07 Jun 2008 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 11 Comments.
(This is Karmapa’s mantra prayer: BuddhaActivityMaster, heed me, help me, think of us!)
A few dozen of us attended a Western Buddhist teachers audience and meeting with the Seventeenth Karmapa Lama in Seattle Thursday, May 29. Afterward, I joked with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche (the organizer and principal host for this first American visit) about how, immediately after being with this charismatic young Karmapa 17, I’d had the irrational thought that he was even greater then the last one – but how could anyone be greater than the greatly renowned and profound Sixteenth? And he said, “My father the Sixteenth Karmapa’s General Secretary and right hand in Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet, and later in the sixties and seventies in exile in Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim; he told me that HH Sixteen once told him that the next Karmapa ‘Would be far greater, more learned, know languages, and travel and teach the world from an early age.’ It seems to be coming true.”
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s father – who came out of Tibet with Karmapa 16 –- objected, saying, “How could anyone be greater than His Holiness, the All-Seeing and All-Knowing Presence (as they always called him: Kundun Yidzhin Norbu), and the 16th said, soothingly, “Oh you’re right, that’s true, he’ll be just the same, the same one.” I thought this was a terrific inside story, which warmed my heart and reminded me of the sacred guru-disciple bond and relationship and the function of pure perceptions along with skillful means and compassion.
A roaring Lion of Dharma
This month has been the historic first visit to the West by the young Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa – literally, the Man of Enlightening Buddha Activity. He visited, blessed and taught at Tibetan Buddhist centers in New York City, New Jersey, Woodstock, Boulder, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle, and also enjoyed VIP tours of Disneyland and Universal Studios and other tourist sites along the way. His predecessor the Sixteenth Karmapa, head of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, visited America several times in the Seventies and Eighties; founded dozens of meditation centers and a few monasteries here and in Europe, and more in Southeast Asia; and passed away in Zion, Illinois, in 1981 at the age of 59. Our revered guest the Seventeenth Karmapa Lama returns this week to his home in Dharamsala, India, where he lives near the Dalai Lama, whom many say is grooming him to succeed as spiritual leader for the Tibetan people as well as moral conscience and wisdom teacher on the world stage.
In person, His Holiness has a charismatic and powerful as well as personable presence while being a saintly Bodhisattva, and even living Buddha – a veritable roaring lion of Dharma. His boyish innocence, forthrightness, fun-loving nature, and naturally irrepressible curiosity often shines right through; although, even at the tender age of twenty two, he is also obviously an ancient, timeless wisdom being– a nine hundred year old spiritual being– intent upon edifying and awakening the whole world, and already striving to actively do so. His Holiness Karmapa in this present seventeenth incarnation represents, embodies, and guides the lineage line of Karmapa and the
Karma Kagyu school and its philosophical, yogic and meditative practice traditions reaching back to Dusum Khyenpa (The All Knowing Master) of the twelfth century – the first tulkus (reincarnate lamas) were recognized in Tibet, hundreds of years before the first Dalai Lama – and before that enlightened First Karmapa Lama to Gampopa, Yogi Milarepa, Marpa the Translator, Pandit Naropa in India and so forth, reaching back to the primordial, timeless, ever present cosmic source Buddha and fount of reality, the innate Dharmakaya itself.
Karmapa Seventeen talks often and heartfully about love and active compassion, in various relevant contexts, along with change, altruism and goodness of heart, yet rarely, so far, the traditional monastic teachings about renunciation, nonattachment and the defects of worldliness. He seems very interested in seeing what is going on the world around him, and with his six-foot-tall frame, powerful glance and what the newspapers have termed his “stunning handsome looks” strides around in this foreign land like he has been here among us before and knows where he’s going and what to do. Perhaps he has, and perhaps he does.
His Holiness said that from the time of his birth, he has lived in a Buddhist environment, yet added that he has no clinging or sense of attachment to a Buddhist identity nor sense that we should become Buddhists. Personally, he rejoices in, is inspired by and tries to follow Shakyamuni Buddha’s example. But his motivation is simply to help us as much as possible; that’s what makes him happy and seems to be most meaningful. His approach is, if his teachings are useful, great: make use of them. If not, that’s okay too.
He also mentioned that the entrenched patriarchy in Buddhism was a mistake and had to change; that he’d experienced his first taste of freedom in New York City after being under more or less house arrest in Tibet (China) where he grew up and in Dharmasala, India, where he now lives; and that he’d just for the first time in his life had his first cup of coffee, a Starbucks latte in Seattle.
Balancing study and practice for the planet and ourselves
He was asked which among the many Buddhist practices he considers the most important for us – certainly one of the big questions today, especially when so many teachings are available both within the rich and varied Tibetan tradition and elsewhere in the spiritual marketplace. He thought seriously for several moments, then talked about how endangered the world is today. He said that we must be involved and engaged in helping others and protecting the world and the future, as well as practice internally according to contemplative tradition. He emphasized twice how important it is to combine outer and inner activities rather than following the older model of leaving worldliness behind and seeking nirvana until one can help others from that enlightened perspective to be able to edify and free beings after oneself achieves realization.
“In this age, we’re too late for many complex and esoteric practices. We must not work only for our own liberation but we must work to protect and save the world. Aiming for high realization so that we can lead a few others to similar realization is no longer enough. We must practice the Dharma while trying to protect the world from destruction and effect some practical, tangible benefits now. We must engage the world and share with non-Buddhists.” I thought this was one of his most provocative and forward-looking statements of the week here in Seattle.
When asked about the balance of spiritual studies and practice, he said both are important and support and reinforce each other. He emphasized that we should employ them in order to shift and transform our hearts, not to feed our intellects, careers, or increase pride and egotism. And moreover, he urged us to avoid being sidetracked by the many practices and subjects of study and other distractions that the modern world offers. Obstacles for Westerners are, especially distraction by possessions and the desire for new things, or for a new shape and design even of objects already owned. Although such desire absorbs a tremendous amount of energy we don’t get much in return and desire and objects do not help us in the end.
He went on to say that we should not hold onto Buddhist traditions just because they’re old, but test them to see how useful and pertinent they are for use in transforming our hearts today. For example, we should not hold onto our Buddhist tradition and think that we are different or in any way better than others, but always strive to help others as much as we can while reducing our own selfishness and confusion. He said that it’s better to think of others than to strive for enlightenment oneself – a stunning statement from a meditation master.
At one point His Holiness was talking about dealing with difficulties, and he said he was one of the youngest lamas and was one who had, perhaps, had to deal with the most difficulties/adversity. He pointed out that problems and obstacles can be like very heavy objects, which can weigh us down; but carrying them can make us stronger, and picking up those of others makes us stronger and better still. Moreover, the teachings of the dreamlike nature of reality help us understand that if a heavy object is placed in front of a mirror, the object (problem) won’t disappear, but the reflection isn’t heavy/burdensome at all, and can even be very interesting to study closely. So, we can try to relate to problems as we relate to reflections in a mirror: the appearance is vivid and sharp, but not heavy.
Dharma in the West is changing
When asked what is the best way to establish the lineage and Dharma tradition here in the West, he replied that things must change and do change. He explained that there is little or nothing to hold on to, and there is really no such thing as Buddhist tradition. Dharma doesn’t change but it is change. He said that we must find our way today with the help of all the teachers and traditional trainings which have come before, while also being guided by our own wisdom and knowledge, experience and intuitive skillful means. He shared that when he wants to know what to do, he simply stops and lets his mind rest in itself, and sees what moves, and then intuitively feels/knows what to do. This felt like a really personal and pithy Mahamudra heart instruction. He used the word Tukdam in Tibetan for what he was resting his mind in – it means Buddha-mind or absolute reality (Dharmakaya) within. He encouraged us to find it within our power and capacity to be able do the same. This reminded me so much of mind to mind, heart to heart transmissions I received from the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa.
Karmapa 17 acknowledged that we all had received many teachings and pith instructions from our masters, but said that we lacked the ability to get instructions from within our own wisdom minds, and that we should learn to do that more readily. He added that we should become teachers of ourselves – not rely only on instruction from our gurus. We should cultivate the ability rest/relax the mind and learn to listen to ourselves.
Practice tips from His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa
His Holiness the Karmapa, like us, doesn’t have a lot of time for formal practice, and provided the following guidance to Dharma students.
Study is necessary for practice, but should not remain only at the level of words and intellect. Practice should change our habits, the quality of our hearts and minds, day to day – it should lift our hearts.
Continuity of practice is important. Firm resolve leads to continuity. We should stick to the same basic motivation every day – and refresh that firm resolve regularly. This resolve should not remain a mere thought, but a powerful and profound intention. Body, speech and mind should be guided by this sincere altruistic resolve.
Mindfulness is key. Vigilant awareness should guard the mind. External supports and reminders can help too. We should check in and refresh mindfulness every hour or at least three times each day.
There are a great deal of rituals, but the important thing is to be simple and clear and consistent, and to focus on the main points of practice and the wise and compassionate life. The Sanskrit word puja means offering, equals the bringing of joy and delight. And the best offering is a purified world, freed of problems, suffering, violence, negativity and with all the positive qualities and possibilities perfected. So we imaginatively transform the world into a pure realm – both the environment and sentient beings – and offer that. Reflect on that, imagine that, intend that and resolve to help bring it about. This is truly a joyful, delightful offering.
The main duty of a student is too emulate and try to develop the good qualities of the guru. Faults/shortcomings of the guru are none of the student’s business. Today, all gurus will have both positive and negative qualities. So we should emulate and try to develop the positive qualities in ourselves. And if the guru had only positive aspects, we might not benefit because we might not be able to relate to the guru.
Compassion, though focusing on suffering, actually increases our happiness and peace of mind. But without compassion, thinking of suffering will contribute to our feeling bad or scared. It may be easiest to feel compassion for others who are in our visual field. He explained that every day we learn of suffering in various places all over the world, we’re aware of suffering, but we may don’t always feel compassion or want to free others from suffering – even to the point of wanting to take their suffering on ourselves. We should ask ourselves how awareness of suffering can give rise to strong and genuine compassion. He described his strongest feelings of compassion from when he was 3 or 4 during the hunting season when sentient beings were suffering. Maybe that wasn’t textbook compassion, but it was strong and genuine warmth.
He taught that we can cultivate compassion even when we are alone. For example, we can imagine compassion expanding from our body outward. When a strong wind blows, His Holiness said he imagines the wind carrying his compassion to others, touching all whom the wind touches. When he sees clouds, he sometimes imagines his compassion touching all those who will also see those clouds. He urged us to be creative in our cultivation of compassion.
He is always with us
On Saturday, while answering questions during an audience with the local Buddhist community, HH Karmapa said that the greatest thing in the world would be to see again a loved one who has died; and he knew that many of those present had known and loved the Sixteenth Karmapa, so that this day was truly a joyous occasion. Many of us lamas and close disciples wept. He went on to say that he knew, and had long prayed, that this would be the first of many such occasions, and that all present would be together with the next incarnations of Karmapa as well until all are enlightened. He assured us that he stood behind us, was always with us, and would shoulder our burdens and take on our obstacles as much as was possible, until we had the inner strength and resolve to do so for ourselves.
His Holiness said he will pray for us and try to help us overcome any obstacles we encounter. He’ll fight with us. And having spent time with us, he said that already he may have “contracted” some of our obstacles. So he’ll work hard to purify and overcome our obstacles when he goes back to the monastery in Dharmasala India, and wishes that he could bring all our burdens back with him and remove them from us.
His Holiness has aspirations that others will experience happiness and not suffering because of him. “The thing that makes me happiest is when I’m of benefit to and helping others.”
(Check out Karmapavisit.org for pictures and other information of his historic first trip abroad.)