Understanding the defects of samsara is the basis for developing renunciation
December 22, 2012
The Gyalwang Karmapa began the second day of teaching on Je Tsong Khapa’s text with a playful reference to the worldwide speculation and fear that the world would end on Dec. 21st:
“Today is the second day of the 30th Kagyu Monlam. Yesterday the world ended so today we are in a new world. I would like to say good morning to all of you because today is the first day of the new world.”
In keeping with this, the Karmapa went on to stress that every hour of every day we have an opportunity to become a better human being. We should let go of the problems of our past and begin each day anew with a joyful and peaceful outlook.
Then he gave a little background information on the author of the commentary, the great Rime master Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye.
You can almost say that he started the Rime [non-sectarian] movement. Even though the Rime view or principle was there in Buddhism from the beginning, later on the sectarian view grew stronger, especially during the time of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Lodro Thaye. One was a great Sakya master and the other was one of the main lineage holders of the Karma Kamtsang, but because they were so close, they were motivated to work very powerfully for the Rime movement and together had unequalled activity in propagating this nonsectarian form of practice.
The Karmapa went on to stress that the reason we are able to listen to the teachings by the founder of another school today is due to the greatness of Jamgon Kongtrul’s activity and that by teaching this text of Je Tsong Khapa’s he is not doing something strange or unusual, but is in fact following the tradition of Jamgon Kongtrul. Then the Karmapa continued with the main text:
The "Three Primary Elements of the Path” has three parts that reflect the three main principles of the path: renunciation, bodhichitta, and the right view of emptiness. Today we are talking about renunciation—the necessity of generating it and how to do so.
As to the first point, the necessity of generating renunciation, the Karmapa said that first we have to truly understand samsara. Because we are under the sway of karma and negative emotions all the time, we go round and round and never become free. We experience the three kinds of suffering: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and all-pervasive suffering. As long as we are trapped in samsara, we will have no true and lasting happiness. So, realizing this we need to generate a very clear and strong wish to be free of this shackle of samsara.
Next, in order to develop bodhichitta, first we have to have a very strong wish to free all sentient beings from samsara because we have come to understand how bad samsara is and by contrast how good nirvana is. Thus renunciation and the understanding of impermanence is also the foundation for generating bodhichitta. The Karmapa continued:
There is a saying that if you do not understand impermanence then even your practice of “Sangwa Dupa” and all the other tantras will not be very deep. But if you do understand impermanence, then even the foundational practice of taking refuge becomes very deep. Thus, how deeply our practice of dharma goes depends on our understanding of impermanence and the defects of samsara.
The Karmapa said that we may think that the Vajrayana is very deep and profound, but in truth whether our practice becomes Mahayana or Vajrayana depends on us and our motivation. Some people think that if they practice something great or high like Mahamudra they will have a very profound practice, but that does not necessarily happen. It is up to us. Likewise, those who firmly hold the three kinds of vows but do not turn their minds away from samsara are simply driven by misunderstanding. To illustrate this, the Karmapa told a famous story:
As Jowo Atisha lay dying, a yogi came to him and said, “After you die, what should I meditate on?” Atisha said, “Don’t meditate, that is very bad.” Then the yogi said, “Alright, then I will meditate sometimes and teach sometimes.” And Atisha said, “That is also not good, just forget it.” Then the yogi said in exasperation, “What should I do then?” And Atisha said, “Give up your attachment to this life.”
Next the Karmapa talked about the kind of life we need to truly practice the dharma: this is the “precious human life,” replete with the eight freedoms and ten opportunities. He said that what this phrase really refers to are those beings with freedom to practice the dharma, unlike demi-gods, animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings, all of whom are deprived of the Buddha’s teachings. But even human beings could be deprived of the teachings of dharma, for instance, barbarians in the hinterlands or those with physical or mental impediments.
Also, it should be noted that even among fortunate humans, there is no dharma without the “nam shi” or four pillars: the gelong and gelongma, and the male and female genyen or upasaka. These are what are called the four followers of the Buddha, which are like the four pillars of a house.
Then the Karmapa made a surprising comment about the “nam shi” in relation to Tibet:
There is no gelongma tradition in Tibet so we are almost like those in the barbarian hinterlands. Generally when we talk about the place where the Buddhadharma spread, like in India, in Maghada where we are now, there are the four types of followers of the Buddha, gelong and gelongma, etc. And whether the Buddhadharma is really established or not depends upon whether these four followers of the Buddha are present or not.
Karmapa focused on the importance of understanding impermanence and how to make our lives meaningful. He stressed the dangers of procrastination He said, “As soon as you have the thought to practice dharma, do it then and there, rather than postponing it until you’re old.”
And he also presented a unique and skillful way to utilize impermanence:
Some people think that impermanence involves only thinking about death and becoming very worried about it. But it is not like that. Since everything is impermanent and changing, there is always an opportunity to purify the past and make yourself a new person. One way to practice is to start from the time we get up from our bed in the morning. We should feel as if we are newly born from our mother. Then when we wash our face, it is like how a baby is washed after it’s born. Then when we have our breakfast, we should feel that we are fat with our mother’s milk. And when we go to our jobs we should think we become a youth. Later, in the evening, when we come home, have dinner, and go to bed, we should think we have died. So in that way, one day is like one life.
There are two benefits of this. First you will realize that one day is as important as one whole life. So you cannot waste even a single day, because it is similar to a whole life. And secondly when death actually comes, you can accept it and go through it more easily. So this is something that I think it is important for everyone to keep in mind.
At the end of the teaching the Karmapa led the assembly in chanting the Lam Rim Monlam (Aspiration for the Stages of the Path) by Lord Tsong Khapa, followed by a five minute meditation.
......we will meditate on death and impermanence because there is nothing other than that to meditate on. Yesterday some people were saying that the world will be destroyed, and I was thinking about this as I was chanting: perhaps the ground underneath me would crack open and I would fall in. So, since many people yesterday thought the world would be destroyed, let us meditate now, thinking that five minutes from now the world will end. Please think about that when I ring the bell.