When His Holiness Karmapa walked into the packed shrine room of Root Institute (established by Lama Zopa) he went first to the statue of the Buddha on the shrine and offered a white scarf. Then he blessed it with a scattering of rice.
He sat barely raised from the ground on a low cushion and received offerings from Root Institute monks and lay people. The density of the crowd seemed to heat the room though at 2 pm, it was indeed the warmest part of a typically cold winter day.
He spoke softly in response to a request to teach on the Bodhisattva vows.
From my notes:
‘I’ve been here on a number of occasions and I’m happy to be back again. I extend warm greetings to the friends gathered here.
Generating the mind of awakening is precious. If it were to have a form, the entire space of the universe would be too small to accommodate it. If one generates bodhicitta, virtue builds up even when sleeping or distracted.
What is the essential characteristic of bodhicitta? Sometimes I get the feeling when talking to Westerners, that whenever one gets a kind thought, that is bodhicitta. But it is much more. It is the sense of the suffering of beings together with the wish to bring about their benefit – and that of oneself – these two join to generate bodhicitta.
As far as the process of generating it is concerned, that depends on individual capacity. Those who have a more spacious view want to take on the suffering of others. Otherwise we can train in seeing other beings as our mothers (and other methods), using the reasoning of cause and effect to cultivate bodhicitta. The result should be the same. One method is not superior to the other.
Exchanging self for others is very profound and important. In cultivating the mind of awakening, it is better to practise from the ground up, otherwise we may practise with fervour at the beginning and then develop obstacles.
There are different attitudes in practising bodhicitta: the king first attains buddhahood, then brings others to that state; the captain of the boat works together with others and the shepherd liberates beings before himself.
Those of us who practise the three vehicles have a responsibility to embrace the three yanas and incorporate it into our practise. Just as the aspiration to go to Bodh Gaya is not enough to get here, we have to take practical steps to get closer to it. Similarly, it’s not enough to have the aspiration; it has to be consistently applied.
The essential training on the bodhisattva path is the six paramitas. The essence is the training in morality or the discipline of embracing all virtuous activities: the ethical morality of cherishing others, and abstaining from harming them. That is the essence of morality in the training of bodhicitta. Embracing virtuous activities corresponds to samadi. Cherishing others corresponds to generosity. Patience corresponds to both. Perseverence has to be applied with all of these.
We live in a time when there are tremendous upheavals of emotion in our own lives, and drastic changes in our environment. The challenge is both within us and in the environment. It’s clear that people are more and more self involved. This has to do with self cherishing. In our dependent and inter-active environment, cherishing of others must become a living experience. We cannot leave it to an intellectual understanding, or as an inscription in a museum. We have to translate it into practical experience. We have to probe into what’s wrong with cherishing ourselves, what is right in cherishing others. All experience of suffering comes from cherishing ourselves; all happiness from cherishing others.
The Buddha was a revolutionary in his time, in this very place. He stepped out of his culture and religion. He made a statement of walking out of the prevailing norms and gave the gift of new consciousness to beings. He shared with people his experience of awakening and made it universal.
Similarly at Root Institute, activities are happening for all people from all over the world breaking down national boundaries, as did the Buddha 2500 years ago.
Whether one cherishes Buddhism as a faith or not, we still have to recognize the humanity in it, and that it uplifts the quality of life. So share this gift with others and share the good here without exception. When I think of a garden of peace, I think of this.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come here. I wish you a very good New Year. If you cannot make it better, at least don’t make it worse.’