all schools of Buddhism. Following that, His Holiness granted an audience to all the members of Friends of Kagyu Monlam, personally signing and offering each and every member a copy of the Medicine Buddha practice text in English, Chinese and Tibetan that was prepared especially for this year’s Monlam.

27th Kagyu Monlam: Day Four
How to Use Adverse Conditions for Spiritual Growth

Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching on The Life of Milarepa

December 27, 2009Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgayareport by Michele Martin, photos taken by Karma Lekcho, Karma Norbu, Pema Orser Dorje

Before teaching, His Holiness recited his prayers, and at the end held his palms together in front of his bowed head for a long time. He then continued to read from the Ninth Chapter of Milarepa’s life story, which covers the last deed of Milarepa, his passing into nirvana.

Knowing that he would be dying soon, Milarepa called his disciples to him and taught them for some days.  During this time, many miraculous appearances filled the sky–parasols, banners, and a rain of flowers, all in five clear colors. Some saw the gods and dakinis who had come to listen. He encouraged his students to follow his teachings as closely as they could and sang a song of blessing for those who had given him provisions. The verses included:

        May I meet again in the Buddha’s Pure Land
        All those who saw or heard me,
        Those who remember my story,
        Those who have only heard of it and of my name.
        May those who emulate my life and meditate,
        Those who ask for, narrate, and listen to my story,
        Those who read and venerate it,
        Those who follow my example in their lives,
        May they find me in the Buddha’s Pure Land....

        May the wishes of the devotees
        Be fulfilled in harmony with the Dharma
        May all living beings, even the least of them,
        Be guided by me toward liberation.

Milarepa’s followers had different reactions to learning that he was passing away.  Some did not believe it; many prayed to him to live longer; others wanted to make offerings to lamas, yidams and dakinis to prolong his life; several offered medical treatment.  But Milarepa replied that his time had come and further: “Since my inner consciousness is not a separate entity from all-embracing emptiness, there is not need for any prayers for longevity.”
He continued to give them advice: “Concerning the way of purifying your inner search, reject all that increases self-clinging and inner poison, even if it appears to be good.”  He sang them the Song of Spiritual Gain, of which the third verse reads:

        Without the guidance of a lama who holds a lineage,
        What benefit is there in seeking liberation?
        Without the inner consciousness of the Dharma
        What is the use of memorizing the tantras?
        What is the use of meditating according to instructions
        If you do not renounce worldly aims?
        What good are ceremonies
        Without attuning your body, speech, and mind to the Dharma?

Geshe Tsakpuhwa, who out of jealousy and pride had given Milarepa poison, came for a visit.  He asked crafty questions to Milarepa and finally pushed him to transfer his final illness to the Geshe himself.  When he experienced this tremendous pain, the Geshe felt remorse and begged forgiveness. Milarepa replied with a song, which included:

        May all your sufferings
        Be assumed and transformed by me.
        I have compassion for him who offends
        His master, teacher and parents.

The Geshe gave Milarepa’s disciples all his possession, which were later used to commemorate Milarepa’s death, and then he devoted his life to practice.

The final stanza of Milarepa’s last song summarizes his teachings and the depth of his realization:

        The practice of the secret path is the shortest way.
        Realization of emptiness engenders compassion.
        Compassion abolishes the difference between oneself and others.
        If there is no duality between oneself and others,
        One fulfills the aim of all living beings.

Milarepa then entered a deep state of meditation and passed into nirvana at the age of eighty-four.

Before His Holiness gave his talk on this section, tea and bread were offered to everyone while the names of sponsors were read out. He then said he would like to talk about how Milarepa dedicated the positive results of his practice with the wish to take on all the fears and suffering of every being and be able to purify all their negative actions.

There is a famous aspiration that states: If I am happy, I dedicate this happiness so that all beings may be happy; if I am unhappy, I take on the unhappiness of all beings so that they may be free of suffering.  All of us who are practicing the Dharma are trying to free ourselves from the suffering of samsara and help others to be free of this suffering as well.  Our main aspiration, then, is that whatever we may practice, whether it is one mani mantra or a profound meditation on the nature of the mind, we give up every positive result and dedicate it to all beings.  And we do this fully, not like some of us who let our minds wander around when our voices are chanting.

We all have a precious human life, which is extremely hard to attain, but most of us are wasting it.  When we were young and our faculties were clear and functioning well, we did not practice, and now that we’re close to the end of this life, still we do not seriously dedicate ourselves to transforming our minds. As I said yesterday we should not waste our life when we have met the genuine Dharma and authentic teachers, and also have the opportunity to practice Dharma. If we do not do this, it’s just like being crazy.  We do not know if we will have a human rebirth in our next life, so in this one we should devote our body, speech, and mind to practicing the Dharma.  This is extremely important.

This does not mean, however, that everything will be perfect.  In our lives there are ups and downs; sometimes we are happy and sometimes not; sometimes we are sick and sometimes healthy. It is not the case that practicing Dharma will prevent anything negative from happening to us.  Life has many facets. For those of us practicing the Mahayana, we should have the capacity to be joyful if everything is going well and joyful if it is not. If we are sick, this is a way to cleanse and purify ourselves. If we can understand this, then our mental suffering will diminish. We can learn to see all of our suffering as an ornament and integrate it into our practice.  Suffering can become happiness because it has become meaningful as a part of our path to full awakening.

On the other hand, if we have a truly difficult and hard time, we understand that this is a result of negative karma from this or past lives; we also see that it is possible to have even worse suffering. So we think to ourselves, “This is something I can work on.” Suffering can help us renounce worldly pursuits and spur us to try more intensively to transform ourselves. We can look at suffering in different ways.  For example, it can bring us to understand impermanence and the nature of things more clearly.  The Buddha did not give us suffering: he taught us how to see it and carry it onto the path. For this teaching we should feel truly grateful.

When we cut an onion, we cry. Our practice is a bit like this: we’re engaged in it and suffering will come, but it can be transformed into something different through practice; for example, the suffering can become lighter. Aryadeva taught in The Four Hundred Stanzas that when someone has a very vast and spacious aspiration, even if they have tremendous suffering, it does not have the power to overwhelm them. For bodhisattvas with great aspiration, there is not much difference between samsara and nirvana.  Why is this?  Having understood the nature of samsara, they can be joyful for that is samsara’s deeper nature.

Some bodhisattvas accumulate merit for three countless kalpas; this is not because they failed to finish their job. The main objective of a bodhisattva is to work for the benefit of living beings, and becoming fully awakened is also for their benefit. Helping others is the main goal of a bodhisattva; getting enlightened is not their primary focus.  Therefore, it does not matter if they are enlightened or not; their main purpose is to benefit others so they do not see samsara as a burden, for they can work to benefit others while residing there.

The great bodhisattva Thogme Zangpo, who wrote The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, said that for the sake of one being, I can enter the hell realms like a duck into water.  If entering into enlightenment does not help one being, I would resist it just as someone would flee the hell realms.  It’s clear that for Thogme Zangpo, what counts is benefiting others.

We should think, “If I’m happy, I dedicate this happiness to all beings. If I am unhappy, I take on the suffering of all beings.”  So we give up thinking about what benefits us personally and take on the suffering and negativity of all beings. Some people hesitate to take on the suffering of others, fearing that they might get sick or suffer themselves.  Bodhisattvas do not think like this. On the contrary, they seek to take on the suffering of all beings.

Our main problems are due to our afflictions and negative karma  If these two are cleared away, then suffering is eliminated because these two are its cause.  We can make a strong commitment not to indulge our afflictions and not to engage in negative actions. Going for refuge, reciting the Seven-Branch Prayer and working with The Seven Points of Mind Training are very helpful as well. In this context of mind traning, mind means “bodhicitta” and training means “to train in bodhicitta.” The main point of mind training is to develop bodhicitta so that, for example, we can wish that our enemy is as fortunate as we are.  If we can feel peaceful when people we do not like are successful, that means that our mind is a little trained. Our practice is not just for us or our friends, but for everyone equally, for all living beings—friends, enemies, people we know and do not.

His Holiness then read again Milarepa’s dedication of merit to Geshe Tsakpuhwa, which was quoted above.  He commented that if we have a positive result from some activity, we should dedicate it to all living beings.  If this dedication has a further positive result, then we dedicate that as well to all living beings; continuing in this way, we can make a dedication that becomes limitless. It is said that if a bodhisattva’s activities were to have form, the whole universe could not contain them.

In the last century, we Tibetans did not know much about the world outside Tibet. We knew something about America and a little about Russia, but they were more like fairy tales than a reality to us.  We were told that people would come from Russia and we thought they were rakshas, (a kind of demon, and “Russia” and “raksha” sound similar to Tibetan ears). This was the quite limited extent of our knowledge about the world.  But practitioners always had in mind the wish that as far as space extends and for as long as beings exist, may my loving-kindness and compassion reach all of them.  So in spite of their limited knowledge about other places, they had clear and vast intention that bodhicitta spread throughout all space.
We should take Milarepa’s example to heart and make our dedications for the benefit of all, even those who have given us poison, wishing for them to attain full awakening, too.  This way of dedicating is important training for our mind. 

His Holiness then gave the following meditation instruction. Sit in the correct posture and look into your body, focusing on your heart center.  Then bring to mind all the suffering of living beings, allowing it to be as real as if you were and actual witness. For example, you might have seen a car hit and severely injure a dog.  Bring to mind an experience from your life that has really touched your heart.  Then remember other occasions when you saw suffering.
In the beginning, our compassion is rather small but with time and practice, it becomes stronger; first there’s a glimmer of light and then it brightens, finally extending beyond your body. Then visualize in front your teacher as Chenrezik, radiating luminous waves of white light. The right hand is in the mudra of generosity and the left holds a flower at his heart.  Chenrezik is standing and adorned with jewels and silks. Your white light radiates to Chenrezik and becomes increasingly powerful. Meditate like this for five minutes.

Finally, for this teaching, we should make our dedication as vast as Milarepa did, offering all our virtue form now until enlightenment so that all living beings attain supreme and full awakening.  We say this not just with our mouth, but with our whole being, our body, speech, and mind, while knowing clearly the reasons why we are doing it.

This ended the morning’s teachings on the life of Milarepa.