Bodh Gaya is one of the most vibrant few kilometres of sacred space on the planet. Since 1871 when excavations revealed the architectural wonder built by King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC, Bodh Gaya has become the Mecca for every Buddhist in the world. Prostrations, chanting, circumambulating, offerings, rituals, – every kind of meritorious practice goes on here from early morning darkness into the night. Last year while the Monlam was in full swing, we all watched a Tibetan in leather apron and knee pads prostrate the last few metres on his journey from Kham in Tibet to Bodh Gaya – a distance of thousands of kilometres taking several years – and offer a white scarf to His Holiness under the bodhi tree. His face was glowing with light.
This year His Holiness Karmapa arrived in Bodh Gaya on December 10th. He circumambulated the stupa and bodhi tree on the morning of the full moon a few days later and made offerings inside the main temple.(see www.kagyuoffice.org for full coverage)
On December 15th he began the teachings on the Madhyamika at Tergar Monastery to a selection of monks and Khenpos from all the Kagyu monasteries in India. Lay people – both Asians and Westerners – sat at the back of the assembly, listening to the lectures which were partially translated simultaneously into Chinese, English and Spanish.
The Madhyamika is the analytical arguments of the Middle Way explaining in painstaking logic the view of emptiness. As he neared the end of the sixth day, His Holiness joked that when he taught shentong (emptiness of other) and rangtong (emptiness of self) at Gyuto everybody goes away.’The child of the Buddha’, he said heaving a big sigh and sipping his tea, ‘should stay without speaking.’
I wrote down what made sense to me and what I thought would interest other practitioners. When we’re trying to reach comprehension through study, it’s a practice, His Holiness said. There’s some sort of instruction there. There is not a single word that does not apply to your own practice. We have to take an interest in this. Otherwise if we read all the words of the Buddha and we don’t know how to think about it properly, it’s difficult to find the instruction that will bring us to awakening. Whatever scriptures there are, they’re really talking about practice.
Madhyamaka is the path of profound emptiness. The commentary on valid cognition teaches the reasons for going for refuge. We have to practice the words to reach awakening. For example, at first we think the aggregates are a thing, but when we analyse it, it’s just a collection that’s been put together. If we look at afflictions, we can analyse them and then we have the key to this door. What we need as Buddhists is genuine wisdom. We need to have faith and wisdom. Both help our practice to develop. We have to dispel misconceptions about what we’re practicing. By analysing and debating we really find the answer. Even when we’re practicing, we need to use our study to develop our practice. If we say study is not practice, that’s not the right understanding. Success in practice, he concluded, depends on study.
On the final day of his teaching HH Karmapa read the remaining pages of the text and summarised the four yogas and 10 bhumis. Then he addressed “those who have blonde hair and speak English. It was quite difficult to teach this,” he said in English. Thank you for coming every day. I am happy to see you all. Have a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. Thank you.”