For the fifth year, His Holiness the Karmapa was invited by the Foundation for Universal Responsibility—an organization founded by is Holiness the Dalai Lama—to offer public teachings in Delhi. This year, the weekend was devoted to exploring “The Art of Happiness” through the Eight Verses on Mind Training by Geshe Langri Tangpa. Responding to the overwhelming demand for a place at these annual teachings, this year the teachings were held in the largest space available in Delhi’s Habitat Centre, the Stein Auditorium. Although it seats 400, the auditorium preserves a sense of intimacy, and even before the Karmapa took the stage, the hall filled with the warm atmosphere of a family reunion. Many of those attending had met year after year at the Gyalwang Karmapa’s teaching hosted by the foundation, even as others were rejoicing in their good fortune at finally getting a place at the teachings, which routinely waitlists large numbers of would-be attendees. The organizers noted that the house was full to capacity with many local Indian devotees as well as people from 34 other countries in attendance.
After a warm and heartfelt welcome by Rajiv Mehrotra, the Karmapa began the morning session by clarifying that “mind training” or “lojong” is an important approach to practice that was transmitted to us by the Kadampa school in Tibet. What we are training our mind to do with lojong, he explained, is primarily to give rise to bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is not something that instantly appears full-blown in everyone’s mind, but rather requires a gradual process of intentional cultivation over time. Bodhichitta forms a key focus in Mahayana Buddhism, wherein “maha” means great, while “yana” means vehicle. The Gyalwang Karmapa noted that the term Mahayana evokes the image of a vehicle to express the scope of the responsibility accepted in one’s spiritual practice. Just as an elephant can bear a heavier load than a goat, the Karmapa said, different people are able to carry greater or lighter responsibilities. The Mahayana refers to the extent of the responsibility for others that is incorporated into our practice as its motivation. Through training, we can learn to increasingly extend ourselves and thus develop the ability to care better for more beings. The Foundational Vehicle or common vehicle sometimes referred to with the term Hinayana gives us the base we need to begin to learn to lift more. In the Mahayana, our practice is motivated by the ultimate aim of being able to carry the responsibility of leading all beings to enlightenment. But training in these common Dharma practices must precede the Mahayana.
The Eight Verses in Mind Training is generally classified as a Mahayana text, he noted. But if we would then ask whether by virtue of training in these teachings we can thereby automatically consider ourselves Mahayana practitioners, we would have to say that the answer is far from certain. This is because everything depends on our motivation, and thus it is within ourselves that we must look to tell whether our practice is actually Mahayana practice or not. It is only through focusing inside that we can truly train and that we can tell whether or not we are indeed taming our own wild beings.
With that introduction, His Holiness turned to the first line of the eight verses of training the mind.
1. With a determination to achieve the highest aim For the benefit of all sentient beings Who surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem, May I hold them dear at all times.
His Holiness noted that it took him quite a while to figure out how best to convey what was meant by a wish-fulfilling jewel. The term evokes the sense that to gain such a jewel one had to travel across the wide oceans and would need to retrieve it from the naga realms. Once you had it, although it might not buy you liberation or enlightenment, you could use it to get any worldly good you could imagine. Nowadays, the modern equivalent of a wish-fulfilling jewel is money. We turn to it as something that allows us to buy material goods and many other things as well. We use money to buy fame, to buy comfort and even to buy influence. Even if we might know deep down that money cannot buy us happiness, we direct so much energy in pursuing it that we seem to be treating it as if it were happiness itself.
Thus reading the text with the analogy of money in mind, the first verse’s statement that sentient beings should be held more dear than a wish-fulfilling jewel reminds us of the limitations of material and worldly aims, and of the much higher value of primordial wisdom, compassion and Buddhahood, which we can only attain through sentient beings and through the bodhichitta attitude that we cultivate in relation to others. We readily set valuable statues of buddhas and bodhisattvas in the place of pride on our altars and make offerings and prostrate to them. Yet when we see a sentient being whose clothes are tattered or dirty and who does not strike us as physically attractive, we try to steer clear and avoid interacting with them. If we think of clay, we might form that clay into the shape of a Buddha and reverentially place it on our altar. Yet sentient beings are basically that same clay—just in a different shape at the moment.
The first verse in the text is pointing out that in terms of their ability to grant us happiness and enlightenment, sentient beings are no different from buddhas. Thus it is said that accomplishing the benefit of sentient beings and making offerings to buddhas is identical.
He next turned to the second verse.
2. Whenever I interact with someone, May I view myself as the lowest amongst all, And, from the very depths of my heart, Respectfully hold others as superior.
Nowadays, he observed, we have many cultural norms that seem to contradict this verse, especially those stemming from the ideal of egalitarianism. Even if we do not necessarily see ourselves as superior, we certainly are not willing to consider ourselves to be inferior. This verse can therefore be difficult to understand correctly. To guard against misunderstanding the purpose of practicing as indicated in this verse, the Gyalwang Karmapa drew a distinction between confidence, which is healthy, and pride, which is not.
He began by distinguishing two potential uses of the term “pride.” One is that which needs to be abandoned and the other is a pride that is the remedy. The former—the pride that we need to work to reduce—is the pride or arrogance that leads us to look down on others. The latter—the remedy “pride”—is the attitude that has the confidence or pride that says, “I will not let the kleshas get the best of me. I will beat them.”
Generally it is difficult to turn away from our kleshas or afflictive emotions. When we are under pressure or in a difficult situation, we often to turn to our kleshas for comfort or support. This is because we have not developed other resources to draw on. When we have the power of love within us, we can ignore the afflictions and say to them, “I can live without you.” This gives us confidence. But without the strength that we would have if we had developed our inner qualities, we feel we have nothing else to rely on and so our afflictive emotions seem attractive companions to us. We feel that we want and need them. Therefore the enhancement of our inner powers of love and compassion should be part of our work to reduce our reliance on our destructive emotions.
In the work to reduce pride, our main aim is the pride that involves looking down on or overlooking others. When we have the pride that looks down on others, we are limiting our own growth. We find so many things to feel proud of. We can feel proud of our looks, of our social position or family background. If, on the basis of any such small and limited feature, we feel superior or important, this impedes the growth of our positive qualities.
His Holiness then noted that in a change from previous teachings organized by FUR, this series of teachings is being held in a larger room with comfortable chairs that put everyone in danger of dozing off. For that reason, he proposed setting aside the rest of the session for questions and answers to keep it lively enough for people to stay awake. For the remainder of the morning session, the Gyalwang Karmapa fielded questions from the audience on topics ranging from how to tell that our Dharma practice is really working to the inseparability of great bliss and emptiness.
They then adjourned for an Indian buffet lunch that was offered to all, allowing the community to spend the lunch break meeting with old friends, making new ones and all the while discussing the teachings they had just received. In the early afternoon, the hall filled once again for a second session, during which His Holiness continued his exposition of the third verse.
3. In all my deeds may I probe into my mind, And as soon as mental and emotional afflictions arise- May I strongly confront them and avert them, Since they will hurt both me and others.
He first drew attention to the use of the word “hurt,” which translates the Tibetan term “ma rung wa” that denotes making something wild, rough or harsh. This reminds us that as we become increasingly habituated to the arising of mental afflictions, we become rough or wild. We are not born bad from the outset, but through the force of repeated habituation, our minds become harsh and unruly.
Every single one of the vast number of forms of Dharma taught by the Buddha has as its sole purpose to counteract our afflictive emotions. The essential point in practicing the Dharma is to tame our minds. The key to ascertaining whether our Dharma practice is working or not comes down to determining whether or not our mind is becoming less harsh and wild and more tame and gentle. This is true for Dharma practice in any and all Buddhist traditions. Therefore this verse condenses all vehicles in one key point, be it the vehicle of the disciples and pratyekabuddhas (Shravakayana), the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) or the Tantric Vehicle (Vajrayana), the Karmapa said.
His Holiness then delivered a presentation of the —the pratimoksha vows, the bodhisattva vows and the tantric vows in connection with training the mind in bodhichitta. The three levels of vows associated with these three vehicles are designed to restrain our body, speech and mind, he observed.
It is a particular feature of Tibetan Buddhism that all three vehicles are practiced together by a single person, and for that to happen, a person must hold all three types of vows. It is relatively straightforward for one person to practice one set of vows without holding the rest, but it becomes much more challenging when one holds all three sets and needs to keep them in harmony without contradictions. This is an area where a great deal of confusion enters, and thus where the textual tradition devotes a great deal of attention in an effort to clarify the apparent contradictions that arise in actual practice. All the vows or precepts serve as antidotes to our kleshas, or afflictive emotions. The pratimoksha vows help us to make and keep a commitment not to act physically or verbally based on our kleshas and especially our attachment. The bodhisattva vows are primarily aimed at the klesha of aversion. The tantric vows serve as means to counteract our underlying ignorance.
The Gyalwang Karmapa especially underscored the opening words of the third verse “In all my deeds” as reminding us that our virtues must be cultivated in every single context and moment of our lives. Similarly, we must be working to reduce or remove our kleshas not only when we are engaging in formal practice, but in any and all instances. In order for the Dharma to truly work as an antidote to our kleshas, we often set aside time for special practice. But if when we leave our cushion or practice space we ease up or forget our work to apply the antidotes, we will not be able to develop the power, fortitude and momentum we need to succeed in our spiritual goals. He thus made a wholehearted appeal to the audience to make it a central goal to bring the Dharma into their daily lives. This did not mean making a display that we are Buddhists in our everyday lives, but rather that we incorporate all aspects of our lives into our practice. Since the kleshas do not solely arise when we are on our meditation cushion, it is not sufficient to work to counteract them only while we are on in a formal session.
The Karmapa cautioned against understanding the third verse’s exhortation to “strongly confront and avert” the kleshas as a warning that they must be countered with force. Applying the antidotes does not mean willfully suppressing our negative emotions. For example, it does not mean that we are burning inside and we shut it in and do not let anyone see it. This will just bring you more suffering. Rather, we begin by recognizing that the kleshas in themselves are harmful and problematic for us. This awareness alone will reduce our kleshas, as we will no longer turn to them unquestioningly or welcome them as helpful allies. We will know them to be an enemy to us and to others.
We need two basic sources of support in our work with our kleshas: inner sources of support and outer sources of support. As an analogy, he describes the process whereby once a king has identified a country he wishes to wage war against, he might create the support of an army that could fight and also send spies to gather intelligence. If it turned out that the country the king wished to conquer was flourishing economically, and its people liked their king, the first king would then spread false rumors to erode the people’s support of their king. Then, once the battle was joined, the first king would have created the outer conditions to win the war as well as the inner conditions. Similarly, we want to weaken our kleshas’ inner basis of support and reinforce our own inner determination and conviction, as well as arming ourselves with the outer support of a strong Dharma practice. To that end, we engage in formal practice, supplicate the guru, cultivate our virtues and generally ready ourselves with this outer support. But at the same time, if we do not have a heartfelt sense of disgust, disenchantment and desire to be rid of the kleshas, no matter how many supportive outer conditions we develop through our practice, we will not be able to win this battle.
This process of working with the kleshas can be confusing because the kleshas are part of you and the one who is battling them is also part of you. Deep inside, we may feel those afflictive emotions have really been helpful and kind to us and we will not be able to fight them to the death. We may feel attracted to them and feel they have been faithful friends to us. This is why the clear and deep recognition of our afflictive emotions as truly and completely harmful to us is an indispensable part of our Dharma practice.
4. When I see beings of unpleasant character Oppressed by strong negativity and suffering, May I hold them dear—for they are rare to find— As if I have discovered a jewel treasure!
This verse calls us to change our habitual response to people with harsh personalities or people who have harmed us. We dislike them and feel they richly deserve any suffering that comes their way. This is an attitude we must replace with the awareness that this person should be the particular focus of your practice. It is easy to have compassion for someone we like or who has done us many good turns, but we need to train to extend our compassion well beyond that limited and easy target.
It is in fact a handy way to evaluate our level of compassion by observing our reaction when someone who has harmed us or who has a difficult personality encounters problems. In fact, it is important to look within to assess our level of compassion in those moments. As we engage in this process of training, it is important to be honest about our progress. We may find that for all our efforts, we just are not feeling genuine compassion towards someone who has harmed us, and we can say to ourselves, “I tried but my efforts did not work.” There is no need to chastise ourselves if we fall short in our efforts, nor should we pretend to ourselves or others that what we are feeling is compassion, saying “Oh, how sad. Om mani padme hum.” We just take it as an indication of where we need to work further in our practice.
People with difficult personalities are exactly the same as good-natured people in terms of their yearning for happiness and wish to be free of suffering. Those with good or bad characters have the same potential to become awakened. If we could develop our compassion and wisdom to the point where it had the power to help those with difficult personalities to transform into people with good natures, that would truly be an exceptional and splendid practice of the Dharma.
While a person is harming us, we often forget that they also experience suffering and pain. In the case of someone who has engaged in serious and sustained activities aimed at harming us over a long period of time, it is not surprising if we find this difficult. But if we are practitioners in the Mahayana path, we must make a since effort to remember that they are suffering sentient beings and try to respect them and treat them well.
When someone harms us, it is a mistake for us as Dharma practitioners to give rise to aversion or other negative emotions towards them. If, on top of that, we forget that they too are suffering sentient beings but instead feel they are not worthy of our compassion, we are adding a second mistake to the first. We always have a reason to feel compassion for that person, and on some occasions we may feel they have given us also a reason to feel anger or hatred. It is up to us to choose which reason to make the basis of our action.
The Gyalwang Karmapa then devoted another half an hour to the growing pile of written questions that were arriving from the audience as well as from those watching around the world via webcast, and the international community of people seeking the Dharma dispersed with the joy of knowing there was more to come the next day.