Archive for January, 2009

Photos by Karma Norbu

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His Holiness invited as every year the friends of the Kagyu Monlam for a group meeting. These meetings are often a delightful surprise and can contain nuggets of teaching, or as it did this year, a special present.
There must have been over five hundred members gathered eagerly in the shrine room at Tergar as His Holiness addressed us.


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Photos by Karma Norbu

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update: the live webcast will air on www.karmapa-video.blogspot.com.

– analog girl

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Dear friends,
heartfelt thanks for pictures and especially the reports from the teachings of Gyalwa Karmapa. Do you know if his teachings from 12 – 14 January in Tergar monastery are going to be in live webcast?
Your work is a great help for all of us who couldnt come this year!
Best regards & good luck


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The fog was thick at 5:30 am as the shadowy figures on the road made their way to the stupa; even with a torch it was hard to see more than a few meters ahead. A new bright red gate enclosed the area to the site with prayers in many languages hanging from it. Overhead the trees splashed large drops of condensation muddying the narrow paths to the seating area. Let’s say the whole place was dripping with atmosphere.


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In the last two sessions, His Holiness Karmapa developed a theme which I have put together from my notes into one teaching.

I encounter the question frequently about how to combine dharma with daily life.
We need to practice to bring dharma and daily life together.
Why do we need to practice? Under pressure our emotions can rise up. We may feel we will go crazy, get sick or commit suicide. Or we may have a good result from work but it doesn’t bring us happiness. So we need to practise to eliminate these two problems.
Practice means to have an experience in the mind. We need to put feeling into our practice. It should be a verb not a noun.


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‘I always feel the Buddha is present when I go to the temple here. If you come here and don’t recognize it, it’s like going to a treasure island and coming back without any jewels.’

His Holiness delivered a treasure island filled with jewels when he gave the bodhisattva vow at Tergar Monastery on January 3rd. The vow, which was from Santideva’s poetic Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, contained both the aspiration and engagement aspects. The preparation, His Holiness explained, was the 7 branch prayer, to purify obscurations. Here are some of the jewels:
‘Our parents may or may not have done a good job, but they did give us our body. This is the biggest gift they could have given on a fundamental level. They gave us a body and a life, and this is an incomparable kindness.’

‘All sentient beings depend on each other. Wanting to have a good name and be known – we cannot be famous alone. Even if you set up a big throne and call yourself Vajradhara, you cannot do it alone.’

‘Even the unmoving things on this earth are kind – trees, plants, the soil. We need to think about their kindness because they are all being destroyed. Arouse unbearable compassion for all of it and wish to relieve the suffering of all. If we develop the motivation to help them all, that is bodhicitta.’

‘It is more powerful to do the dharma in this place because the Buddha defeated the four maras so there are fewer obstacles here. The smallest action will multiply hundreds of thousands of times here. This is where the Buddha reached Buddhahod. Take the vow to awaken similarly.’

‘The very ground here is a blessed place. When the Buddha defeated the four maras, the earth shook. Here the earth is a support. Even the trees depend on this. The entire place has a connection with Buddhahood. We are on the good earth. We have entered the mandala of perfect enlightenment. We have become a child of the Buddha. For this reason we should rejoice.’

After His Holiness gave the vow in Tibetan, Chinese and English, he gave us all a small present.
‘I have two pictures for you. A Chinese calligraphy and a picture of White Tara I drew myself. But the White Tara has not arrived. Maybe she’s too busy so I’ll give you the mantra instead. In my heart I feel I’ve offered this picture and you can think I’m offering it to you with the intention that you may have long life. May the deathlessness of White Tara never be separate from you for the rest of your lives.’

It seemed that the earth had shaken again, so great were the treasures from Karmapa’s mind.

Norma Levine

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His Holiness began his second day of teaching with wishes for a Happy New Year in Chinese, Tibetan, English and Korean.
“I wish you all a good heart and happiness every day, and peace and harmony in every corner of our world. May all beings on our planet live in equality and well being. “
Then he spoke on refuge and although this is the most fundamental of dharma teachings, there was a sense of freshness from the energy His Holiness put into it.

Why do we need to look for a source of refuge? From the time we are young, we rely on our parents. It’s a sign of mutual affection to look to parents and friends for companionship and happiness.
Many people come to me and tell me their woes and joys, asking for refuge and protection. We’re unable to free ourselves completely from sufferings and difficulties in our lives. But this is something I need to do this for myself, and we all need to do for ourselves.

We need to see if there is someone who can free us from all sufferings in all lifetimes. Someone who never gets a cold may not have encountered the conditions for a cold; similarly, there are not just the evident sicknesses that we show, but also those that haven’t manifested yet. Is there anyone who can protect us from this? And if so, who are they?

If we are to free ourselves from the net of suffering – birth, old age, sickness and death – then it has to be through someone who has freed himself from it. Like Prince Siddhartha, who left the Palace and saw that we have the basis for suffering in birth, old age, sickness and death, so too we have to face our fear of these sufferings. The desire to go for refuge needs to come from within.

The person who had the instructions to free us is the Buddha; he assembled all the external causes and thus taught the four noble truths to free us from samsara. Those who practise it, our companions, are sangha.
These are the three jewels and if we go for refuge we develop faith in them.
So we need to fear suffering and to have faith in the three jewels.

We can free ourselves from the ocean of samsara because we have all the inner and outer conditions. Taking the refuge vow means making a commitment to hold the precepts, according to our capabilities.

His Holiness gave refuge in Chinese, Tibetan, English and Korean.
The teaching continued.

There are things that we need to give up. The first is taking refuge in worldly deities because it won’t free us from suffering. Then we have to give up harming others intentionally. And thirdly, we have to give up harmful friends; that means those people who draw us downwards. It’s important for dharma friends to help each and maintain good connections.

We’re not saying that people who are not Buddhist cannot experience bodhicittta. There’s a story about this. The last person to take Gelong vows from the Buddha asked him if any of the Hindu traditions had the path of liberation. The Buddha didn’t answer immediately. First he taught the noble eightfold path then replied that anyone who had that, was the sangha. So we are not saying that other religions do not have love and compassion.

We also have to value everything that represents the Buddha, all the words of the Buddha and even a scrap of yellow robe.
Keep the refuge in mind and try to recite it three times a day, or whenever you remember the three jewels.
Whenever we begin any activity we should first go for refuge.
Never give up on the three jewels.

Norma Levine

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His Holiness Karmapa accepted a last minute invitation from the President of the International Buddhist Council of India to give his support to a World Peace Prayer ceremony at the bodhi tree on New Year’s Day, specifically to honour those who had died in the recent Mumbhai massacres.

His Holiness and Mingyur Rinpoche sat on cushions in the front row with the Venerable Bhantiji from the Burmese Vihar on the other side. Representatives of the different faiths in India – Jain, Sikh, Hindu, Moslem- and Mr Dorje of the Bodh Gaya Management Committee – were all present.

candle for world peace

The ceremony began with one minute silence for those ‘who are no longer with us on the planet’. In a graceful movement HH Karmapa lit a tall orange candle to spread the light for world peace. ‘Saddhu, saddhu, saddhu’, murmurred the monks.

Theravadin monks chanted the refuge in Pali, an evocative refrain that we hear around the temple morning and evening. His Holiness was then requested to lead the prayers in the Mahayana tradition and suddenly there were the deep sonorous sounds that come from the Himalayas and make your whole body vibrate.

Peace Day Prayer

The Hindu representative chanted ‘Om Shanti’. A sister dressed in white from the Brahma Kumari Society offered a prayer and then a Christian lady clad in a light orange scarf and skirt added her prayers. ‘Amen’ she concluded, and it suddenly reminded me of another country in a completely different world. The President of the Jain Society wearing a business suit added his comments. The Muslim Khan offered an important quote: ‘Saving one person is saving humanity. Killing one person is killing humanity. Therefore the Muslim faith rejects all killing.’

‘The secret of success, concluded the President, ‘is to connect our lives with the divine. If we all do this we can create a world of peace and harmony.’ He read an excerpt from the great Santideva’s poem on the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

May I be a protector for those without one, a guide for travellers, and a boat, a bridge, a ship for those who wish to cross over.
May I be a lamp for those who seek light, a bed for those who seek rest…
Just as earth and other elements are useful in various ways to innumerable sentient beings dwelling throughout infinite space,
So may I be in various ways a source of life for the sentient beings present throughout space until they are all liberated.

Norma Levine

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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:

  1. He must not be attached to this life.
  2. Through his wisdom mastery he has to take care of students.
  3. 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.

Norma Levine

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