Archive for the ‘2008’ Category

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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at long last, our wish for a live webcasting of kagyu monlam has nearly been fulfilled thanks to “dabao” and “shaoneo” from seattle. they arrived loaded with cables and far too many miscellaneous wires and small tech gadgets to ever doubt their engineering feat. after tinkering for a day or two and sorting out the wires and cool gadgets, they were able to broadcast the first day’s teaching to the chinese students on december 31st live via web on www.karmapa-video.blogspot.com. because the teaching is mainly for the chinese students, his holiness taught in both chinese and tibetan, much to the chagrin of some of his other students. though 6 languages were represented, translations were not fully available during the entire teaching. not to worry. they are working on getting the english translation for the webcast and besides, there are plenty of teachings to come and more small hurdles to attempt, so stay tuned to this new and exciting webcasting site! if you’re in the EST zone, you should be able to view it between 10:30PM to 12:30PM and then again in the wee hours of the early morning… GMT is 11.5 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. (sorry east coast people.)

– analog girl

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On December 28 His Holiness Karmapa joined the Jonang Monlam here in Bodh Gaya, as he does every year. He was greeted by a full ceremonial procession of monks with the music of Tibetan trumpets heralding his presence. Chogtrul Ngawang Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche and Khen Choekyi Nangpa Chog Rinpoche, senior masters of the Jonang school, offered white scarves at the temple gates.

His Holiness first entered the temple where he made offerings to the great golden Buddha. A Theravadin monk in saffron robes stood on the platform beside the statue to perform the ritual offering of robes. Leaving the temple, His Holiness did a partial circumambulation of the inner kora entering the Monlam assembly through a small opening opposite the bodhi tree, to ascend a throne facing the tree. The two head Lamas offered a mandala and a Buddha. His Holiness remained on the throne making prayers for about an hour.

The sun warmed up the chill of morning, while prayer flags danced to the rhythm of the Buddha’s breath. (The combination of the bodhi tree, the stupa and Karmapa inspire this kind of poetic rapture.) Before leaving the site, His Holiness did an outer kora followed by the Jonang Lamas, monks and just about everybody else there who could walk.

A Note about the Jonang School radically edited from Wikipedia:

The Jonang are one of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism dating from the 12th century and became renowned with Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen. The Jonang school was widely thought to have become extinct in the late 17th century during religious wars. Recently, however, it was discovered that some remote Jonang monasteries escaped this fate and have continued practicing uninterrupted to this day. An estimated 5,000 monks and nuns in 40 monasteries of the Jonang tradition practice today, particularly in Amdo and Gyarong districts of Qinghai and the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The Jonang school has generated a number of renowned Buddhist scholars, like Dolpopa Sherab Gyeltsen (1292–1361), but the most famous was Jetsun Taranatha (1575–1634). Taranatha placed great emphasis on the Kalachakra system of tantra, which became an important part of Gelug teaching after the Gelugpa (i.e. followers of the Gelug) absorbed the Jonang monasteries. Taranatha’s influence on Gelugpa thinking continues even to this day in the teaching of the present 14th Dalai Lama, who actively promotes initiation into Kalachakra.

Interestingly, one of the primary supporters of the Jonang lineage in exile has been the 14th Dalai Lama of the Gelugpa. The Dalai Lama donated buildings in Himachal Pradesh state in Shimla, India for use as a Jonang monastery (now known as the Main Takten Phuntsok Choeling Monastery) and has visited during one of his recent teaching tours. The Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu lineage has visited there as well.

The Jonang tradition has recently officially registered with the Tibetan Government in exile to be recognized as the fifth living Buddhist tradition of Tibet. The 14th Dalai Lama assigned Khalkha Jetsun Dampa Rinpoche or the ‘Bogd Gegeen’ of Mongolia (who is considered to be an incarnation of Taranatha) as the leader of the Jonang tradition.

Norma Levine

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HHK arriving in Root Institute

HHK arriving in Root Institute

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.’

Norma Levine

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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.”

Norma Levine


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