Khyabje Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche’s talk on Calling the Lama from Afar
December 30, 2012
First, from the depths of my heart and with an infinite happiness, I would like to offer my auspicious greetings to everyone here—to the rinpoches, the spiritual friends, the three sections of the ordained sangha, and to the faithful male and female practitioners. Last year, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa asked me to teach on Calling the Lama from Afar by the first Jamgön Kongtrul, Lodrö Thaye during the time of these ceremonies to commemorate the lineage of the Jamgön Kongtrul incarnations. Since I am young and my experience and knowledge are limited, I will teach out of respect for the tradition of honoring an auspicious coincidence such as we have today.
In teaching the Mahayana Dharma, many lamas and texts have said that three aspects are needed: the first is a noble aspiration of bodhicitta; the second is the main practice; and the third is the dedication. The first aspect relates to our motivation. Whatever we may do, our motivation is very important, and among all the positive ones we might have, the motivation of bodhichitta is supreme. How can we understand this? Bodhichitta is the motivation to listen, reflect, and meditate on the stages of guru yoga so that all living beings in number as vast as space may be liberated from the ocean of samsara and swiftly attain the unsurpassable level of full awakening. As you listen to the teachings on Calling the Lama from Afar, please keep this motivation in mind and I, too, will carry it as best I can.
The second aspect is the focus on the main practice, and this can be divided into four sections. The first is an explanation of the title, which is Lama Gyangbo in Tibetan and Calling the Lama from Afar in English. La refers to being equal in qualities to the Buddha and ma refers to supreme kindness like a mother’s. Gyang means “distance” or “far away.” This can refer to time and place, but here it relates to the distance between our mind and the lama’s mind. And this can be understood in two ways: how the mind abides ultimately and how the mind appears relatively.
If we take the perspective of how mind abides ultimately, there is no difference between the lama’s mind and our mind since both of them are utterly pure by nature. If we take the perspective of how mind appears on a relative level, then there is a difference: lama has already given birth to all the qualities of the supreme body of a Buddha, whereas ordinary individuals have not. So on this level, we can speak of distance, and hence, of calling the lama from afar.
Ultimately, since the nature of the lama’s mind and our own are not different, the lama’s blessing can enter into us. However, relatively, if there were no difference between our mind and the lama’s mind, there would be no need to supplicate the lama and the blessings would not come to us. So this is the distinction: on an ultimate level there is no difference between the lama’s mind and ours, whereas on the relative level there is, and therefore, we supplicate the lama.
Some people say, half joking, that we don’t really need to call the lama from afar, because we have mobile phones and can fly anywhere to connect with them. This kind of connection, of course, is not what is meant here. It’s a question of the mind, not physical presence.
The final word of the title is bo, meaning “to call” or “ to call out.” What we call out is our supplication to the lama. In general, there are three reasons for making supplications across the distance to our lama: we are suffering and have problems; we believe that our only refuge is the lama; and we trust that the supplication is meaningful and beneficial. For example, it is like a baby calling out to its mother. Before reaching out to her, the baby is aware that it is suffering; its mother is the only one the baby knows who can help; and it trusts that the mother will be able to do something to benefit them.
That concludes an explanation of the title, Calling the Lama from Afar. In general, it is said that if we know well what the title expresses, its fuller meaning, then we can know what will follow in the whole text from its beginning to end. So it’s important to have a clear understanding of the first words.
The next part invokes the perfect mind of the lama and begins with “Lama, think of us. Kind root lama, think of us” and goes all the way through to “And bring us to complete awakening in this very life.” Today there is not enough time to go through all these first verses, but their structure is similar. They begin with mentioning lama’s name, his qualities and level of realization, and then make a request that we also attain them. The last summarizing verse of this section illustrates this pattern:
Kind root lama think of us.
Look upon us from the crown of our head,
the abode of great bliss.
Let us meet the face of the dharmakaya,
And bring us to complete awakening in this very life.
The next section contains our requests to the lama—in essence, that we attain full awakening—and goes from “Alas! Beings like ourselves with bad karma and negative deeds,” through to the end, “Bless us that our minds blend with yours.” Continuing the earlier analogy of a baby, just as it wishes for its mother’s milk, we wish for the lama’s blessings in their many forms: that we attain a precious human existence, that an unfabricated understanding of impermanence and remembering death be born within us, and so forth.
Since the text speaks so often of blessings, it would be good to look at what they are. Blessings come from compassion and we can understand them through four categories: the compassion that is naturally present; the compassion that is continuous; the compassion that is timely; and the compassion that invokes the lama’s three kayas.
The compassion that is naturally present refers to the fact that once we have attained the lama, then their compassion and blessings are naturally present. It is like the sun and its rays: you cannot have one without the other. The second type is compassion that is continuous: it’s not that sometimes they exist and sometimes not. As long as the lama is present, the blessings are as well; they flow continuously like the current of a river. These two refer to how the lama is endowed with compassion and blessings.
The third category is the compassion that we do not have to invoke: When the time is right, they naturally come without our having to do anything. Angulimala had killed 999 people and was on his way to kill the thousandth, his mother, when he met the Buddha without invoking him. Through his influence, Angulimala gave up his plan. The fourth type is supplicating the lama and invoking their three kayas as we do in Calling the Lama from Afar. These second two refer to how the blessings enter into us. The main point of all four types of compassion is that supplications are the path through which blessings enter into us. With this we have completed the section on the explanation of blessings.
It is often taught that the root of blessings is devotion, and the king of devotion is seeing the lama as the Buddha. Whether a supplication becomes a way for blessing to enter us or not depends on our devotion, and the most profound devotion is to see our root lama as inseparable from the Buddha. Here, we are not talking about blind faith, but a devotion based on correct reasoning that we learn through studying and reflecting.
The fourth section is the last verse, the supplication that the lama’s realized mind and our mind become inseparable:
We supplicate you, precious lama.
Kind one, Lord of Dharma, we call out to you with longing.
For us unworthy ones, you are the only hope.
Bless us that our minds blend with yours.
Here I will talk a little about the meaning as this is the most important verse in the entire text. If we shift the order of the lines, their meaning becomes clearer. With the first two lines, we supplicate the lama; in the fourth we ask that our minds blend together; and the third line gives the reason why: the lama is our only hope. When the Buddha was alive, we were not fortunate enough to meet him and hear his teachings. The lama, however, is the very embodiment of all the buddhas of the three times, and so we pray that the lama’s realized mind and our mind blend together. As you do your practice, please have a clear understanding of this key verse.
We have been looking in particular at Calling the Lama from Afar, and more generally, it is also true that whatever Dharma practice we are doing, it should not come just from our mouth as mere words: it should come from the depths of our heart. We also should reflect on the meaning as we recite the words. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than the words coming from a recording: they are all there, but they do not rise from the heart nor is their meaning reflected upon, and so they cannot bring about the change and transformation that we seek. Whatever practice we do, the words must come from our heart, and we should contemplate their meaning. Now we have finished discussing the main practice. Please keep it in your hearts. This is the first time that I gave given teachings to such a large gathering and I would like to apologize for any mistakes or confusion that might have occurred.
We have now completed looking at the first two aspects of the practice—the noble aspiration and the main practice—and now we come to third, the dedication. Whatever virtuous activity we have done, at the end it is essential to make a dedication. Why is this? Because it is certain that we have accumulated merit. In order that this merit does not get lost and go to waste, we dedicate it so that all living beings, vast in number as the extent of space, will be free of suffering relatively and ultimately attain liberation.
In Bodhgaya, this great place of pilgrimage, I consider myself very fortunate
to have the opportunity to give teaching to such a large gathering of people. I thank all of you and offer my wishes that everything be auspicious for everyone.