Vajra Vidhya Institute, Sarnath.
Day 1 Report
On the 11th day of the 1st month of the Year of the Water Snake, in the holy land of Sarnath, very close to the exact site where the Buddha Shakyamuni taught his first five disciples more than 2500 years ago and thereby set into motion the entire Buddhist teaching tradition, the Gyalwang Karmapa once again turned the wheel of dharma.
Coinciding with an annual dharma seminar at Vajra Vidya Institute being led by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, the Gyalwang Karmapa commenced a week-long series of teachings on a text which has been one of his personal favorites since a young age, called 'Tri Thung Gyatsa' or 'One Hundred Short Instructions.'
The text, composed by the glorious 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje, comprises a treasury of pith instructions spanning the entire path to enlightenment. Each instruction is skillfully crafted so that the reader can enter the text at any point to find a gem of the 8th Karmapa's heart advice and enlightened wisdom. "From time to time I myself take a look through these 100 short instructions, and I really feel that they are very beneficial for me," the Gyalwang Karmapa said. "All of these instructions are given for serious practitioners," he continued, "and sometimes they are extremely forthright. They go straight to the heart of the matter."
Deciding that it would be beneficial to focus on one or two of the instructions contained within the collection, the Gyalwang Karmapa chose to begin the teachings with an instruction on 'Rules for Karma Kamtsang Meditators'. From this somewhat abstract title, he then began by emphasizing the need to contemplate death and impermanence in order to generate a sense of renunciation from worldly concerns, as a necessary precondition to genuine dharma practice. The Gyalwang Karmapa urged those gathered to use their own intelligence in understanding and practicing the essence of Buddhism, rather than just blindly following traditions or customs.
"The essence of Buddhism is being able to distinguish what it is that we need to do from what it is that we need to give up. It is taking up virtue and giving up non-virtue. We need to identify what it is that will bring benefit to ourselves and others, and then we need to do that. We also need to identify what it is that will harm ourselves and others, and then we need to give that up. So you can condense it all into doing what is beneficial and giving up what is harmful. We need to know what the essence of dharma is, and then bring it into our lives."
He stressed the importance of not delaying the practice of the dharma, but rather taking the teachings on death and impermanence to heart and allowing them to motivate our practice in the present moment.
"If we are going to practice the dharma, this is what it means and we need do this now in our lives. We might think that we have our whole lives to do it, but we need to start doing it from today. This is not something that we should think, 'Oh I can start tomorrow, or I can start the next day, or I can do this when I'm older.' We need to do dharma practice now. We cannot postpone this. We need to start it right now."
As thousands of the Gyalwang Karmapa's students around the world logged onto the live webcast of the teachings simultaneously from all corners of the globe, this served as a timely reminder that the vast enlightened activity of the Gyalwang Karmapa cannot be limited by time and space. The Gyalwang Karmapa's skillful use of modern technology enables him to directly reach and teach in accordance with the needs of those both near and far. "There are many people who are not able to come to these teachings in person," he commented, "so it seems that the best way to bring benefit to those people is to have a live webcast. This is very beneficial for them." Live translations were offered in seven languages, including: English, Hindi, Chinese, Spanish, Polish, German, and French.
The Gyalwang Karmapa's Spring Teachings continue daily until 28 February 2013, with the exception of 25 February (Chotrul Duchen) when other activities are scheduled to take place.
Day 2 Report
Beginning several hours before the scheduled teaching time, hundreds of people began to gather at the Vajra Vidya Institute gompa for the second day of the Gyalwang Karmapa's Spring Teachings. With Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche once again in attendance, together with Tulkus and Khenpos, monks and nuns, and international and local devotees, the gompa was quickly filled to capacity. A large group of students from the nearby Central University of Tibetan Studies gathered, while a growing webcast audience also tuned in live from across the world, all eager to absorb the Gyalwang Karmapa's vast and profound wisdom.
As the rain of dharma continued for a second day, the Gyalwang Karmapa opened the teaching by once again reiterating the urgency to practice the dharma right now, in this very moment.
"We need to practice the dharma from now. We need to do it on this very seat, in this very session. It's right now that we need to begin the dharma. If we postpone it, if we think to ourselves I'm going to do it tomorrow or the next day, then we will not be able to really practice the dharma well. It's important to understand this."
From this urgent call to practice, the Gyalwang Karmapa then turned his attention to making sure that we do it properly. He observed that there are many people who wish to practice the dharma, but don't truly know how. By focusing mainly on the external appearances of our practice without carefully checking our mind, we can easily fall into the trap of spiritual materialism.
"Sometimes when we practice dharma we think that we need to show some sort of external or physical sign of it. We pay a lot of attention to the rituals and these actions of our body and speech. This is practicing dharma when we're focusing outside. But instead what we need to do is turn our attention inwards. We need to see whether what we're doing is functioning as an antidote to the afflictions or not. We need to see whether we are taming our mind or not. We need to see whether our mind is improving, getting kinder, or not. If we don't look at it in this way then there's no benefit to doing these actions – we think that we are trying to do the dharma, but actually we are just making a show with our body and speech. We are putting on appearances, and that's all we really take an interest in. And the moment that happens, this becomes spiritual materialism."
Expanding his focus to the wider twenty-first century world we inhabit, the Gyalwang Karmapa touched on both the ways it shapes us as people and the ways that we as individuals in turn can shape it. Observing the growing trend towards materialism in the modern world, he encouraged the audience to look beyond the idea that happiness can be found outwards in external things.
"These days in the 21st century it's a very materialistic time. Most of the time, we don't really know what true happiness is. Many people have the idea that external things and external conditions will bring them happiness, and will lead them to the real meaning. But when we think about material things, the more we have of these things the more disturbances we have. The more difficulties we have. Things get more and more problematic. We have more and more busyness, and what happens then is that we lose ourselves. We lose our nature, what really is there."
Continuing his exploration of our place in the modern world, the Gyalwang Karmapa skillfully reminded each person of the important role they play in shaping an increasingly interconnected and ever-more deeply interdependent world.
"In this Information Age people are developing closer and closer connections with each other. All the people in the world are seeing that they have greater mutual connections. It has become very clear to us that these are deeper and stronger connections. When we think about our own good acts and wrong acts, we can see more clearly how they have an effect on the world. We can see that the individual things that we do are connected to the benefit or the harm of the world. They are deeply connected to the happiness and suffering that is in the world. The good and bad acts of one person are becoming the good and bad of the world. When we examine the good and bad that we do, we can see that it is becoming even more profound and even more vast. It's the good and the bad that people do that determine on a fundamental level if there is peace or happiness in the world. It's very tightly connected."
Recordings of the Gyalwang Karmapa's Spring Teachings are available on YouTube in English and Chinese, and are also available for download the day following each teaching session. The live webcast steam can now also be accessed on all mobile devices, including iPad, iPhone, Android, etc.
Day 3 Report
On the third day of his Spring Teachings the Gyalwang Karmapa began by reflecting on the sacredness of the teaching space, and it's preciousness to him personally. Arising out of the vast vision of its Abbot, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Vajra Vidya Institute is nestled at the edge of Sarnath's Deer Park, the sacred place where the Buddha Shakyamuni first turned the wheel of dharma. The towering Dhamek Stupa, constructed over a millennia ago to venerate the Buddha's monumental act of teaching the dharma, is only a short walk away from where the Gyalwang Karmapa's own teachings are taking place, in Vajra Vidya Institute's temple. "When I come to this temple it's like I have a special feeling that arises here," he said. "Since the time I came to India, for the few small things that I have done in my life they've all started here, in this monastery's temple. It's like this place has been the starting point for everything that I have done."
Returning once again to the theme of the previous day, the Gyalwang Karmapa continued his guidance on how to practice the dharma correctly, until we eventually reach a point where the dharma and our life have merged.
"To really practice the dharma we have to understand the reasons for the dharma, and we have to have full dedication and interest in the dharma. When we have that, only at that point are our dharma practice and the individual who is practicing the dharma no longer separate from each other. That is when the dharma, and the individual who is practicing it, become the same in flavor. That is the point when our dharma practice and this life become part of each other and they share the same nature."
Moreover, as dharma practitioners we also need to truly understand and accept impermanence. We need to develop our ability to be relaxed and open to changes as they naturally occur, accepting situations as they arise around us. Likening the process of change to the natural and beautiful play of the four seasons, the Gyalwang Karmapa reminded those gathered that when things change they can be even better.
"When, because of external or internal circumstances there comes some sort of a change, we need to be able to go along with that change. So whatever happens, we go with the flow of events. If we are able to do this, then in our own mind we can be more relaxed. We can be more expansive. When we go along with that we can be comfortable, relaxed and spacious in our minds. If we are able to do this then we are able to be happy, and to have a comfortable and content life."
The Gyalwang Karmapa then urged his students to uncomplicate their worlds, by keeping a simple outlook on life. Delivering profound guidance with skillful simplicity, he emphasized the importance of living grounded in the present moment, and of seeing the good that is already right in front of our eyes.
"The best thing is to be in the present. It's better if we don't have too high hopes for the past or the future situations. It's better just to stay in the present. Whatever is right in front of our eyes, we need to be able to see the good in it. If we can see the good in it, then good things will be able to occur from that. I really feel that it helps to try to just have a simple outlook on life."
The Gyalwang Karmapa ended the session by sharing one of his own personal strategies for dealing with problems when they arise. "When I have difficulties," he said, "I feel like sometimes it's good to just close the door, relax a little bit, let my mind be a little bit looser and more spacious. I feel that this is helpful, and this is probably something that will be helpful for you as well."
Day 4 Report
On the fourth day of the Spring Teachings the Gyalwang Karmapa turned the focus firmly inwards: if we look inside our own minds, a wishfulfilling jewel is already waiting. No matter how long we may search elsewhere for it, in the end we come back to what was already present within ourselves from the very beginning.
"Within our beings, all of us, there are these uncontrived, natural roots of virtue, these instinctive seeds of innate goodness. We still look for something outside ourselves, not knowing how priceless and how important what we already have is. We need to look at these seeds of virtue in our mind as if they were as rare as a Buddha."
By first being able to see the innate treasure already present in our own minds, we can then work to develop it further and further. "We need to take those virtuous seeds within ourselves and increase them," he said. "We need to elicit the power that is naturally there and work with that until we achieve the ultimate state of awakening."
From exploring the innermost essence of our mind, the Gyalwang Karmapa then shifted the focus back outwards again, by reminding those gathered that sometimes we need to look from the perspective of others to see the full value of our lives. Using the metaphor of a net, in which each individual life is completely connected and completely interdependent with others, we must also be able to see how others find our lives meaningful.
"When we are trying to figure out what the essence or the meaning of life really is, then it's not just a question of looking inside oneself. Sometimes we have to look outwards to see the meaning we hold for others. We have to look in all different directions to be able to see what is good about our life."
Leaving the audience with this beautiful perspective on interdependence, the Gyalwang Karmapa told those gathered that he would continue the next teaching session with a different instruction from the 'Tri Thung Gyatsa' text, on devotion.
The Gyalwang Karmapa's Spring Teachings continue until February 28. In addition to the seven languages already offered, live translation is now also available in Russian.
Day 5 Report
As the Spring Teachings entered their fifth day, the Gyalwang Karmapa began to explore the role of devotion in our practice. Teaching from a new instruction within the 'Tri Thung Gyatsa' text, he began by explaining that devotion is critical for our dharma practice, particularly within the Kagyu tradition. And yet, it isn't all that easy to correctly develop devotion.
First we need to understand what devotion means. Drawing a clear distinction between faith and devotion, the Gyalwang Karmapa said, "When we think about faith, then faith is like a feeling we have in our minds. But devotion isn't just a feeling. It's not just an emotion. It's something that we put into practice with our body and speech."
To illustrate his point, the Gyalwang Karmapa then explained the meaning inherent within the Tibetan term for devotion, mo-gü. The first syllable of the word means to have great longing, he explained, while the second syllable means actually doing things with our body and speech. Only by bringing these two elements together can we fully understand the active nature of devotion, which is more than a mere emotion or feeling. Rather, devotion means an act that we do with all three spheres of our being – our body, speech, and mind.
The Gyalwang Karmapa then touched on the vital role played by the qualified teacher. When correct understanding from the side of the student meets with great compassion from the side of the teacher, we must open the door of our devotion in order to receive their blessings.
"The student needs to have faith and longing, and if this faith and longing come together then I don't think that sort of a student will have any difficulty finding a genuine, authentic Lama. The reason is that all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are ready at all six times of day and night to do things to benefit sentient beings. They're all ready and waiting. If you have both faith and longing then they'll all come rushing towards you to help you. You just have to open that door of faith and devotion."
During the session the Gyalwang Karmapa also returned once more to a core theme which he has emphasized throughout the Spring Teachings – how to practice the dharma with our whole being.
"When we say practice, it's not all that helpful for us just to hear the dharma, or listen to the dharma. It's not all that helpful for us to develop some kind of understanding about the dharma. What we really need to do is join the dharma with our own being, and then we need to practice that over and over again. Joining our being with the dharma, so that we can become habituated and familiarized with it – this is what is most important."
Day 6 Report
On the sixth day of his Spring Teachings the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, cut straight to the core of an issue that is vital not only for the sustainability of our contemporary world, but also within our individual lives as Buddhist practitioners. Exploring the topic from many different angles, the Gyalwang Karmapa discussed his views on whether Buddhist practitioners should eat meat or not, and if so, when and how it may be acceptable to do so.
"A few years ago at one of the Kagyu Monlams I spoke about the topic of vegetarianism, giving up eating meat. You could say it was an announcement, but it was really like making a suggestion. Since then many years have passed, and over the years I've heard people say various things. Some people have even said, 'Oh, Ogyen Trinley Dorje says that if you don't give up eating meat then you're not a Kagyupa.' Now, it actually wasn't me who said that. It was the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje who said that. So it wasn't my idea, and it's not like I said you better give up meat or else you're not a Kagyupa."
In fact, there are different ways we can interpret the 8th Karmapa's advice, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa continued. If we take a looser interpretation of Mikyo Dorje's words, then by eating meat you can say that you're not a truly pure Kagyu practitioner. "There are many great Kagyu masters who have eaten meat, so it is very difficult to merely say that eating meat means that you have faults. But eating meat is something that all of us who practice the dharma need to think about very carefully."
The Gyalwang Karmapa, himself a pure vegetarian, then turned to his own life as an example. "When I spoke about this, I was primarily thinking about the way I lead my own life. I can't really do anything about how other people lead their lives, but in terms of thinking about myself there are some reasons for this." He then explained two key reasons that he personally does not eat meat. The first reason is the intense suffering that the animals who are killed go through. Every single day millions of animals are killed to feed us, and many are subjected to terrible conditions to provide us with food. Just a few days previously the Gyalwang Karmapa had shared a story of how, as a child in Tibet, when animals were killed for his family's food he felt unbearable, pure compassion for them.
The second reason he doesn't eat meat, the Gyalwang Karmapa continued, is because of his Mahayana training in seeing all sentient beings as his mothers. "We say I am going to do everything I can to free sentient beings from suffering. We say I am going to do this. We make the commitment. We take the vow. Once we have taken this vow, if then, without thinking anything about it, we just go ahead and eat meat, then that is not okay. It is something that we need to think about very carefully."
The Gyalwang Karmapa then acknowledged that there are some circumstances in which eating meat is allowed, or even necessary. He explained that within the Buddhist Vinaya, or rules for monks and nuns, eating meat is allowed mainly when one is ill, but only if three conditions are met: we must not have seen, heard, or thought that the animal was killed particularly for us to eat it. Meat is allowed when a person is sick, the Gyalwang Karmapa clarified, or for those people who need more nourishment and have great difficulty nourishing themselves without it.
"But when you eat meat in these situations you should not just eat it in an ordinary sort of way," he continued. "You first need to meditate on compassion for one session—compassion for all sentient beings in general, but especially for this particular animal whose flesh is in front of you. Then you should recite the mantras of the Buddha's name, as well as mantras that can help purify misdeeds. Only then should you start eating the meat."
Yet his guidance did not stop there. Returning to the Mahayana training of seeing all sentient beings as mothers, the Gyalwang Karmapa explained further. "When you start eating the meat you have to think about it in a particular way. You should think of it as being the meat of your mother or your father or your child. You should think of eating it in that way, and so it's when you think of it as being your mother's or your child's meat, then that is when you can eat it."
We must also have a pure motivation when we eat the meat, the Gyalwang Karmapa continued. "We should not eat the meat in order to enjoy it, because it is delicious. We should not eat it because we want to enjoy the great flavor and savor what we are eating. Instead we should eat the meat only in order to keep ourselves alive."
To avoid any misunderstanding, the Gyalwang Karmapa repeated the need for each individual to reflect deeply on the issue: "Now, I did not say that we need to immediately give up eating meat. I understand that it's difficult to give up eating meat. But I did say that we need to think about it carefully. When we eat meat, if we are someone who has entered the path of the Mahayana, someone who has begun to think of all sentient beings as their father, their mother, or their child, in terms of someone who practices in this way it's really something that we need to consider very carefully."
Day 7 Report
On the final day of his weeklong Spring Teachings, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, shared some thoughts about his own life. He began the session by openly reflecting on his life situation, compared to the vast accomplishments of the previous Karmapas.
"From my own perspective, I'm growing older and older but I have this feeling that up until now I still have not really done much to bring benefit to Buddhism and sentient beings, or anything to be satisfied with. When I look at the activities of the previous Karmapas, from a very early age they all did vast activity for the benefit of the teachings and for the benefit of sentient beings. Putting aside whether or not I can be compared to the other Karmapas, but as a follower of the Karmapas I still do not really feel that I have been able to do the same amount of benefit for beings and the teachings."
The very name 'Karmapa' contains the seeds of vast accomplishments within it, since the name means 'the one who accomplishes enlightened activities', or 'the embodiment of all the Buddha's activities.' And yet, the Gyalwang Karmapa said, he personally is surrounded by many difficulties and problems.
"I have the name of the Karmapa, and so I need to fulfill the role of the Karmapa and do the activity of a Karmapa. But performing the activity of a Karmapa is no joke. It is not easy. It is extremely difficult to do. In particular, it is extremely difficult for an ordinary being who has all the faults in his being to be able to try to perform the activities of Buddhas, who have removed all of their faults. This is extremely difficult. Although I'm still young I'm surrounded by many difficulties and many problems. Personally my life is very difficult."
And yet, despite all these difficulties, the Gyalwang Karmapa expressed his innate aspiration to be able to continue to help the beings of this world.
"The Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas, and especially the previous Karmapas, have taken care of me with their compassion and their great affection, and they have given me in particular this special opportunity to be able to do something for the benefit of beings and the Buddhist teachings. There are many people who expressed that they feel like I am necessary, and that I am of benefit to them. And so for that reason I have the aspiration that I may be able to stay in this world-realm and be able to accomplish something of benefit for Buddhism and for sentient beings."
With this pure aspiration to be able to benefit beings to the full extent of his extraordinary capabilities, the Gyalwang Karmapa drew the Spring Teachings to a close. "I don't know whether or not these teachings have been beneficial for you," he said, "but they have been beneficial for me. When you teach the dharma to others it sort of encourages and inspires you yourself. You have all been coming here to the teachings and many people in different countries have been watching and taking great interest, and I'd like to thank all of you very much."