13 February 2016
This morning the Gyalwang Karmapa completed his teachings on the mandala offering practice, describing both the visualization and actual practice of offering a mandala in detail. The afternoon teaching and practice was canceled so that everyone could participate in welcoming His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, head of the Drikung Kagyu lineage. In response to this change, the Karmapa spent the whole morning completing the instructions for mandala offering, rather than continuing the accumulation practice.
The Karmapa began the teachings by giving the reading transmission for the sections on the visualization and actual practice of mandala offering as described in The Torch of True Meaning by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye (pages 57-61). The reading transmission was then translated aloud in English and Chinese. This was followed by a break for tea.
After the tea break, the Karmapa clarified and described in detail the instructions from the section of the text he had just read. First, he explained that there are four types of mandala offering: outer, inner, secret, and especially secret. These are associated respectively with the vase, secret empowerment, prajna wisdom and word empowerments. The Karmapa explained that in this case he would be discussing the mandala offering associated with the outer vase empowerment.
Next, the Karmapa discussed the thirty seven feature and seven feature mandalas and their practice in the mahamudra preliminaries. He said the thirty seven feature mandala is the most well known mandala offering in Tibetan Buddhism, and is used in all four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The seven feature mandala is a simpler version of the mandala offering, and the one that is mostly accumulated during the preliminary practices. The thirty seven feature mandala is offered at the beginning of the practice, and also after every 108 repetitions of the seven feature mandala.
There are two parts to mandala practice: the visualization and the actual practice. Rather than explain in detail all the parts of the thirty seven feature mandala visualization, the Karmapa said people should refer to The Torch of True Meaning. After generating the visualization, the Karmapa said that in the preliminary practices he composed there is an offering of the seven branch prayer (described in the book Ngöndro for Our Current Day: A Short Ngöndro Practice and Instructions by Ogyen Trinley Dorje, KTD Publications 2010). However, in the traditional mahamudra preliminaries, this is not part of the practice.
The Karmapa continued by describing the actual practice of the mandala offering. Taking rice in both hands, you hold the mandala plate with your left hand and wipe the mandala plate with the inside of your right wrist. The inside of the right wrist is associated with the “channel of bodhichitta.” The Karmapa explained that not everyone has a channel of bodhichitta, but that we wipe the plate like this in either case in order to increase bodhichitta, or compassion for all beings.
There are different traditions for wiping the plate in clockwise and counterclockwise directions, on the outside and inside of the plate, and the Karmapa explained the meaning behind these different ways. What the different ways share in common is that wiping clockwise is associated with purifying obscurations and faults in all beings and the environment. And wiping counterclockwise on the inside of the plate is associated with the aspiration that oneself and all beings will manifest the Dharmakaya and Sambogakaya bodies of the Buddha. The Karmapa explained that normally in this tradition we wipe twice in a clockwise direction on the outside of the plate, and once in a counter-clockwise direction on the inside of the plate. This is different than what is described in The Torch of True Meaning. While you are wiping the plate you recite the 100-syllable mantra, which the Karmapa said in general is the best mantra for purifying misdeeds and obscurations.
At this point the Karmapa emphasized the importance of always having grains of rice in both our hands when offering the mandala. “Because of interdependence, if we have empty hands this will create the connection that it will be difficult for us to develop qualities, or that later we will become poor or impoverished,” the Karmapa said. In a similar way, immediately after wiping the mandala plate, it is important to sprinkle the mandala plate with amrita or cover it with flowers. The Karmapa said that leaving it empty creates the connection that there will be a longer age of darkness where there is no Buddha appears.
At this point in the instructions, the Karmapa described the recipients of the mandala offering, who are the five jewels. The five jewels are the gurus, yidams, buddhas, dharma, and noble sangha. The Karmapa explained that the primary recipient of the mandala is your guru, in the form of Vajradhara.
Next, the Karmapa described how to place the offering piles on the plate and do the visualization for the thirty seven and seven feature mandala. In both cases, the primary features of the visualization are Mount Meru in the center, surrounded by the four continents, the sun and the moon. Since there wasn’t time to explain each of the aspects of the mandala in detail, the Karmapa said there are many drawing and diagrams that we can use for reference. One of the things the Karmapa did explain about this part of the practice is that because we are offering the mandala to the recipients in front of us, we should offer the mandala in relation to them. What this means in practice is that the eastern side of the mandala plate is the side closest to your body, and the first place you pile offerings.
The Karmapa also explained how to understand the mandala we are creating and offering. “We imagine this as a pure realm that arises from the aspirations and compassionate of the Buddha,” the Karmapa said. “By making this offering, we imagine that this makes the connection that we and all sentient beings may be freed of all defilements, achieve the pure realms and also achieve the four kayas [bodies] of the Buddha.”
Finally, the Karmapa explained how use our minds to make the mandala offering as vast and beneficial as possible. He explained that if we visualize the mandala as gathering all the offerings that exist—our bodies and all sentient beings bodies, everything owned and unowned—then the mandala is the supreme of all offerings. “In its vastest expression it is like offering the entire universe,” the Karmapa said. “We’re offering not just one single Mount Meru but the entire universe, infinite beyond limits and countless. We are also offering our own body, possession, and all of our things.”
The Karmapa also explained that when we make these offerings, it is important to have complete trust in the dharma and in the jewel of the guru. He said making this kind of offering takes great courage, and we have to have faith that our guru will not give up on us.
To conclude, the Karmapa explained why we make these offerings to the five jewels. “The reason for doing this is that at this point our own body, speech, and mind are not able to bring that much benefit to other sentient beings,” the Karmapa said. “If we offer them to the gurus and to the jewels they will be able to use them. This means that eventually our own body, speech and mind will become able to bring vast benefit to all sentient beings and become meaningful. That is what is most important.”