Teaching Sessions on Lineage Practices I ---【The Four Foundations】
Teaching Sessions on Lineage Practices I ---【The Four Foundations : ordinary preliminaries】
Guru: His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje
Sponsor：Taiwan Hwayue Foundation
Place: Vajra Vidya Institute, Varanasi, India
English Translation: Chen Tsao Shin, Chen Li An
First of all, we are all gathered here at a very auspicious place, a place where our supreme Teacher, Buddha Sakyamuni, gave his first teaching of Dharma- Saranath.
When Buddha turned the First Wheel of Dharma, there were only five people in the audience. But today, we have hundreds of participants here. We can say that the Blessings of the Great Compassionate Buddha has never declined, rather it has been flourished and been spread widely.
Though the doctrine, which propounded by the Buddha, has been prospered since 2500 years ago, Buddhism has drawn attention from and learned by more people in the 21st century. Not only those who already have faith in the Dharma, but also those who have no religious belief, are attracted by the doctrine of non-violence, and the practice of loving-kindness and compassion taught in the scripture, and gradually give rise to confidence and joyfulness toward dharma .
Why are there more and people practice Buddhism today? It is because the teachings of the Buddha do not only aim to benefit His own disciples, but to indiscriminately benefit countless sentient beings as well.
In the East many Buddhist traditions are still well preserved today, especially the Mahayana Buddhism tradition from India and the first place it was spread to is China. This is a very auspicious event in history.
Buddhism was originated in India, but due to the changes of time and conditions, Buddhism now had extinguished in India. Fortunately, branches of Buddhism have prospered in other places, particularly in China, where due to its great permeation of Buddhism there, Buddhism has become an inseparable part of Chinese culture and has truly become a precious jewel of Han land.
There is a saying: "The more Dharma permeates, the more are there obstacles" It means that in countries where the Dharma is more prosperous, demonic obstacles increase even more. It had happened in China, fortunately through the great courage and resolution of lineage forefathers, all obstacles had been removed and the true Dharma lineage has survived.
I had been to China twice, and had visited many monasteries there. Although I didn't have the opportunity to have in-depth discussions with their sangha about views and practices as I merely strode through monasteries to see objects of refuge such as Buddha statues, sutras and stupas, and briefly meeting the sangha, I can still deeply feel the great blessings of the lineage transmitted to my heart. For that I felt much honored.
Perhaps due to the activities in my previous lives, I tend to have a strong connection with the Chinese culture since I was a child in this life. I am very fortunate to have this special affinity. Therefore, I have deep affection and great respect for the Chinese Mahayana Buddhism and the Chinese culture.
Generally speaking we are all disciples of the Buddha, and therefore friends in the Dharma. Once we become the disciples of Buddha Sakyamuni, and if we can maintain the motivation and actions of benefiting oneself and others throughout our lives, it would be a very virtuous practice. I am always reminding myself of this.
However before we know how to benefit ourselves and others, we must first understand and study the views and actions of the Lord Buddha.
Taking your career as an example, you must first have a thorough understanding about the nature of your job and have some confidence in it; otherwise, you can not accomplish much in this career. Similarly, in the study and practices of the Dharma, to achieve some fruition you must truly understand "how to benefit oneself and others", and generate confidence in this. This is very important.
If we believe in the truthfulness of the Dharma, we must first generate faith in the Dharma speaker or the Guiding Teacher.
We often speak about taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. But why can they become the source of our refuge? We must understand this. As there are many reasons behind this, the main reason is the Quality of the Buddha's mind.
Speaking of Quality, people will think of many types of Qualities. What is so special about the Buddha's Quality? Is the quality of the Buddha especially precious and more superior to ours? The answer is definitely "yes". The Buddha has two types of supreme Qualities: Wisdom and Compassion.
First we need to understand the Quality of Wisdom. When we talk about Wisdom, we are talking about the supreme Wisdom of Omniscience- the Wisdom that knows all phenomena. Most of us will then question and doubt about it. How can the Buddha possibly know every thing? Because we are so used to thinking in our mundane habitual pattern that we cannot understand this kind of wisdom. Further more, we are also limited by our habitual tendency of perceiving outer objects and forms in a certain rigid way. This then blocks us from understanding what "the Great Wisdom" is. We can use the analogy of boiling water: the water will start boiling when it reaches a certain temperature; and if you continue to boil it, it will all dry up. So, to mundane beings the Quality of the Great Wisdom is beyond their level of comprehension, and therefore is inconceivable.
Many great Sutra Masters of the past such as Dharmakirti, Dignaga and others understood this problem, and tried to explain that "the Omniscient Wisdom" means that for those who long for liberation, the Lord Buddha can unmistakably know all their needs and the ways to benefit them. This is the Buddha's "Great Wisdom".
The Sutra Masters continued to explain that "If the Omniscient Wisdom merely means knowing how many worms there are in our body and how many types of living beings or the population there is in this world, this kind of intelligence is not worthy to be an object of ultimate refuge".
But I should remind everyone here that the above explanations about the Great Wisdom only are skillful teachings made by the Sutra Masters for those who do not have faith. If you mistake this as "Oh, I see, actually the Buddha doesn't know everything." I will feel very disappointed.
Will this single special quality alone - the Quality of the Great Wisdom make the Buddha our ultimate object of refuge? For example, we have many Tibetan schools in India, and nowadays the students are all very interested in science. To them, Buddha would be like a great scientist, smart and brilliant.
However, the Quality of the Buddha is far more than that- besides the Great Wisdom, Buddha also has the Great Compassion- the great mind of loving kindness. This is a very important point. For instance, a very intelligent person who is not equipped with a kind heart for benefiting or helping others, his intelligence will not be of benefit to anyone. He is not qualified to be a Protector or the Refuge for others.
As disciples of the Buddha, we should therefore know that the Quality of the Buddha is not limited by his Great Wisdom alone, and all the dharma we practice today were taught by the Buddha with the Great Compassion in His mind with intention to benefit beings.
The Buddha first generated the Bodhicitta- the mind of Enlightenment, followed the great Bodhisattva paths for countless eons, and finally attained the perfect Enlightenment. After He attained the Buddhahood, He kept his original Bodhicitta vow, and turned the wheel of Dharma. From then on until the end of his life, the Buddha always retains the mind of the Great Compassion, the one and the only one mind to benefit countless beings. By contemplating on this, we will reach a deeper understanding of the Buddha as a great Teacher with Great Compassion. Further, we will further understand that the teachings of this benevolent teacher not only can improve our wisdom but can also help each of us. Based on this, we then know that the Dharma practices are definitely beneficial to us.
We should have been convinced by now that the Dharma is pure and truthful. However, if we think that “The Dharma is all great, but to practice or not to practice it does not matter”, then this is another mistake. The Dharma has to be practiced and be experienced. Why is it so? Because in this samsaric world we will encounter many difficulties, make many mistakes, and generates many sufferings. These sufferings not only impact us, but also to our families, the society, or even to the whole world. Therefore, Dharma practice is the only way to liberate us from all kinds of problems and sufferings.
Although each sentient being has different degrees of perception, the desire to attain happiness or avoid suffering is the same. For a human being, there is a strong desire to attain a certain kind of happiness or to withdraw from a certain kind of suffering. In comparison, insects might not have as such strong feelings. Nevertheless, all sentient beings are constantly striving for happiness, and continually finding ways to terminate suffering. We all share these experiences.
From the moment we were born, we are constantly thinking of ways to obtain happiness, but no one has yet attained happiness to one’s satisfaction. No one has found perfect happiness in previous generations, neither can anyone in this generation say, "I am satisfied, it is enough," and attain peace of mind.
Especially we are now in the 21st century, which is an era of changes, unpredictable like demons. In the past, aside from natural disasters, man-made sufferings were relatively fewer. However it is a very crucial time now as mankind is constantly creating huge catastrophes, which threaten the whole world. Hence at this time we should seriously try to find the right and altruistic ideal and aspiration.
We have never been satisfied. From the very beginning, we have been asking: is there really a good or a correct way to find happiness? It is very important to seriously ask, contemplate, and search for the answer.
However, if we always try to seek happiness outside, it is very hard to find, and we will not be satisfied. True happiness is in the heart, and is not filled with external things; it is mainly a satisfaction from within. Therefore we should turn to our hearts, looking inwards to examine ourselves.
When we look inwards, we will find that we have a lot of sufferings, a lot of mistakes, and unending dissatisfactions. Where do these problems come from? Actually, they come from afflicted emotions such as jealousy and dissatisfaction. The most serious of these defilements are ignorance and confusion.
Each of us wants a happy result and not a bad one. We know how to choose the right results, but we tend to do the wrong things in planting the seed. Why is it like this? It is because of our ignorance. What are we ignorant of? We do not know that vicious actions will never result in virtuous fruits. In summary, our actions are exactly the opposite and completely incompatible of what we hope for in our hearts. We are totally unaware of this, and therefore continue in our vicious behaviors in a deluded state.
Ignorance is referred to the unsatisfied desires in one’s mind. The Buddha in His great compassion expounded the Dharma especially for the benefit of ignorant and deluded beings.
I do not think the Dharma is a way of thinking or a school of philosophy. The Dharma is a skillful mean that enables us to eliminate our illusions.
In Sanskrit has two meanings: one is “to transform”, the second is “to rescue”, that is, through transformation we are rescued from the pains of suffering. The term “transformation” is an appropriate term. We can apply it to the analogy of sending an innocent child to a school, where he gradually learns how to read and write, becomes more knowledgeable, and eventually can benefit and lead others. This is the power of transformation.
Each one of us has this innate ability and wisdom within us, but we do not know how to use them. However, through the introduction to Dharma practices, this innate ability and wisdom can be clearly revealed and effectively put into practice.
We are born with this special quality and wisdom; they are not something new that grew out of the practice of Dharma. For instance, the Mahayana tradition specially emphasizes on compassion and Bodhicitta. They are all innate within us; Dharma cannot even give us the seeds of compassion or Bodhicitta. If, for instance, the practice of Dharma has no relationship to our minds or our lives, then learning Dharma will be totally meaningless. On the contrary, Dharma is so intrinsically and closely tied to our lives that we must practice seriously.
Although our compassion and Bodhicitta have not yet developed to their fullest potential, but the seeds of compassion or the essence of love, is truly in every one of us, even in animals and insects.
The Dharma practice is to ripen the seeds of love and compassion in us, and it is closely related to us. The Dharma is not about a fascinating story or an assembly of great words. The Dharma is a discipline, which we are able to master. The Dharma is also a kind of knowledge, which we can realize through practice experiences; and the Dharma can bring about immense benefits.
The Dharma is not an empty talk; it is inextricably linked to our daily lives. Just talking about the Dharma will not bring us any benefit.
Some people will doubt the practical application of loving, kindness, and compassion in these times as modern people think nothing except how to benefit oneself at the cost of harming others. For instance, it is like this in the business world, and we might think that there is no room left to accommodate compassion. Actually the situation is somewhat more optimistic, although we might be somewhat selfish at the expense of others, but we must not forget we do possess a kind heart by nature.
An example may help to illustrate this: let’s say a family is gathered together for a meal, affectionate and amiable. This kind of warm gathering never appears in news reports because no one will pay much attention to it. However, if one day a very serious argument arises between a husband and wife, and they end up suing each other in court. Then news like this will get press coverage. This example points out the fact that being in harmony and happiness is our innate nature state, so they are not newsworthy; sufferings and quarrels are what we cannot tolerate.
In these present times, a compassionate heart is absolutely necessary, and this is something we can accomplish. We should give this more serious thought.
In conclusion, I want to stress that without greed, anger and ignorance a person can still live, but without compassion and love one will not be able to survive.
Many Chinese friends anticipated that I can directly speak Chinese in the teaching. I promise I will not let them down, and hope that I can fulfill some of your wishes. However, it’s a bit difficult for me to speak fluent Chinese in these two days though this is my commitment to you. Some of you may wonder when I can fulfill this promise. I can promise you that I will always keep this in my mind.
Today we will enter the sections of the main practices. , and focus on the Practice of the Basic Level.
When we talk about the Four Foundations we should know that they are related to Vajrayana. For instance the Mandala Offering, the Vajrasattva Practices, and the Prostrations are all Vajrayana Practices.
The Mandala Offering belongs to the category of Special Foundations whereas contemplating on the Precious Human Life and on Death and Impermanence etc. belong to the Common Foundations. There are many differences between Common and Special Foundations in terms of terminology and meanings.
Today’s main focus is on the average people’s progressive Foundation Practices, or the method for the people below the average. Through these practices such as contemplating on death and impermanence, our mind can be purified, which is of great importance.
Before we enter into the topic of the Foundations, we should first discuss the meaning of Taking Refuge and receiving the Refuge Vows. We always stress the fact that Taking Refuge is very important, and there are reasons for this. Generally speaking, to determine whether one is a Buddhist or not, the most important criteria is if one has been Taking Refuge or not. Therefore, it is very important for a Buddhist to understand the significance and scope of Taking Refuge. I will divide this topic into Five Aspects:
1. Causes and Conditions of Taking Refuge.
In many of the teachings of the Buddha recorded in the sutras, as well as other texts expounded by later masters, there are two, major Cause and Condition why we take refuge – they are out of Fear, and out of Faith.
(1) Taking Refuge out of Fear.
What are we afraid of? We are mainly afraid of sufferings. Who is being afraid? It is we ourselves. There are three types of sufferings: the suffering of sufferings, the suffering of changes, and the all-pervasive suffering. We are mainly afraid of all-pervasive suffering. Why are we afraid of this type of suffering?
The Suffering of Suffering is something that can be felt by all beings, either Buddhists or non-believers, or even animals and insects. They all want to get away from this type of suffering. Therefore the fear of the suffering of sufferings is not really a true fear.
Similarly, the Suffering of Changes can also be felt by non-Buddhists, who can experience this type of suffering by meditating on Changes and Impermanence. Thus, it is of paramount importance that we understand what the All-Pervasive Suffering is. We must understand that all phenomena created by karma and afflictive emotions are suffering and will result in sufferings. When one fully realizes this, and out of fear one generates the motivation to take refuge, then it becomes a real, beneficial, and powerful refuge commitment.
Being merely afraid of sufferings is not enough. We must have the sincere wish of being free from sufferings. We must also recognize whom we can rely upon to help us to avoid sufferings, and who can save and protect us, and then generate confidence in this person.
(2) Taking Refuge out of Faith.
What is the main question we should think about here? Many people nowadays think that religions are merely superstitious beliefs. Especially in the Chinese language, the word “superstition” is very often used.
A friend of mine came to Dharamsala to visit me. He said, “Having faith based on wisdom and analytical judgment is of course very good; however, if without that to be superstitious may not be bad, though some people may disagree.” He asked my opinion about this view.
In Chinese the prefix for both words, “superstition” and “being lost”, means being confused and disoriented. With that, some people interpret the word superstition as “perceiving something unreal as real” such as ghosts. In short, this kind of blind faith, a faith without any proof and reasoning, is called superstition.
However the faith of taking refuge in the Three Jewels is different from the above mentioned. Some people might give rise to the faith towards the Three Jewels without a reason, though this kind of faith can not be called a superior intellect or wisdom, yet I don’t think it should be called superstitious neither.
Why? It is because the Three Jewels are not something unreal and being fabricated by our delusion. The Three Jewels are absolutely real and authentic, and they are our real and ultimate refuge. Therefore, the benefits that we gain by taking refuge are also real and authentic.
Therefore, it is also good if we can generate faith towards the Three Jewels without any special reason. We should maintain this kind of confidence. Furthermore, we need to cultivate our wisdom and analytical intelligence to thoroughly cut through all our doubts and wrong views. By doing so, the initial blind faith will become the seed toward liberation and omniscience wisdom.
2. Object of Refuge.
The three Jewels, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, are our Objects of Refuge.
Let us first talk about the Buddha. The word “Buddha” in Sanskrit means “Enhancing” and “Developing”.
In Tibetan, we call Buddha “Sang-gye”. “Gye” means “Enhancing” and “Sang” means removing obscurations.
In order to understand what “the Buddha” is, first of all, we need to know the process and methods of becoming a Buddha.
Many religions believe that the Founder of their religion has come into existence since beginningless-time. From the Buddhism’s point of view, the Buddha Sakyamuni was not a Buddha by birth, but rather like us he was born as a normal human being, who aspired to attain enlightenment, and then achieved the Buddhahood through progressive stages of practices.
Just like the Buddha, who went through the stages of the path from an ordinary being to an enlightened being, ordinary people like us can also achieve the same results by following his example.
It is clearly stated in various Sutras that the term “to become enlightened” means to purify mental afflictions and habitual behaviors. If these negativities are a part of our nature, then to remove these would mean to perish ourselves – just like a tiger would be killed if we try to get rid of the stripes on its skin.
However the afflicted emotions are not like this, they are not part of our nature. This point can be well observed from our daily experiences. For example one can lead a life without having any negative emotion, but without love and compassion one can hardly survive. It is like a new-born baby, without being proper cared and loved, who will definitely die. From this kind of direct experiences, we can conclude that afflictive emotions are not part of our basic nature.
We has talked about “eliminating all obscurations and obstructions” yesterday. As I said, we may think that eliminating all obscurations and ‘obtaining all virtuous qualities’ are something inconceivable and impossible to achieve by ordinary people like us. What is the cause of this feeling? It is because we are always searching outwards, and outer objects and forms are limited and therefore we feel it is unachievable. However, if we inspect inwards, then we will realize that the power of the mind is limitless. Since the power of our mind has no limits, therefore, to remove all obscurations and to obtain all virtuous qualities is also achievable.
The view that the power of mind is limitless not only pertains to Buddhism, science and psychology also shares the same point of view.
Next we will continue with the subject of the Dharma. The Dharma embodies two Truths out of the Four Noble Truths that are present in the mind of the enlightened saints. They are the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering and the Truth of the Path. The Truth of the Path refers to the methods that can eliminate attachment and desire; the fruition of which is referred to the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering.
In addition, we should also respect all symbolic representations of the Dharma such as Sutras, Buddhist texts and writings.
The Dharma is very important because although we take refuge in the Buddha, He could not save us from Samsara by pulling us up with His own hands. Buddha would have done this if He could, and the samsara would have been empty a long time ago.
After the Buddha showed us the Way to achieve Liberation, t He then said “goodbye” and left. We have to walk the Path ourselves, and it is completely up to us to become liberated.
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a master, who had many disciples, monasteries and Buddhist institutions, and his Dharma activities were pervasive.
People would come from all around to ask him questions even for trivial matters. The master was quite troubled by this. As time goes on, things got worse. The master was constantly solving people’s problems. Some disciples were worried and asked the master, "Master, you are so busy these days. If your activities continue to prosper, wouldn’t you have more headaches?" The masters replied, "It's still manageable now, not too troublesome. One day if I really become too busy and get tired of it, I will move to the Mount Everest."
Finally he went up to the Mountain, and since the mountain is a holy place with many tourists, they too became his disciples and troubled him with a lot of questions. Then the master thought, "All right, I will move to the moon then!"
So he went to the moon. However more and more foreigners begin to land on the moon, which has made things even worse because not only disciples would trouble him with questions but also a lot of strangers? In the end, he had become internationally renowned.
Finally, he thought of a solution, and told his students, "The real guru is not anywhere outside of you, he is always in your own mind. So, if you have any questions, ask your inner guru!"
This way, the master solved the problem once and for all.
Just like the master in this story, though the Lord Buddha had entered the Nirvana, and we don't need to seek for Him. However we do not have to worry, because the Buddha had left us with His precious teachings - the Dharma. The Dharma is the representative of the Buddha, and it represents the Buddha. Getting in contact with the Dharma is equivalent to seeing the Buddha in person. When you listen to the Dharma teachings, it is equivalent to that the Buddha speaks directly to you. Thus, the Dharma is extremely important.
Next we will discuss the Sangha. In Tibetan, we say Gendun, which means 'uninterrupted and unchanging virtuous mind'. Strictly speaking, the Sangha is referred to the assembly of people who have attained certain levels of realization. A group of four on more bhiksu can be called the Sangha. The Buddha had said wherever there is a gathering of four bhiksu, it is equivalent to have the Buddha’s presence as the assembly possesses the virtues of the Buddha. Therefore we should show respect towards the Sangha.
The Sangha are our spiritual friends on the path of Enlightenment. Friends play an important role in our mundane life as well as in our spiritual life. As I learned from the Chinese classic 'Sun Tzu- Art of War' that friends are as important as comrades in times of wars. We will need to depend on many friends throughout our lives, and it can not be stressed more that we especially need the assistance from our Dharma friends, life after life walking on the path to attain the Omniscient Buddhahood.
However, whether it is a good friend or a bad one is up to us to decide. What does this mean? If we do not hold pure thoughts and actions, then even we are sounded by a saint, we still can not benefit from it.
On the other hand, if you have a bad companion, but you are a diligent practitioner with mindfulness and correct views, you would not be influenced by his bad habits rather you could even earn some merits out of it.
Once in India, the Buddha was begging with his begging bowl in front of a household. The head of the household was quite annoyed by this, and had become very angry. He started to insult the Buddha in an angry voice that, "You are just like a beggar begging food from others!" Buddha said nothing but replied with a smile. The man continued his scolding, but seeing no response from the Buddha, his anger began to subside. He didn't know what to do next. The Buddha then smiled compassionately and asked him, "Is there anything else you want to say?" The man answered, "No, I've finished." Then the Buddha said, "If you give someone something, and he rejects it, what would you do?"
What would you have done?
If the giver is Tibetan, whether you want it or not, he will still push it to you! (Laughter)
Then the man replied, "If the object was rejected, I will have to take it back then." Buddha then said, "By the same reason, you have been scolding me so much, and I accept none of it, so please take back all your scolding!"
Above is a brief explanation about the meaning of the Three Jewels. There are four major reasons why we should take refuge in the Three Jewels:
1. We can free ourselves form fear ─ In the Jatake Stories, an ill-willed person was trying to harm the Buddha by releasing a mad elephant, but the animal was tamed and subdued by Buddha's fearlessness. Even animals show great respect for the Buddha. This shows that Buddha had vanquished all fears from his mind.
2. To gain Wisdom and help others to eliminate their Fears ─ Why do we say that with wisdom one can help others eliminate their fears? If we have liberated ourselves from fear but do not know how to help others, then it is like a mother without arms, who can do nothing but watch her beloved son being washed away by the flood. The Buddha possesses tremendous skilful means in helping and taming sentient beings. In ancient India, Buddha Sakyamuni once tamed and transformed an evil person called Angulimalya with just a few words of wisdom.
3. To generate Great Compassion with equanimity
The Buddha not only applied skillful means to his family members or relatives but also to all sentient beings without discrimination. Regardless of the far or the near, the close or the remote, the Buddha's compassion extended to all of them equally. The Buddha had a cousin called Devadatta. Due to jealousy, he always wanted to compete with the Buddha. One day Devadatta was seriously sick due to medicine indigestion. Upon knowing this, Buddha exclaimed, "If I love Devadatta as dearly as my own beloved son Rahula, then may Devadatta be cured immediately." Due to the true sincerity of the Buddha's words, Devadatta was healed instantly. This attests to the Buddha's Great Compassion is unbiased and equal.
4. To be able to help all beings ─ regardless of whether they are helpful to us or not.
The Buddha's Great Compassion is not limited to his loved ones or to his enemies, but also extended to complete strangers and to many others regardless of whether they are helpful to Him or not. In many stories of the Buddha, the Buddha was said to be friend with great kings and had spent time as well with low-caste beggars in order to help them. These activities truly deserve our praise and veneration.
The reasons mentioned above are mainly on the virtues of the Buddha. The virtues of the Buddha alone are inconceivable and extraordinary, not to mention the virtues of the Dharma and the Sangha. Therefore, the Three Jewels are ultimate the source of refuge for all of us.
Q and A:
Q: Your Holiness, how does one generate the Bodhicitta (the Mind of Enlightenment)? Is it mentioned in any Buddhist scriptures?
A: I will explain this subject in details in tomorrow or later’s sections on Bodhisattva Vows. Actually all Mahayana texts mention have mentioned the Bodhicitta, though this term is not explicitly spelled out. They all had talked about the causes of the Bodhicitta, the fruition of the Bodhicitta, the path of the Bodhicitta, the ground of the Bodhicitta, and the virtues of the Bodhicitta. Generally speaking, all teachings of the Buddha are inseparable from the Bodhicitta. Especially in Mahayana texts, the main teaching is also the Bodhicitta; therefore, you can read more Mahayana texts.
The Nature of Taking Refuge
Tashi Delek for the New Year to everyone. Our teaching today will be on the nature of Taking Refuge. We will give the Refuge Vows today. Besides the Chinese friends in the audience, there are also many other foreign friends who wish to take the Refuge Vows. I think we need more translators.
Generally speaking, whether the term of “refuge” is originated from Buddhism or not, in fact, we are all applying it in our daily life. Taking refuge means being mutually reliant and care for. For example, since the moment we were born we have been relying on our parents. Hence we can say that we have been replying, and taking refuge since childhood. Based on the essence of taking refuge, we are actually taking refuge in our daily life.
The Dharma mentioned that the ultimate savior is oneself, which implies that the basic sufferings can only be eliminated by one’s own efforts. However, for a beginner it is rather difficult to rely on one’s strength alone without others’ help to eliminate sufferings. Therefore initially it is needed to have a source of refuge, and the source of the refuge has to be powerful and truthful. Hence, the Buddha taught about the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, to be the source of our refuge.
As we mentioned before, the essence of Refuge is mutual dependence and trust. Therefore I think that if a person believes with certainty that the Three Jewels are one’s saviors, then one will receive the blessings of the Vow. Why then, do we need a master to administer the Vows? There is a special reason for this procedure. Refuge Vows master is our conscience refuge, because if we take the Refuge oath by ourselves, we might easily slight it. However, if we take the Vows in front of a master, he becomes our witness that we will take our Vows seriously and also to remind us to cherish and keep our Vows.
Although we have divided the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha into three aspects, to attain perfect Buddhahood all these three are indispensable. For example, a full recovery of a patient needs the combination of doctors, medicines and nursing cares. Similarly for a personal who aspires to attain the Buddhahood, one would need the cares from the Buddha as the doctor, the Dharma as the medicines, and the Sangha as the nurse.
I will tell you a story called “Thank goodness there are only Three Jewels, but not four”. There was an old man, who became a monk when he was quite old. And there was a female disciple who had great faith in him. One day she offered two bolts of clothes to the lama to request his teaching. But this old lama didn’t know how to teach the Dharma, and he mumbled continuously to himself, “Ignorance is suffering…” When the woman heard this, she realized that the cause of ignorant will lead to suffering. Later on, having witnessed the offering of cloth, a thief then followed the lama home, and demanded the lama to give him the cloth. The worried lama said, “I do not want to come out. I will give the cloth to you through the window.” The thief stuck one hand in, and the lama continued: “When the offering was made, she used both hands. Therefore, you too need to use both hands to receive it. ” As the thief did that the lama quickly tied him to a post and gave him a sound beating, and at the same time commanded him to repeat the Refuge Vows to the Three Jewels three times after the lama. The thief could hardly stand up after the beating and hobbled off. Later a passerby run into this crippled thief, and asked him what had happened. The thief said, “I’m just a petty, small thief, but today I had met a very fierce big thief. I was beaten up for every Refuge Vows that I had to repeat. The Buddha is really compassionate. If he had taught four Refuge Vows, I would have been dead.” For this reason, the thief began to have faith in the Buddha. With the Refuge Vows constantly in his mind, no terrifying demons could attack him. Finally, with this deep faith he took the Refuge in the Three Precious Jewels, and became a monk.
We will continue with the main practice of the Refuge Vows. Today is an auspicious day. In this hall, there is a stature of the Lord Buddha Sakyamuni, and this place is also the holy city where the Buddha first turned the Wheel of the Dharma. Generally speaking, the Buddha we take refuge with can be all the Buddhas of the three times; however, from the perspective of the Lord Buddha Sakyamuni’s teachings, our current refuge source is referred to Sakyamuni Buddha. Without this kind of visualization and conviction, one will not be able to receive the Refuge Vow in the Buddha. Next, we must also take refuge with a loving and devoted attitude, not out of fear. Please recite the refuge vows after me.
Please kneel down. If you are unable to do so, you may just sit.
I Take Refuge in the Buddha
I Take Refuge in the Dharma
I Take Refuge in the Sangha
(Repeat three times)
The refuge ritual is a commitment. I will then ask you “Will you take this vow?” Please answer, “Yes, I will take this vow.” As you reply, please also visualize that you have received the refuge vows.
It is not sufficient to take refuge or have faith in the Three Jewels. Only through practices and realization can one reap the benefits. The Dharma can help us, benefit us; therefore practice the Dharma is very important. Especially, the basis of the Dharma is Taking Refuge; we should diligently study all aspects of Taking Refuge.
The Commitments of Refuge
A. Special Commitments
˙Commitments of Restriction
1. Having taken refuge in the Buddha, one should not take refuge in other worldly gods.
2. Having taken refuge in the Dharma, one should not harm other sentient beings.
3. Having taken refuge in the Sangha, one should not reply on heretics.
˙Commitments of Performance
1. Having taken refuge in the Buddha – even a piece of the image of the Buddha should be revered.
2. Having taken refuge in the Dharma – even a single syllable of the Dharma should be respected.
3. Having taken refuge in the Sangha – even a tiny patch of the cloth from the sangha’s robe should be venerated.
B. Common Commitments
1. Even if your life is at stake or enticed by bribes, do not abandon the Three Jewels.
2. Under no circumstances should you take refuge anywhere else, but the Three
3. Never, at any time, should you discontinue devotion and offerings to the
4. Encourage yourself and others to take the Refuge Vows.
5. In whichever direction you take the Vows, prostrate to the Buddhas of that direction.
Question: Your Holiness, what is a root guru? How do we understand the phrase that “The Karmapa is the root guru of all disciples of the Karma Kagyu”?
Answer: A Root Guru is the person who guides and points out to us the nature of our mind, especially when we do the Mahamudra practice. Therefore, in the Kagyu lineage, the person who can guide us to recognize the nature of our mind is our root guru. The Karmapa is not necessarily the root guru of all the Kagyu sects. However, in the Kagyu lineage, especially the Kamtsang Kagyu lineage, the Karmapa is very important.
Question: Your Holiness, if we do not fully understand or are unaccustomed to the process of the Refuge ritual, can we take refuge?
Answer: Generally speaking, there are several kinds of taking refuge, such as taking refuge with the appreciation of the Qualities of the Three Jewels, or taking refuge completely knowing the nature of the Three Jewels. These are ideal ways of taking refuge. However, even if we do not possess these understanding, we can still take refuge. Just as the Buddha had mentioned in the Sutras that reciting the word “Buddha” is taking the refuge in the Buddha, reciting the word “Dharma” is taking the refuge in the Dharma, and reciting the word “Sangha” is taking the refuge in the Sangha,. It means that if we can recite the names of the Three Jewels and think of the virtues of the Three Jewels, then we will immediately receive the refuge vows.
Question: I supplicate Your Holiness to be my root guru. I do the Pure Land practice. After I take refuge with Your Holiness, can I still continue practicing my current practices?
Answer: Generally speaking, taking refuge is not directed at a particular person such as myself, but rather in the Three Jewels. However it is customary in China to take multiple refuges with different masters. If you like to think that way, it is all right. However, if taking refuge with me interferes with your Pure Land practice then it is not right. Of course you can still continue with your Pure Land practices. Not only you, but I am also becoming more and more interested in the Pure Land practices, and would also like to practice it. As both of us have the same aspiration for the Pure Land practice, you should continue your practice as you had been diligently doing.
Question: Your Holiness, when we practice the Guru Correspondence, how do we visualize our guru? When I do the guru visualization, sometimes it appears to be my root guru and sometimes it is Your Holiness appearing on the crown of my head. In this case, should Your Holiness or my own guru Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche appear in my visualization? Despise of the appearances, I believe that the mind of the Karmapa and other lineage Rinpoches are the same. Am I making mistakes here?
Answer: The practice of the Guru Correspondence is also known as the Guru Yoga. I think the so called correspondence does not mean the correspondence of the apparent appearance. It’s like to impose my face on that of Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, and that might look very odd.
What we called the Guru Correspondence or “the Guru’s mind assimilates into our mind” means the guru virtues assimilate into our mind. When the cause of suffering, the dualist mind, arises, if we can nullify the rising of two obscurations, the irrational makings of our mind and cognitive obstructions, without external help, then we can say that the guru’s mind has been successfully assimilated into our mind. This is because that the most supreme quality of a guru is to subdue afflictive emotions and to, subdue egoistic mind; Therefore, when this kind of capacity rises from our mind, this is called “the guru’s mind had entered our mind” or “the blessings of the guru had been assimilated into our mind ”.
Hence, we cannot forcefully impose the guru’s image into our mind or combine my look with the look of Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche. It will not look good.
〔Blessings for the New Year〕
In this New Year, I wish that everyone has new hopes for the New Year, and also wish that all your kind-hearted aspirations will bear auspicious fruits.
The Karmapa use Chinese to say: 「Happy New Year to all dharma teachers and lay practitioners」
The Karmapa use English to say: 「Joyful New Year」
The Karmapa use Korean to say「Se he, o ma ni ,pa di se yo」
Today is the New Year Day. I haven’t prepared any special gift, but there is a book I would like to give every one. This book is edited and compiled by myself. Most of the contents are excerpted from the sutras, and only a small portion is coming from me. This book is about the Guru Supplication Ritual, and is for use in the Monlam Chenmo yearly prayer ceremony. In Tibet, the Land of Snow, there are many lineages, so I compiled this to include every aspect of the “Guru Yoga Ritual”. I did my best to input everything into the computer. In additional, every book has my signature in it. Why did I do this? Everyone has such great expectations of me, but most of the time, I cannot satisfy everyone’s wish, and I feel saddened by this. Therefore, I hope that with every signature, it's me, infinite emanations of me, accompanying everyone, helping everyone, not for a short period but for eternity, every day, every life, helping and benefiting everyone. This is my wishes to everyone; at each moment of signing the book, I had no other thought but only my blessings.
[On this New Year’s day, the Karmapa Composed a new poem 〈An Aspiration to the World〉Please recite it after the Karmapa ]
An Aspiration for the World
World, we live and die on your lap.
On you we play out all our woes and joys.
You are our home old ancient one.
Forever we cherish you; we could not bear your loss.
We wish to transform you into the pure realm of our dream.
Into a field where all creatures live without prejudice all equal.
We wish to transform you into a loving warm gentle goddess.
Our wish to embrace you is unchangeably stead fast.
To that end be the ground which sustains us all.
Do not show us the dark side of your character – and we too will transform you –
All your corners into fertile field of peace and happiness.
May the harvest of joyfulness and freedom’s million sweet scents fulfill our limitless infinite wishes –So we pray.
Translated by David Karma Choephel
Yesterday we explained the meaning of Taking Refuge. Next, we will go into the subject of Bodhicitta.
Some of you might wonder why I am still talking about Taking Refuge and engendering Bodhicitta, but have not touched upon the subject on or . Some people practice in progressive stages, but some might attain enlightenment by skipping some stages. Nevertheless, I feel that the progressive practice is more practical.
Whether a person accords to the Mahayana practices or not, depends on if one has engendered Bodhicitta or not! Without the engenderment of Bodhicitta, no matter what we do, it will not conform to the teaching of Mahayana.
To generate Bodhicitta is like climbing up stairs; we must slowly begin at the base. Can I make it? We have to think. With the progressive stages of practice we still need to consider whether the basis and root of practice accord to the Dharma? This is very important. Before we discuss on Bodhicitta, we must distinguish between what accord to the Dharma, and what dose not.
In the Sakya School’s four oral pith instructions of renunciation says, “Those who still have attachment to this life can not be qualified as a practitioner”.
From here we can see that “being away from the attachment to this life” is the correct attitude in the Dharma practices. All the Dharma practices are included in the practices of the Three Vehicles. The trainings in the Three Vehicles start from the practice of the Hinayana, whose essence lie in renunciation. If you can not engender renunciation, then how can you advance to the Mahayana stage at all? Therefore, renunciation is very important.
When I was young, about 3 or 5 years old, I became a monk. I was so young that I didn’t even know my parents’ names, not to say knowing what renunciation is.
Renunciation is to cut through the mind with the attachment to this life. What then, are the "criteria" and “standard” of the renunciation? In general, according to Tibetan Buddhism, it is whether you can abandon the eight-worldly dharma.
Also, what is the "cause" of abandoning attachment to this life? We must recognize the meaninglessness of samsara. And what is the "dependent condition" for this abandonment? We must realize the miseries of this life.
We must understand "cause and dependent condition", because if we do not, it would be very difficult to abandon attachment to this life.
Also, what is the "criteria" for abandoning this life? It is to generate genuine aversion to the eight worldly concerns of this life.
What are the signs for abandoning this life? It is to deliberately teach you the worldly concerns and you can never learn them. (The Karmapa jokes: If it was me, I could probably learn.)
The eight worldly concerns are: Gain, Lost, Fame, Disgrace, Praise, Blame, Pain, and Pleasure. They are eight conditions that arouse the feeling of happiness and sufferings within us based on the near-sighted interests and harms.
What we need to contemplate here is that for ordinary people, it is quite difficult to meet this standard. Why? Because by the rules of the world, to live in this world, it is almost impossible to find anything that is not related to these eight concerns. What we do, what we say, and dream are all confined within these concerns, so it is very difficult to be detached from them. What then should we do? Just go to sleep? (Everyone laughs.)
No. Is it true then that a mundane person cannot live life according to the Dharma? We should think about this. I have given it some thought. I think that to cut through the eight worldly concerns, it is enough just to talk about it, most importantly, we need to identify the fundamental flaw of the eight worldly concerns. I have given it a name called “the blind attachment”. What does the blind attachment mean? It means a stubborn and obstinate habit regardless of good or bad consequences.
For example, there is person, who enjoys and is interested in the dharma, and wants to practice it. However, this person uses the Dharma practice as a way to comfort himself, like a relaxing past-time, or like a sort of “spiritual massage”. (The audience laughs). The “spiritual massage” is a very peculiar term!
Hence, unknowingly, the person falls back into the worldly behaviors and still firmly believes that worldly concerns are more practical and correct. As soon as one turns the focus on worldly affairs, practices of the authentic dharma gradually fade away.
Another pitfall is too relaxed. There are many kinds of relaxation. For example, to relax the body, one can go for a walk, or do tai-chi, or practice yoga. What about the relaxation of the mind? It is to meditate, and let the mind calm down. One thing I do not understand is that some people after their meditation practice end up feeling tired and need to take a rest. This is very strange. No wonder after several years of practice, everything remains the same.
Under these circumstances, it’s like the cancer patient whose cancerous cells have spread throughout his body, and yet he is not aware of it at all.
Why is it like this? Because he is not aware of that his entire mind still focuses on worldly matters. Another example is that after a whole day’s work, at night sometimes we continue to dream of work. Regretfully, after a whole day of practice, we probably seldom dream of the dharma or our dharma practice. Because we consider the dharma practice as massage, and you wouldn’t dream about massage at night.
The blind attachment not only obstructs the advancement of our practice, but it will also quietly bind our mind to worldly concerns. This kind of blind attachment will lead us to rely on worldly things, and to believe that they are absolutely essential. Not only that, but we will believe that this is more real and that we cannot do without it. Afterwards we become arrogant, and we begin to use the popular form of dharma to satisfy our personal needs. Slowly, dharma becomes a poison, and finally destroys our practice. This is really pitiful.
Perhaps I’m not qualified to say pitiful, because if I also fall into the pit of the eight worldly concerns, that would really be pitiful.
This situation is also similar to the television commercial. In a commercial, there is an actor riding a motorcycle flies dashingly through the air. In reality, a motorcycle can’t do that, but why is that scene plotted like this? There must be a reason.
When we first see this commercial, we might not even take notice of it, but as this commercial is repeated daily continuously, we will gradually be influenced and slowly slowly get used to it. The result is that we then want to buy that motorcycle thinking that dashing actor flying through the air on the motorcycle. Our mind becomes captivated by that image, and then we become stupid, believe in it as real, and give up thinking anymore.
The more you are accustomed to it, the less awareness is here. You will blindly be addicted to it, blindly chasing after it, and blindly wanting to possess it. The Great Master Gampopa once said, “If one does not practice the dharma properly, practicing the dharma will, on the contrary, become the cause of taking birth into the three lower realms.”
Therefore we must be very cautious and mindful. The main point is that, in general, it is very difficult for us to avoid the eight worldly concerns such as praise, ridicule etc. If we can not get rid of our stubborn and obstinate attachment to worldly things, our practice will always have obstructions.
Furthermore, this is not enough. As practitioners of the Greater Vehicle, we must also engender Bodhicitta. This is very important.
On the first day a dharma friend asked about the meaning of Bodhicitta. Today we will talk about how to engender the enlightened attitude. There are many methods, and there are also many oral pith instructions. Engendering the enlightened attitude is not just talking about it; it must genuinely rise from within our hearts. Among the many pith instructions, we will discuss two methods: the first is passed down by the Vast Conduct lineage, called “The Seven Cause and Result Pith Instructions” method; the second is from the Profound View lineage, called “Exchanging Self with Others” method. The practice method of “The Seven Cause and Result Pith Instructions” also has two traditions: The first is passed down from Atisha of the Kadampas. The second is from the Drikhung Kagyu lineage.
Today we will study Kadampa’s “The Seven Cause and Result Pith Instructions.”
1. To know Your Mother.
It is very difficult to know your mother!
Why is it difficult? It is very easy to know your father and mother of this life, but that is not enough. What we mean by “to know your mother” in this context is referred to that after we engender Bodhicitta we must realize that all sentient beings are like our own mother. This is very hard to do.
How then do we know that all sentient beings are our mothers? First of all we must understand that there is cyclic existence.
How do we comprehend the cyclic existence? For example, a new born infant has a consciousness that is aware of itself. The birth of this consciousness is dependent on previous causes. It will not arise for no reason, or from foreign causes, or from a creator. This consciousness is a continuity of a previous cause, or arises due to previous cause of similarity. When we logically contemplate along this line, we can conclude that a similar previous consciousness or awareness exists, one after another, in an unbroken continuum. By this logical reasoning, we can prove the existence of cyclic existence through knowing that continuous consciousness exists. If, on the other hand, this consciousness does not depend on previous causes of similarity or any other external cause to be born, then it could exist at any time, or even does not exist at all.
Similarly, we can find many real and true cases of coincidences in this world. For example, some people can predict where he will be born in the next life, and true enough he is born in the foretold place. There are also many people who can recollect memory of previous lives. Hence, cyclic existence has now become the focus of experimentation and attention of many scientists. Although up to now there is still no concrete proof of anything, at least, people are all very concerned about this topic. Even though we cannot completely believe in the cyclic existence, but it’s alright; at least we should question the existence of the cyclic existence. If the cyclic existence is really true, but out of ignorance we disbelieve it, then it would be a very serious mistake. Therefore, now we should contemplate the cyclic existence from a different angle.
When we talk about previous lives and future lives, it is a beginningless, unbroken continuity. In every lifetime we must have had parents as most sentient beings need parents. From the beginningless samsara, adding all the lifetimes together, we would have had countless parents. Therefore, in the continuity of samsara, there is not a single sentient being who had not yet been my parents.
Looking at it with another way, worldly parents can be divided into three kinds: 1. our natural parents. 2. Our foster parents. 3. Parents who have been beneficial to us. When we say parents we often refer to our natural parents. If our parents die, foster parents can also be called our parents. There is a saying in Chinese that I believe says that the kindness of our foster parents is greater than that of our natural parents. Thus I have heard. The third kind is parents who have been beneficial to us. Most of us know this. Many Tibetan Buddhist lamas now teach the dharma abroad, and have been cared by local hosts. Gradually, they also consider these hosts their fathers and mothers. This kind of parents is those who are benefit us.
Hence, the term parents do not necessarily refer to our natural parents. Those who take care of us can also be called our parents. We can further expand the meaning to include those who rely and help each other, those who directly or indirectly beneficial friends. These can also be called parents. For example, now I am wearing monastic robes, but I was not wearing these robes when I was born. These monastic robes depend on many people to sew them. Everything in this world is like that, helping each other, relying on each other, benefiting each other in order to be accomplished. We can consider these sentient beings, who help each other, our parents.
Some people may say, you are always talking about positive things. Actually there are also many negative things, such as people hurting each other, hurting other’s families, seizing other’s houses. There are many of these horrible people. When we think like that, we should also contemplate: will it bring us any benefit by thinking of negative things?
2. To Remember Kindness
To our natural parents or parents who have benefited us, we owe them gratitude for their kindness. Some of which can be enumerated, others can not be counted. Among them, the most important is saving our lives.
When we are in danger, the most important person is the person who saves us, our benefactor.
Just like the person who saves us, their kindness is enormous, but the kindness of our parents is even greater. Why do we say this? If our parents abandon us anytime after we are born, or before we are able to independently take care of ourselves, then we will surely not survive. Therefore, the kindness of our parents is boundless. They take care of us not only for a day but for months and years; they are constantly accompanying us, taking care of us. Therefore it is said that the kindness of our parents is like saving our lives hundreds and thousands of times over and over again.
Perhaps some people will think that not all parents take responsible care of their children. For example, a mother turtle leaves her eggs as soon as they are laid. Some parents undeniably are bad parents. What we mean here when we say To Remember Kindness is remembering the parents who have been kind to us. In summary, all sentient beings have to rely on their parents, so we owe them gratitude.
3. To Repay Kindness
When we contemplate the kindness of our parents, with heartfelt gratitude and clarity, then we will wish to repay them. The stronger our wish to be thankful for their kindness, the wish to repay their kindness also becomes greater.
4. Loving Kindness
Loving-Kindness is to love, to treasure.
There is a story about Patrul Rinpoche and his major disciples. When they were in retreat in the Dzogchen Monastery high in the Snowy Mountains, one day, Patrul Rinpoche asked his disciple, “Do you miss your mother?” This disciple, thinking that he has already left home to become a monk, should forsake everything. So he replied, “Ever since I followed you, I have forsaken my home town, my parents and relatives, so I don’t miss my mother.” Patrul Rinpoche said, “This way of thinking is wrong. Bodhicitta is the root of all Dharma. Remembering your mother’s kindness is the cause to engender Bodhicitta. In your situation, the root of your ability to engender all phenomena is all dried up. That’s terrible!” Patrul Rinpoche then taught this disciple what great kindness a mother possesses. Rinpoche instructed this disciple to practice thinking of his mother’s kindness for several months. After some period of practice, the disciple yearned to go home to see his mother, and asked for permission to leave. Ordinarily Rinpoche do not like receiving offerings, but that day, he ordered his disciple to bring all the offerings that Rinpoche received to give to his mother, and also ordered him to stay for more than ten days before coming back. After this disciple returned from visiting his mother, whenever he talks about the kindness of his mother, tears would automatically fill his eyes. When Patrul Rinpoche saw this, he was very happy, and said, “Look! My child! He has just established the source of all phenomena.”
When we talk about loving-kindness, there are positive and negative aspects to it.
Sometimes we feel our love binds and constricts us, and we have no freedom.
When we practice Bodhicitta, what are the prerequisites? Our hearts should always maintain a joyful and happy attitude. This is very beneficial to the practice of loving-kindness. When someone whom we dislike commits a small mistake, we will feel it’s a big thing, but when one whom we like, makes a lot of mistakes, we feel it’s nothing. This difference is whether we have a joyous loving heart or not. We should therefore always maintain a joyous loving kind heart. If this has not been developed, we should let it rise up. If it has already arisen, we should maintain and expand it. Joyful loving kindness combined with dharma practice would be very helpful to the development of Bodhicitta.
Compassion means the hope to avoid suffering. Some people may think this is a painful method. I feel that the suffering feeling that comes from compassion practice is different from the suffering we usually associate with pain and pleasure. The suffering of pain is intolerable and uncontrollable. But the suffering that grows out of the compassion practice, or to put it in another way, the feeling of the rise of compassion, is powerful. It will invoke a great strength to eliminate suffering. Hence, the suffering of compassion is different from the suffering of pain. Some people feel the opposite, after they practice compassion they suffer even more. Perhaps they did not practice it correctly.
Why do so? It’s because our ego-clinging has not been eliminated. It is highly possible that the more you practice loving-kindness-compassion the stronger your ego-clinging becomes. For example, your attachment to “my” mother is sick, “my” son is ill. Although there is loving-kindness, it is mixed with attachment, and attachment is the source of all suffering. “I” does not exist in the beginning, but we insist there is an “I”. Therefore behaviors associated with ego-clinging will lead to suffering. This suffering is not due to the practice of compassion but due to the presence of ego-clinging.
6. Advancing Inner Happiness
Advancing Inner Happiness has two folds of meaning. The first is I must take the responsibility to help sentient beings to avoid suffering, attain happiness, and achieve the Buddhahood, this kind of resolute kindness and enthusiasm. The other meaning is that I myself will take responsibility to benefit all sentient beings. Whichever meaning advancing inner happiness is, resolution and responsibility are the main qualities.
7. To Engender Bodhicitta
Relying on the aforesaid causes, the fruition of Bodhicitta can be engendered. Bodhicitta includes the great compassion to benefit others, and the wisdom of Buddhahood.
The above are the seven cause and result progressive stages for engendering Bodhicitta.
Question: Your Holiness, I must go to Amitaba's Pure Land. Besides reciting mantras, contemplating the Buddha, what other prerequisites should one have? How should we practice? I fear the pull of karma that I will not be able to reach the Pure Land. Amitaba!
Answer: To be reborn in the Pure Land you need four conditions:
To think of the Buddhas and pray to the Buddhas.
To accumulate merits.
To aspire sincerely.
To engender Bodhicitta.
The important point here is we must perform good deeds, and while we are doing good deeds, we must have a clear
objective and aspiration, that is, we must clearly aspire to be born in the Pure Land.
We must also think of the Pure Land or clearly visualize the Pure Land. This does not mean we are thinking of the external beauty of the Pure Land, or how dignified it looks. This is not what it means; it means we have to contemplate more deeply. This Pure Land is the land that Buddha Amitaba out of his great aspiration and innate wisdom accomplished. Why should we think in this way? Because ordinarily we are full of impure thoughts and impure images, which eventually will lead to undesirable fruits. We should then often envisage the virtuous Pure Land.
Moreover, we should frequently recite the mantras, especially the mantra of Amitaba, but there is also an alternative. For example, in ancient times, to have a direct audience with the king is not easy. We need to go through special connections, such as through the introduction of his officials, to be able to see the king. Similarly, through the intercession of Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani, by reciting their mantras and visualizing their forms, it will effectively lead us to the Pure Land to have an audience with the Buddha Amitaba.
To engender Bodhicitta is also very important. Why do we have to do this? Because the Pure Land of Buddha Amitaba is the Mahayana Pure Land, so we must posses the necessary pure motivation, which is, engendering Bodhicitta.
Most people think that the Pure Land of the West is far away in the distance, or as it is described in the sutras, in a land of the infinite number of Lands. . In short, we often think the Pure Land of The West is too far away to comprehend. If we have these thoughts, the sutras say it will be very difficult for us to be reborn in the Pure Land. How then should we visualize? We can think that the place where we are right now is the Pure Land of Bliss of Buddha Amitaba. Through visualization like this, at the moment of death, it will help us to be reborn immediately without any obstacle into the Pure Land. Like those sentient beings who are going to be reborn in the formless realm, their current location is instantly transformed into the formless realm. They are not transported to another place. Similarly, at the moment of death, we can be reborn in the Pure Land of Bliss. Why? Because there are no real obstruction between here and the Pure Land.
Question: How do we keep the continuity of Bodhicitta? Also, how do we maintain Bodhicitta without regressing?
Answer: To keep the continuity of Bodhicitta is to maintain correct view, and correct knowledge thought. If we cannot sustain this in our mind for a long period, we could recite more aspiration prayers, or copy some essays on the subject of generating Bodhicitta and paste them up as a reminder to aspire to generate the right attitude. The effect of sound or speech is very powerful. For example, if someone says something rude, we will be angry immediately; a word of praise will make us very happy. Hence the effect of speech is very powerful indeed.
In addition, always maintain the correct view, and don’t be distracted. Be like a guard, constantly watching our every word and every action. The 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje once said: “When you are tying on your belt, watch whether your mind accord to the dharma, do not be careless, maintain the right view, sustain Bodhicitta, as you are tying on your belt.” He also added, “When you are walking up stairs, keep in mind or say quietly: I am now advancing on the great path of Bodhicitta.” Always remind yourself like this, never forget Bodhicitta.
Today we will give an introduction to the Four Common Foundations:
The Precious Human Birth,
Miseries of Samsara, and
Karma of Cause and Result
First I will discuss the Precious Human Birth.
(1) To understand the meaning of the Unfavorable and the Favorable
What is the Unfavorable and the Favorable? There are two parts. From the Unfavorable to discover the Favorable, from the unfulfilled to discover the fulfilled, we need to contrast these two in order to know whether we possess these conditions or not. The objects of the comparison should be less than us. Sometimes we feel that we have no leisure time, or that we do not have the right opportunity to practice the Dharma. At this time, we should compare with those who have less leisure time than we have,.
There are two ways to compare, to compare downwards with those who are suffering and less fortunate than ourselves or compare upwards with those who are happy and more fortunate than us; we are in the middle.
Most people incline to look upwards to hope and to compare. For instance if we do not possess wealth or fame, we will look upwards, hoping to have more fame, more achievement. We can’t compare upwards, because many people are much richer and have much more wisdom than us yet they are not satisfied. What’s the reason? It is because greed is without bounds. Therefore, if we compare upwards our greed increases and we will never be satisfied. Therefore when we are practicing, we must nurture a contented mind. To do this, the best method is to compare downwards. This is a practical method and also a yardstick for comparison.
Many people, like me, always complain that they don’t have enough time, and there is no time for practice. We often say this. But, do we truly lack time to practice? To really know whether we have time or not, we should compare downwards.
For example, like animals, they wouldn’t know what the Dharma is. Even if they could know, they wouldn’t understand how to practice. A cow, for example, would not know how to sit in meditation.
Not only a small number of animals, but also as we often see on television programs, thousands of animals don’t know the Dharma at all. They are born headlong into life. Looking at many of our fellow dharma friends, they all want to practice, but most of their energies are spent on the practical matters of living. As to the internal practice, they have no faith, or, to put it in another way, in their hearts they cannot generate a strong enough force or faith in the Dharma. Therefore it is not for lack of time, but they lack the habit to practice the dharma, and therefore they naturally separate the Dharma from everyday life. To them practicing the Dharma and leading a life are two different things. It is like a person living in China, but his mind is off in India. Everyday life and internal thoughts are separated, and there is no focal point. The Dharma is actually a part of life, and if you depart from it them, how would you know the correct way to practice? Moreover, how would you find the time to practice?
As we talked about yesterday, you must not think of practicing the Dharma as a comfortable, pleasant leisure to indulge in. The Dharma is in fact a special knowledge that can help us resolve many problems and alleviate the sufferings in our daily lives. Therefore, if we do not combine the Dharma into our lives, then if we encounter any difficult situation, we wouldn’t know what to do, or how to solve the problem; therefore, everything remains the same without any progress. Hence, when someone harms us again, out of habitual behavior we would still respond with hatred and anger towards him. When we say we do not have time to practice, actually it’s not we really don’t have time, but we have not yet built up the habit of o practicing the Dharma, and we do not have real faith or that we don’t believe the Dharma is real, or is good.
Whether a person can attain ultimate happiness depends on the correct view of gain or lost. This kind of wisdom is innate; however, if we do not understand the preciousness of the human birth, then this wisdom is of no use to us. It is like a person, who does not know the value of gold, and then the gold is just a piece of rock.
In this world, there are many people who inherit great fortunes such as family businesses, and they just continue to do the same businesses. Many of us are trapped in the values of the general society, helplessly living out our whole life like this. They do not realize how to seek the ultimate happiness. They wouldn’t even know how to think in this way, nor understand how to pursue, how to find this happiness. Thus, our inherent analytical ability would be a total waste. This is all due to the fact that we don’t understand the value of our mind, nor how to fully utilize our mind.
Today we will use a watch as an example.
A person is wearing a very valuable watch (the Karmapa holds out his arm for everyone to see his watch. Everyone laughs).
But this person only knows how to wear it on his wrist, and is completely ignorant of the function of the watch and do not know how to tell time with it. Consequently, he is either too early or too late for work everyday. He can never be exactly on-time. He couldn’t do his job well, and finally he got fired.
One day, after he lost his job, he met an old friend who asked him how he was doing.
He replied: “All I have now is suffering, nothing else. Why am I suffering? It’s because I can’t tell the time, and so I lost my work.”
His friend told him: “Actually, you don’t need to suffer because you are wearing a watch!” He was astonished when he heard this, and said: “You mean, by using this watch I can know the time, when to go to work, and when to get off work?” Subsequently he began learning how to use this watch. At first he had to look at the watch for five minutes before he can tell the time, but as he became more familiar, he could just take one glance and know the time. His work became more stable, and he became rich, too.
Let us think carefully, the suffering when he lost his job, and after he became rich, the watch on his wrist remained the same. Why do we have two different consequences? Because just to have a watch is not enough, the important thing is to know how to tell the time. Hence to merely possess inherent analytical wisdom is not sufficient; we have to know how to use it well. Then we can truly achieve happiness and eliminate suffering.
(2) To contemplate rarity
When we look around us, we can see that in the human realm, there are many people who are physically deformed, psychologically unbalanced, or physically disabled, and so forth. Even the smallest flaw may make our lives miserable. Examining ourselves, we find that we don’t have any defect, we are physically complete, our bodies are healthy; it is almost unbelievable. We should feel overjoyed.
When we examine like this, we are not examining others, but reflecting on ourselves through looking at others. What does this mean? Imagine ourselves to be that physically deformed person, and then look back at the healthy self. Be conscious of this feeling; then you will know the rarity of our health, and will feel happy, and feel how blessed we are.
We are supposed to practice this together now, but due to the lack of time, I hope you will all spend more time practicing this contemplation later.
(3) To contemplate a life of significance
We live in a world where most of us lead the same life, or imitate someone else’s life. If we just live like this, it would be meaningless. Why? Because there are so many people all over the world leading a similar type of life. Since we have this precious human life, if we do not do anything meaningful, then an extra person would mean a waste of space and money.
But we are so used to imitate others and to follow the customs of the world. If it is so, then we are incapable of doing anything of importance.
Things of importance or things of significance does not mean having a big stomach or having a big head, this kind of external appearances, but things of real significance.
Can we really do it? Do we have the basic conditions? Yes, we do, as I mentioned before, because all of us possess wisdom. So we must look inwards, in order to develop our inherent wisdom. This is very important.
Under what circumstances can we best invoke our wisdom? When we are alone by ourselves without any supports, and can only reply on ourselves, at this moment we will seriously dig into our heart to find solutions to avoid fears. Everyone wishes to avoid suffering and obtain happiness, and at this moment we can fully engage our innder wisdom to think to attain a different, ultimate happiness. If we are willing to do this, life would be meaningful. Only the Dharma can help us attain this ultimate happiness. Hence, practicing the Dharma is a very meaningful thing.
Death and Impermanence
Next, I will continue to discuss death and impermanence, but I will not say much on this topic as it is a striking shock to many people.
There are three main points.
(1) The certainty of death
a. Up to now, no one can live without dying.
b. The body is perishable.
c. Life can instantly decay.
(2) The time of death is unknown.
a. Lifespan is impermanent.
b. The physical body is vulnerable.
c. The causes for death are many, and the causes for life are few.
(3) At the time of death, nothing can help.
a. Riches can’t help.
b. Relatives can’t help.
c. We ourselves can’t help.
Speaking of Death and Impermanence, how should we visualize this practice? We do the practice by using a day in our life as of it were our whole life time. For instance, when we get out of bed in the morning, we can imagine ourselves being born from our mother's womb. The cleaning and washing that follows will be like a new born infant being washed, clothed and fed. We can use the activities of a day in our life to parallel that of our whole life-time. Finally, at night, when we lie in bed, we picture ourselves at the moment of death, and if when death really comes, we would prepare our last words, and our final practice. In short, we should try hard to imagine this scenario before we fall asleep. When we are asleep, this represents death. This sleep condition is comparable to the dissolution in the Bardo. This practice of visualization is the practice of Death and Impermanence, as well as the methods used to practice the Bardo at the moment of death.
The Miseries of Samsara
Next we will discuss the Miseries of Samsara, which will be divided into three parts:
1. According to one's own experience of hate and anger, contemplate the sufferings of the hell realm.
2. According to one's own experience of greed, contemplate the sufferings of the hunger of the ghost realm.
3. According to one's own experience of stupidity, confusion and ignorance, contemplate the sufferings of the animal realm.
When we consider the miseries of samsara, we often refer to sufferings in both the higher realms and the lower realms. The main sufferings discussed here are the sufferings of the three lower realms.
The most important thing is that if we cannot be sensitive to the sufferings of the three lower realms, then, however much we speak about the hot and cold sufferings of the hell realm, or the suffering of hunger of the ghost realm, or the stupidity of the animal realm, listening to this topic would only annoy us, and will not be of any use.
Now we will speak about the topic of “The Causes of the Three Lower Realms”, and the “Results of the Three Lower Realms.”
The hell realm, the hungry ghost realm, and the animal realm belong to the “Result of the Three Lower Realms.”
What is the cause or karma of taking birth in these Three Lower Realms? Or what are the sufferings of the three Lower Realms? Actually, looking at our own greed, hate, anger and confusion, we can actually feel and experience these sufferings.
It is similar to a very sick person, who can see all sorts of illusions such as being beaten up and the feeling of fear and terror. The seriously illness in the example is like the three poisons within ourselves. As the three poisons increasingly grow stronger, the images of the suffering and terror of the three Lower Realms will appear.
(1) According to one's own experience of hate and anger, contemplate the sufferings of the hell realm.
How do we experience the sufferings of the hell realm through anger and hatred? First of all, the main sufferings of the hell realm are hot and cold sufferings. Now we examine ourselves: when anger arises how do we feel? When anger arises, there is an uncontrollable rage. This is exactly the same situation as the hot hell realm. Now when the anger and hate subside, we will feel remorse, which is like the situation of the cold hell realm. Sometimes beings in the hell realm are described to be pierced through by a forest of swords. Again, when the emotion of anger and hate arises, our heart feels as if it were stabbed. Hence, through the experiences of hate and anger, we can comprehend the sufferings of the hell realm. At the same time, we can imagine how horrible our face looks when being angry. Our own face would even frighten ourselves, and which can make us wonder why it happens like this. Hence through this practice of using the method of reflecting upon our own anger and hate, we can experience the sufferings of the hell realm.
Using this method of reflection, we know that hate and anger definitely cause small or great sufferings. Therefore, when we realize that hate and anger is the hell realm itself, we will find a way to eliminate and distance ourselves from hate and anger.
(2) According to one's own experience of greed, contemplate the sufferings of the hungry ghost realm.
What does a hungry ghost look like? It has a stomach of the size of Mount Meru and a throat as thin as a needle. Think about this: When greed arises, a person’s generosity then becomes as thin as a needle whereas his greed grows to the size of Mount Meru. When he sees other’s riches, his envy burns like fire, just like the flames that the hungry ghost spew out of their mouths. Nothing can satisfy our greed, just as the hungry ghosts can’t swallow anything, nor digest any food, and the food would turn into poison. We therefore must practice by using our greed to vicariously feel the sufferings of the hungry ghosts.
(3) According to one's own experience of stupidity, confusion and ignorance, contemplate the sufferings of the animal realm.
Needless to say, an animal cannot make plans for the future; it cannot even cope with the immediate dangers before it. Although we think we are clever, but often times we can’t even manage nor avoid many situations. Sometimes we even give ourselves trouble. This is stupidity. Through experiencing our own stupidity, we can understand the sufferings of animals.
That is probably why Buddha said, “Ignorance is suffering.” (The Karmapa jokes in Chinese “Not knowing Chinese is also quite a suffering.”)
Cause, Result and Karma
(1) The differences
Karma is the Sanskrit sound, which means “karma.” From perspective of the cause, there are body, speech, and mind three aspects; from the perspective of results, there are three kinds: positive karma, negative karma and neutral karma; from the perspective of time, before an action takes place the motivation behind is call “karma of the mind”. From “karma of mind”, actions of body and speech are invoked, and they are called “self generated karma.”
(2) Self generate
For instance, I am making a lot of facial expressions as I speak. At the instant of speaking, I am creating is the karma of the speech, and my moving hand gesture is creating the karma of the body. Hence, positive or negative karma are decided by us.
(3) Karmic Results
If our thoughts are pure, respectful, and kind towards others, this will result in positive karma. If our motivations are arrogance, jealousy and negative intentions, then this will become negative karma. What we know as karma is not only what we did in past lives, but every action we perform at this very moment.
Some people may question that although Buddhism does not talk about a creator, but to say that everything is dependent on karma is very similar to the idea of having a creator. However, these two concepts are not the same. When we talk about a creator, we are in his control, and we have no choice at all. But when we talk about karma, not everything is controlled by karma; we can change it, or at least we have the ability to change some aspects of karma. Hence, the concept of a creator and karma are totally different.
For instance, when we are going abroad, we first go to the airport and buy a plane ticket. At this point we can decide whether to board the aircraft or not. Then we check in, we walk towards the boarding gate. At this instant we can still decide not to go. Even when we are on the plane, sitting in our seat, and just even before the door closes, we can still decide whether to get off or not. But as soon as the door closes, and the plane takes off, then the action of flying is settled. In short, whether karma can be changed is in our own hands, and is not decided by karma itself.
Especially during this era, the power of the mind has become much stronger. Therefore, the force of karma will ripen much faster. As soon as thoughts are born they become mature.
Take the example of a singer in a performance: if he has a loving and joyful heart, then thousands of people in the audience can feel this and instantaneously become his friends. This is unbelievable, total strangers can become old acquaintances in a second.
Actually we are creating karma continually. A life-time is not countable by years or by days, but we can say that each minute is a life-time. That is why every action at any moment becomes an important event in our life. We should be very mindful, less we slight a small thing and it will give us a life time of unhappiness.
(4) Small karma brings big results.
We can cite an example of a husband and wife who began an argument one morning over just a couple of words, which made them miserable the whole day: nothing went right at work, couldn’t concentrate and drove crazily. Finally they turned their backs on each other, went to court and were divorced. This whole painful incidence started that morning with just a few minutes and a couple of words. That is why we say that a small cause changed their whole life.
In fact, at least 70-80 percent of our life is in our own hands. Only 20-30 per cent is decided by fate. To a person who believes in the doctrine of cause and result, it doesn’t matter whether there is an external savior or not. He can protect himself, and can become his own savior.
I’m going to tell you a story about myself. Once, I was invited to a monastery. There were a lot of things in the room that they prepared for me. Since they prepared this room especially for me, I thought that looking around was alright. I found a DVD which was new. I picked it up and wanted to take it home to see what the contents were. There was nobody else in the room and certainly there shouldn’t be any surveillance camera. I asked myself, “Do you really need to watch it? Is there no opportunity to watch it later?” Finally I realized that I shouldn’t take it. Because I wanted to be an honest person, so I put the DVD back into its original place in the drawer, and said “I’m sorry. Good-bye!” Although it was only a small incident, I was truthful to my future destiny.
If we understand the doctrine of cause and result, I believe we will think differently. The Buddha once said, “You are your own savior; every thing is in your hands.”
The sutras cite two kinds of beneficial friends: one is an internal one, and the other is an external one. The external beneficial friend is the teacher who preaches the Dharma accurately and truthfully. The internal beneficial friend is you yourself who practice the true Dharma. Although observing and relying on an upright beneficial friend is very important, but more important is our internal self who can practice the Dharma correctly and according to the sutras. A guru who can teach his disciple the true methods of practice is a guru who can be the most beneficial to his disciples. To rely on a guru is to practice truthfully and correctly, not just looking at the guru, or offering homage or following him around.
Finally His Holiness said a few concluding remarks:
“Under the guidance of the honorable teachers, lay friends in the dharma, we have this auspicious karma to be in this holy land of the Buddha, Varanasi, chanting mantras, and listening to the dharma. To me, it is especially meaningful because I can use Chinese to share the dharma with all of you. This opportunity has fulfilled one of my important aspirations. I will never forget this. You are like bodhisattvas in giving me this kindness, and your loving-compassion fills my heart. I truly thank all of you.
From the depth of my heart, I sincerely wish you and your loved ones good health, great success, and the increase of fortune and wisdom. In the unexpected conditions of the future, if there are no great changes, sure we will meet again. Perhaps at that time, I can speak more Chinese to you. Amitaba!"