December 21, 2012
The grand Monlam Pavilion, with seating for about 10,000 monks and laypeople, is ablaze with colour in the darkness of early morning. Metal beams spanning the great height of the ceiling are draped with red and gold pleated banners giving an impression of sun rays beaming from Mount Kailash at the back of the stage.
It creates an eloquent statement about both the Buddhist tradition and the Kagyu lineage which the Karmapa uses to great effect in making his opening remarks. The theme that weaves throughout the talk is the essential unity of Buddhist schools and the destructiveness of schisms. Mount Kailash - sacred to 3 Eastern religions- towers above all.
The main teaching of the Monlam is Je Tsong Khapa's Three Primary Elements of the Path. This particular text was chosen for the Monlam because the commentary is by the first Jamgon Kongtrul, Lodro Thaye, and the 30th Monlam is dedicated to the Kongtrul lineage. Lodro Thaye set a precedent as the Rime [non-sectarian] master who broke through the barriers of Tibetan sectarianism in the nineteenth century.
To introduce the teaching, the Karmapa explained the connection between the Karmapas and Je Tsong Khapa, "the king of dharma". In an historic meeting on his way to China (or on the way back) the 4th Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje met a child whom he recognised. He predicted "this boy will become like a second Buddha", gave him the Upasaka vows and a name, Kunga Chenpo. The child was Tsong Khapa.
Through the blessing of Manjushri, Tsong Khapa had a special experience and realised the Madhyamika view coming from Nagarjuna. He also held the lineage of Atisha and practised the Vinaya to such perfection that no one could dispute his conduct; although some people disputed his view of Madhyamika. "He was a great master," said the Karmapa. The three primary elements of the path are renunciation, bodhicitta and right view. These three elements are the foundation for even crossing the threshold of either sutra or mantra.
"The most important way of honouring the great masters is to understand their experiences and try to practice what they have taught. There is no better way to honour the teacher. Jamgon Kongtrul wrote countless books and out of them all, this one is very useful."
The Karmapa then spoke from the heart about his personal experience of divisive rumours and wrong views to dispel them publicly. Because of his prolonged stay of twelve years at a Gelugpa monastery in Dharamsala, there were rumours that he had abolished the Lama dances at Rumtek, had become a Gelugpa and that he told people not to practice Nyingma or to say the 7-line prayer of Guru Padmasambhava.
"Since the time of the 16th Karmapa nothing has been discontinued at Rumtek", he said. " I just came from Tibet and went directly to Dharamsala. I thought I would stay a few months in Dharamsala and then I would go to Sherabling or Rumtek. But I couldn't go anywhere. I had to stay in Gyuto. I have been a kind of guest there for 12 years. Now the guest is almost becoming a permanent resident. Since I am staying in a great Gelugpa monastery maybe some people are spreading these kind of rumours."
Since his childhood, he said, he has maintained a deep and abiding connection with Guru Padmasambhava.
Right from the beginning of my life my parents had great faith in Guru Padmasambhava and I would recite the 7line prayer. We were nomadic and had to move our tent to different places in the summer and winter. Everyone wanted the best place for grass and water. My father told me to recite the 7-line prayer and I would recite it all day. If my father got a good place for our tent he would say, " You must have recited it very well". If we didn't get a good place he would say, "I'm sure you didn't recite it very well". One day there was dark red smoke in the sky. The chief of our area said there was a fire in the mountains and if the fire burned the grass, all the food for the cattle would be destroyed. I went on top of a hill and recited the 7 line prayer and blew into the air. I don't know whether it helped or not but the fire didn't come to our place. The chief gave me one yuan and I was very happy and showed it to my parents. I had never before received a present. I had this kind of connection with Guru Padmasambhava. Even now, I have the same connection.
Generally I have great faith and confidence in all the teachings of the Buddha. I have no thought that one is better or worse. All the teachings in Tibet come from India. They are not different; they just have different names. The teachers established different monasteries in different places. We come from the same teacher and the same teaching. We tend to forget this because it's more than 2000 years since the Buddha passed away. The Buddha predicted the way the dharma would end would be when the people who hold the teachings have conflict amongst themselves. That conflict is the maras. However bad we are, we should not destroy our own teachings. We should all be very careful about this.
The differences are there to help different kinds of people, he emphasized, not because they are in essence different. The Monlam prayer book is also allinclusive, containing prayers from the great masters of the different schools and the sub divisions of the Kagyu. Reciting these prayers plants the seed for teaching according to the needs of different people.
When we take refuge it should include all buddhas, all the dharma, all the sanghas. We don't say my buddha , my dharma, my sangha. Otherwise it isn't refuge. We should not make this segregation. If we don't take authentic refuge we are not authentic Buddhists. It is like giving up the dharma.
If you give up the dharma it's worse than the 5 heinous deeds. If you commit the 5 heinous deeds you may go to the hells for some time, but if you give up dharma you create a situation where you will never be able to practice dharma.
All of you have to hold the dharma, understand the Buddha's teaching and how to preserve it - through both teaching and practice.