The shrine room at Tergar Monastery quickly filled to capacity with Taiwanese from the Hwa Hue Foundation, who sponsored the three day teaching, and Westerners. After the Taiwanese sang their particular musical rendition of Karmapa Chenno, His Holiness Karmapa entered and did three extremely long prostrations. I counted the seconds – up to 35 for each prostration. Then the group recited the Kagyu Linege prayer in Chinese and the major sponsors entered wearing orchid corsages and suits. They held large gold auspicious symbols and placed them on the shrine table. It was 30 minutes before the teaching could begin.
His Holiness began with a light remark: this was a way to test his dharma studies and his ability to speak in Chinese. The Taiwanese audience loved it and clapped after each segment of the talk. His Holiness let out a long audible sigh, to more laughter, and began. More clapping
From my notes:
Because of the difficulties in the economy, he said, and because of colds and flu, and all the difficulties in India, many people have cancelled. But you are real heroes for coming.
Like a mother inviting her children to a New Year’s dinner, I’m also making some food here, something hot and spicy, another taste. I hope this year there will be a new taste.
When we talk about the Lama or spiritual friend, we’re using a new word. We each have our own idea and don’t really understand what a Lama should be like. Each person has his own interpretation. Some people ask me to be their Root Guru and I have to put on a stern face and say ok. But whether what I am and what the student expects can come together is another question.
What is a Lama ? The Sanskrit for Lama is Guru, which means someone heavy with qualities, someone who has the qualities to be able to develop the student. We need to understand the meaning of this.
The basic characteristics are the same in each of the vehicles. The Lama has to be educated in the dharma of that vehicle. There are three aspects of the Lama according to Gampopa:
- He must not be attached to this life.
- Through his wisdom mastery he has to take care of students.
- Through his compassion he never gives up on students
Not having attachment to this life means not thinking of the eight worldly dharmas. It is difficult to find someone who is entirely free of this.
The white worldly dharmas are performed by bodhisattvas. They may feel some pleasure when being praised but not much attachment. There are mixed white and black worldly dharmas; and then there are the black worldly dharmas, which means we think only of this life. This is the wrong sort of attachment.
Someone who has no clinging to this life will know how to lead us on the path of liberation.
Someone who only wants to satisfy the needs of this life is not a dharma practitioner. We need to benefit future lives. If we think only of this life we cannot develop. It’s difficult to find a Lama who really has no attachment to this life. So we have to find someone who has less attachment.
What does it mean to take care of others through great wisdom? Without wisdom the Lama will not know how to teach according to the students mind. He has to be able to teach many types of dharma.
The second characteristic of the Lama is to have the wisdom to teach students according to their needs. So if the Lama doesn’t understand the dharma themselves they cannot teach it to others. They have to learn wisdom and understand it from texts. It also has to fit with the student’s mind. It’s the wisdom to teach so they students can understand. Just knowing is not enough.
Thirdly, they must never give up on the students out of great compassion.
Dusum Kyenpa’s explanation: if the Lama thinks out of his benefit, the student will not get the benefit. He has to keep persevering with the student until the student has given up all obscurations.
If the Lama doesn’t have that kind of great compassion, he will give up on the student. They should have the kind of love and compassion even to give up their own lives for the students.
To wrap it up: the Lama needs to have more qualities than faults. Like a mother who loves but is uneducated, she tries to impart all good qualities, so a Lama should do that. He should have more qualities than faults.
We need to look at what the qualities of Lamas are. People even perceived faults in the Buddha.
It’s hard for us to know whether something is a quality or a fault. So we have to do it according to our capabilities. We have to ask other reliable people as well. We can’t see each and every quality for ourselves. It’s hard for us to take the measure of an individual, to see if they are acting out of the 8 worldly dharmas, or if they are looking to find happiness in future lives. We can only base it on outer conduct and how they present themselves. If the Lama helps to bring us closer to the dharma and we develop more faith, pure perception, and less obscurations, and if our mind really gets better, then we can say this is a Lama who has right conduct. When we meet this Lama and we feel we have come closer to the refuge, then it shows the Lama has great love and compassion.
If we feel joy we can see there are qualities there and that may be enough. Even if the Lama has only a few qualities, then he may be worthy of following.
Sometimes Lamas don’t have many qualities but there may be a reason to follow them. For example, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche had to ask for transmissions from village Lamas. He had to teach some of them how to read first.
Teachers and students have to have a mutual connection like breathing the same air. Both have to know.
The qualities of the student according to Gampopa: the student has to bow down with respect that has no pride. He needs to be compatible with the Lama. He has to do whatever the Lama says without criticism.
There are two different ways to think about prostrating to a Lama with respect.
In the sutras it says the Lama is similar to the Buddha.
In the secret mantrayana, the Lama is the Buddha.
If we train in this we will eventually see the Lama as Buddha. It’s like exercise: we block seeing the faults and see only the qualities. If we train our minds we can develop this.
So we need to find the Lama who can show us the path. If we fall under the control of the afflictions, we won’t be able to develop anything. Taking birth is beyond our control, so is old age and death. It’s all because of our karma. The nature of our lives is prone to suffering. All our happiness ends in suffering.
When we have feelings of happiness it’s not authentic, it’s just like the relief of going from hot to cold. It’s not inherent pleasure.
Until we can purify the origins of the afflictions, we need to train under a Lama. Otherwise we will find only suffering. This is what it means to bow down to a Lama with respect, who can teach us the four noble truths.
When we talk about viewing the Lama as a Buddha, it’s more than just a hope. We need to look at how to do it through scripture, logic and example.
Someone has to come and perform the activities of the Buddha and only the Lama can do it. All buddhas and bodhisattvas awaken to buddhahood through the wish to help all sentient beings. But to see it, we need faith, which is an interest in virtue. Then we can receive the activity of the Buddhas.
The instructions of the Buddha are passed down from Lama to Lama. The Lama is the support through whom we can receive the blessing of the Buddha.
For example, when Naropa first saw Tilopa we saw an old fisherman; and when Milarepa saw Marpa he saw an old farmer. A Lama is not someone sitting on a throne with a vajra. They may appear to us in different ways because of our karma. So when we see a Lama we cannot say who they are. What we see is not necessarily what it is. What we need to do is have faith and confidence in the Lama.
We need to put the words of the Lama into practice. This will please the Lama. We need to practice the dharma as much as we can to please the Lama.
When His Holiness was finished the discourse for the day, he smiled and waved to us, walking out of the room slowly, as if reluctant to leave so much brightness and warmth. He moved with great dignity in his footsteps and left the glow of great love in the room.