The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration to Excellent Conduct


December 15, 2010 - Bodhgaya


Gathering the Accumulations and Purifying Obscurations
During a half hour break after the sojong vows, the Karmapa’s throne is turned around from the Bodhi Tree to face the monks, nuns, and lay practitioners who fill the space in front of him. His Holiness sits before a statue of the Buddha as a child and a softly-colored mural of the Buddha meditating underneath a spreading tree with disciples nearby. The speaking statue of Dusum Khyenpa is placed to his left, resting in the middle of a mandala thick with deep red rose petals.
After taking refuge, everyone chants the first twelve verses of “The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct,” (also known as the Samantabhadra Prayer), which is the text the Karmapa will teach for five days. As usual, the mandala offering is followed by offerings for his long life, this time given by the main sponsors, the Tsurphu Administrative Office, and then others. His Holiness makes the aspiration that all living beings come to the state of enlightenment through the merit of the offering these sponsors are making to the sangha.
While servers move among the red and golden robed sangha to offer tea and large packets of crackers, the Karmapa gives a warm welcome to everyone who has come, beginning with the great teachers down to the newest practitioners. He said that is wonderful all of us could gather here in this sacred site of Bodhgaya and thanked everyone for coming.
Mentioning that this is the second session of the day and the first teaching session, he said that his responsibility is to give us an explanation of “The King of Aspirations.” This prayer is the seed Kalu Rinpoche planted years ago when he started the Kagyu Monlam with 100,000 repetitions of the prayer. Each time we have met here, we have continued to recite it 100,000 times. “This King of Aspirations” has become the symbol and the very heart of the Monlam, which is reason good enough for us to study it this year.
All of us have gathered here in Bodhgaya where 1002 buddhas are awakened: it is a great ocean of power, so we should all maintain an unmistaken, pure intention and pure actions while we participate in these teachings. As he has said many times, if we are not actually able to do this practice, even if we just listen, even if we are just a child of five or six years, it is helpful.
“The King of Aspirations” comes from the Gandhavyuha Sutra, one of the greatest mahayana sutras. It is said that the Buddha taught it over twenty-one days, quite a short time. According to some explanations, the Gandavyuha is the most extensive and longest of the mahayana sutras. There are numerous versions of the sutra in widely differing lengths. The longest one has eighty-one volumes and exists in Chinese but not in Tibetan. Even this very long version, however, is not complete, for it has only 45,000 volumes and the full version has 100,000. It is also said that the sutra was taught in nine places, including the Radiant Palace, and various god realms, such as Tushita and Having Power Over Appearances to Others.
Before the Dharma spread in Tibet, the mahayana spread in China, and this sutra was one that took hold there. Especially popular was a three chapter version, which contained this prayer, a chapter on Gandavyuha, and a chapter on pure conduct. Since the Gandavyuha is one of the most important mahayana sutras, I thought I’d give you a short introduction. If I tell you too much now, there’ll be no time to talk about the aspiration itself.
Since we recite this “King of Aspirations” all the time, it would be good to combine the words with the meaning. If we always recite this but cannot explain the meaning to ourselves, to say nothing of others, that’s not good. So I’m hoping to spark your interest. There are many Indian commentaries, for example, by Dignaga and Shakyamitra. There are also many in Tibetan including Mendong Tsampa’s, which is short and easy to understand. The most famous one in Chinese is by Ching Yang, who was said to be an emanation of Samantabhadra.
Of all the categories, the first one is prostrations. The text reads:
I prostrate to all lions among humans
As many as appear, excepting none,
In the three times in worlds of ten directions
Sincerely with my body, speech, and mind.
With the power of this prayer for excellent conduct
I fully prostrate to all victors with
As many bodies as atoms in all realms
With all the victors right before my mind.
Upon one atom are as many buddhas
As atoms in the midst of bodhisattvas.
I thus imagine that victorious ones
Completely fill the entire dharma expanse.
With sounds from oceans of melodious traits
I extol the qualities of all the victors,
Whose oceans of praiseworthiness will never
Run dry, and praise all of the Sugatas.
Here, at the beginning, what we basically have is the Seven-Branch prayer. In its first category of prostrations, we find physical prostrations, mental prostrations, and in the Chinese, the praises of the fourth verse are considered as verbal prostrations.
In general, this aspiration teaches us how to enter the path of liberation and omniscience as well as how to practice this path. However, this is not a path what we can point to with our finger: The path is actually the causes and conditions that lead to buddhahood, and these are present within ourselves. To develop along the path, we need to focus our minds and change our way of thinking, which allows us to gather merit and purify ourselves of obstacles. The best way to do this is through the Seven-Branch Prayer as both processes are included within it.
For some of us, the Seven-Branch Prayer is so familiar that we think it’s easy and not so important. We should consider, however, that many sutras speak of huge numbers of realms in which the buddhas are surrounded by hosts of bodhisattvas. What practices are these bodhisattvas doing? The Seven-Branch Prayer. So it is one of the most important practices we can do.
At the beginning of the aspiration are the prostrations. It is said that one excellent prostration includes all the other six branches. If we have faith and respect expressed through our body, speech, and mind, this is the second branch of offering, which pleases the buddhas. Making offerings does not always mean that you are arranging things on a shrine. This prostration can also be a confession of our faults. Once we have purified these, we naturally rejoice. By gathering accumulations and undergoing purification, we are making ourselves into an appropriate vessel for the Dharma, into a person who can hear all the teachings. So even if we are not actually asking the buddhas to turn the wheel of Dharma, because we have become this fine vessel, they naturally teach. The buddhas have realized the nature of all phenomena and become fully awakened, so they do not need the teachings: it is the students who need them. If there is no one who listens, the buddhas will not turn the Dharma wheel. So becoming able to receive the teachings is like asking the buddhas to teach.
Becoming a vessel also relates to asking the buddhas to remain and not pass into nirvana. If they have nothing purposeful to do, the buddhas will not stay, so just the fact that we become a recipient of their teachings encourages the buddhas to remain. If just a few people could gather the accumulations and purify themselves in this way, the buddhas will not depart. So the benefits of doing prostrations are inconceivably vast.
Generally, when we place our palms together in reverence, it is said that the empty space between them represents the dharmata or no self. If we cannot understand this deeply, we can at least have a feeling of it. If we do not have this sense, then we might as well hold up a mobile phone and say it is the dharmakaya. However, if we do have a feeling, through which we can transform our mind, this has real benefit.
It is also taught that the right and left hands joined together represent the union of skillful means and wisdom. We seek to develop this path: if it has not arisen, we give rise to it and if it has arisen, we evolve it further. From the vajrayana perspective, placing our two hands together brings all the root and secondary winds into the central channel.
Next, in doing a prostration, we put our hands in three places. If we explain this according to the vajrayana, placing our hands at our crown releases what binds the crown chakra so the invisible ushnisha appears. Placing our hands before the creases near our throat releases the sixty branches of speech. Placing our hands at the heart (considered to be in the middle of our chest), fosters the conditions for developing the omniscience of the buddhas. This is an explanation by means of assertion. If we explain by means of negation, then we are releasing the negative aspects of body, speech, and mind.
In the Tibetan tradition, and that of the Chinese mahayana, we stand in between each prostration. However, it is said that this was not the way centuries ago at Nalanda in India. The Chinese monks who spent time there, some staying as long as twenty years, do not report standing up between prostrations. They kneeled and touched their head to the ground three times. There are indeed many different explanations of prostrations. Some say we need to touch all parts of our body to the ground while others say we have to hold our breath in a certain way. The purpose of a prostration is to show our respect.
The verse states, “I prostrate to all victors with /As many bodies as atoms in all realms.” How can we explain these inconceivable things? Due to their miraculous powers, all the buddhas could fit on the head of a pin. When we talk of the smallest particles that scientists research, we have to imagine that all the buddhas of the three times and all realms are there.
Think about how many stars there are. There are more than the grains of sands on our earth. We don’t really know how many there are so it’s difficult to wrap our minds around this. We’re talking about the infinite infinite. There is no way for us to understand this intellectually.
In a single atom, there are as many buddhas as there are atoms, and not just buddhas but bodhisattvas, hearers, and solitary realizers. In all directions, the whole expanse of dharma is filled. This is the mental prostration.
Then come the oceans of praises and these, too, can be understood in different ways. Some say that one being has innumerable heads and minds, and each head has infinite mouths. It’ s not too easy to comprehend this and I prefer to think of it as innumerable bodies, each of which proclaims the qualities of the buddhas. And not just once, but myriad times, and not in one place but in a vast number of them. One way to make the praises vast would be to put them up on the website.
The reason we make extensive prostrations and praises is that our resolve to develop bodhicitta needs to be as vast as the expanse of all phenomena, and we need a way to make this understandable to our minds. We should have the feeling that our compassion reaches out to all beings and down to the very smallest atoms. The light of our compassion brightens all the atoms of all the beings in the universe.
It is important to understand that we are making a prostration with our body and at the same time, our mind should be focused on the prostration. If it is not, then we are not doing a real prostration. From the Buddha’s perspective, there’s no need to prostrate. The prostration is for our own benefit so that we can gather the accumulations and purify ourselves. It does not change the Buddha, but we do it to develop our own qualities. The bees take what is best from a flower and we need to take what is best from our mind by seeing its positive qualities. We should praise the slightest virtuous action or thought. Otherwise, it is as if we were worshipping a god instead of practicing Dharma. In the same way, we need to respect the virtues, even the slightest one, of all living beings. So when we are prostrating, it is not only showing respect to the buddhas and the bodhisattvas of all directions: we are prostrating to all the virtue in the world.
Now we will meditate for a while. We belong to the practice lineage, so we know how to meditate. Today we will focus on bodhicitta. When we fly in a plane, we can look out the window and see the different roofs of all the houses below and think about all the people who live in them. They have had many problems, even coming close to death, and still they have not found ultimate happiness. They are still dissatisfied and this is due to their mistaken intentions.
It is not that the food they eat or the clothes they wear are wrong. Nor is it their speech. Primarily, it is their minds: they do not know what brings suffering and what brings happiness, and so they engage in a cause that brings the opposite of what they want. Basically, it all comes down to our mind: if we can eliminate our mistaken understanding, we can free ourselves. We should see that everyone wants happiness and freedom from suffering, which they do not have now. Therefore we feel sad for them and want to use our body, speech, and mind to free them from their suffering and bring them to true happiness. Now we will rest in meditation for three minutes.
Afterwards, His Holiness puts on the Activity Hat and opens a maroon colored folder with the Great Aspiration placed inside. For the living and then the deceased, this is an extensive prayer, vast and detailed wishing for every possible goodness to come to all living beings, and for every possible protection to shield them from any danger or difficulty. It is also a prayer for the environment and those who govern, for the great teachers to live long and the Dharma to last. The Karmapa reads up to the last words of the line, which are “May it be so!” and these are repeated by everyone together.
His Holiness then reads the names of the living and deceased for whom prayers have been requested. This is followed by the “Dharani for the Fulfillment of Aspiration Prayers,” which concludes the first morning of the Kagyu Monlam with the wish that whatever aspirations have been made will find their manifestation within our world.

December 16, 2010 - Bodhgaya


Their minds prepared with the sojong vows taken before daybreak under the Bodhi tree, the assembly of thousands of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen received the nectar of Dharma from His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa during the day’s second session.
His Holiness began by citing a verse from the dedication of the Sutra of Golden Light, which is regularly read during the Kagyu Monlam:

May all those who are beaten, bound in fetters,
Placed in desperate situations,
Agitated by thousands of kleshas.
And undergoing unbearable dangers and misery
He pointed out that there are many situations where people intentionally inflict harm on one another and place no importance on the feelings of others. In particular, human beings often completely disregard the feelings and wellbeing of animals. We who have gathered in the sacred site of Bodhgaya are currently experiencing great fortune in being here, His Holiness said. This should serve as a reminder to us of the need to change our minds. We should take this opportunity to bring about a transformation in our attitudes. Our ordinary attitude is one that leads us to err and to cause problems for ourselves. We need to reflect carefully what changes we need to make to our attitude and our conduct, and to think seriously about how to do so.
Returning to the commentary on the King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration of Excellent Conduct, the Gyalwang Karmapa continued with the presentation of the prayer in terms of a division into ten major aspirations. The two aspirations covered in this day’s session were offering and, briefly, confession.
Offerings are presented differently in sutras and tantra, he explained, but the King of Aspirationsfollows the sutra presentation. In this context, the King of Aspirations guides us in making two types of offerings, surpassable and unsurpassable, and begins with the former.
I make an offering to these victors of
The best of flowers and the finest garlands.
Cymbals and ointments, the best parasols,
The best of lamps, and incense the most fine.

I make an offering to these victors of
The finest robes, the finest fragrances,
And powders in heaps equal to Mount Meru,
Arranged in the most sublime of displays.
The idea is to make offerings of whatever and however much we have, His Holiness commented. We may feel that we have nothing that is really worthy of offering. But in their great compassion for us, the buddhas and bodhisattvas gladly receive our offerings even if we have only humble offerings to make.
The seven types of offerings listed here are flowers, garlands, cymbals and so forth, but there are various enumerations of seven types of offerings. Dromtonpa said that the seven that appear here in the King of Aspirations are the seven offerings that Atisha described when he spoke of seven offerings.
The flowers spoken of in this context may not be actual flowers that we possess, but flowers that we can only imagine. We can even visualize that they have been sent over the Internet, His Holiness suggested. In any case, we should visualize the flowers and other offering substances as being pleasing to all five senses. In the case of flowers, they should be beautiful to behold, with petals that make a lovely sound when they rustle, having an exquisite scent, edible and delicious, and soft and pleasing to the touch—thus delighting in terms of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
The garlands we imagine offering can be inspired by the garlands of flowers of different colors, scents and shapes that we find in India, His Holiness suggested. Cymbals can include all musical instruments, and even to refer more broadly to music per se.
Ointments should be imagined as fragrant, and can be medicinal or have cooling properties. Lamps can be natural sources of light, such as the sun, moon and stars, as well as manufactured lamps that are lit by electricity or oil. The oil-lit lamps could be visualized as burning fragrant oils. The incense we offer can also be natural or manufactured.
In the second verse, the robes can be imagined as keeping us warm and to be of the finest fabric. The best parasols might be visualized as having a handle and staff of vaidurya. The Gyalwang Karmapa explained that buddhas and bodhisattvas are able to emanate parasols as vast as the world, with bells that sound with Dharma teachings.
His Holiness commented in that spirit that the large parasol that was hung above the Dusum Khyenpa statue on the stage during the Karmapa 900 celebration was enormous, so much so that it turned out to be too large to hang, so it had to be slightly reduced in size.
The best of fragrances refers to perfumes or any fragrance in liquid form, while powders refers to fragrant substances that have been ground into powder. The line, “Arranged in the most sublime of display,” is not limited to powders, but includes arrangements of robes, parasols and so on.
In any case, no matter what the specific offerings in question might be, when we speak of ‘offerings,’ the original Sanskrit term is puja. Etymologically, the term puja means ‘to please.’ Speaking more poetically, puja fills the heart with delight. The pleasure that we generate by making offerings to the buddhas and bodhisattvas is not the contaminated pleasure we ordinary beings experience, a pleasure that naturally turns to pain. Rather, it is an uncontaminated form of pleasure or delight.
We tend to focus on the actual substances or objects that are being offered, but that is not the crucial aspect of an act of offering. Rather, it is the delight that is produced by the offering. We do use the term ‘offerings’ or ‘puja’ to denote the objects that we give in order to produce delight in the mind of the recipient. But when we use the term ‘offerings’ or puja in this way, we are actually using the word for the result (puja in the sense of pleasing) to the cause (that which pleases.)
Generally, His Holiness observed, everything that we do as Dharma practitioners should act as an antidote to our afflictions or kleshas. Otherwise, that Dharma is not functioning as Dharma for us. This branch of offering serves as an antidote to our stinginess. When we are tight-fisted and do not wish to give away what we have, that is stinginess, which is directly opposed by making offerings.
His Holiness noted that there are numerous ways our acts of offering can become impure, for example, if we are giving what we would otherwise discard, such as stale cake. What is crucial here is not the actual object but the attitude or mental state involved. The point is to train our minds. If we ask ourselves what is pleasing to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, it is clear that it is not to accumulate offering substances or objects. Rather, their aim is to liberate sentient beings from suffering. The way that we beings can be liberated is through our own actions in accumulating merit and eliminating misdeeds. There is no one who can do this on our behalf. The buddhas and bodhisattvas can and do serve as supremely inspiring models for us, but they cannot act in our stead.
Although in the sutras there is often discussion of offering what is owned and what is not owned, nowadays the world has been carved up and sold off, and even the moon is now being divided into sections claimed by various nations.
His Holiness commented that when Jowo Atisha arrived in Tibet, he was struck by how pure the water was, and suggested that it would make an excellent offering substance, because it is so pure, but also because it is freely available and thus does not give rise to stinginess.
Next His Holiness turned to the unsurpassable offerings, which are the offerings that can be given by great bodhisattvas.
I also imagine offering to all victors
That which is vast and unsurpassable.
I offer and bow to the victors with
The power of faith in excellent conduct.
Such bodhisattvas emanate innumerable bodies and each pore emanates another set of innumerable bodies. And each of those bodies makes offerings, continually. Though this is beyond our ability to conceive, they can do so within the dharma expanse due to the power of their aspirations and samadhi. This is currently beyond our ability, but if we make these aspirations with great faith, it can be of immense benefit. We can imagine that a small bowl of water that we offer is as large as the universe and are enjoyed continually by the buddhas and bodhisattvas for many eons. To make an unsurpassable offering we can make the aspiration that our offering becomes just like the offerings made by Manjushri and Samantabhadra.

During Buddha’s lifetime, there was a householder by the name of Deva who was childless. It was the custom of the day that the wealth of those who lacked heirs was appropriated by the king. When Deva died, Kimg Bimbisara received his wealth, which amounted to 80,000 bars of gold. This was startling because during his lifetime, he lived as a pauper, wearing poor clothes and riding in a poor chariot. The Buddha then was dwelling in Rajagriha, and commented on this situation when King Bimbisara asked him about it. Buddha stated that stingy people may have wealth but are unable to share it, whereas people of intelligence make great offerings with it. Buddha further explained that because Deva had been so stingy, his roots of merits were severed, and as a result he fell into a lower realm. This can be compared to squirrels who are able to collect many nuts and seeds, but are unable to plant seeds, so that their harvest of merit continues. Deva in a previous life had made an offering to a pratyekabuddha and dedicated that merit to never be reborn in a lower realm. However, he later regretted the generous deed. Due to that, although he had the karmic cause to be wealthy by virtue of his offering, yet due to his regret he was unable to enjoy that wealth. The intelligent may have little to give but can increase their merit greatly by giving skillfully, His Holiness noted. If you never lose your spirit of generosity, you will never become impoverished, he said.

Hearing this explanation by Buddha, King Bimbisara had the idea that henceforth he should give only to Buddhists, but not to non-Buddhists. Buddha soundly condemned that notion, explaining that all sentient beings need food and clothes, so you should give to all. We are surrounded by impoverished people who lack access to medical care and food. Even if we are unable to meet their material needs, we need to train our minds to aspire to do so. We can ask ourselves if we have reluctance to give the best of what we have, but are willing to give away what we do not value greatly, that is an attitude heavily influenced by stinginess.
His Holiness recounted a situation he had seen in a documentary of a child with a disease that required expensive blood treatments. To help raise funds for his medical treatment, the children sold stuffed animals and gave the money to his mother. For those children, this was a vast gift, and His Holiness had the thought that any offering he himself might give would pale in comparison to what the children gave, even if it were far more money.
His Holiness touched briefly on confession, emphasizing the importance of confessing any lapses to our vows. This is crucial because breaking commitments is damaging to our mental condition within the same life, leaving us discouraged. He said he would save a more detailed presentation for the following day.
Under the influence of desire, hatred
And ignorance, I have committed wrongs
Using my body, speech and also mind—
I confess each and every one of them.
The teaching session closed with a brief meditation on the kindness of sentient beings. All of us on this planet exist and survive in dependence on one another. All of what we enjoy, such as the clothes we wear, comes from others. Much of the fabric that warms us comes from animals, so without then we would lack even much of the material that covers our bodies. Even if not, generally our clothes have been manufactured, thus passing through many hands before reaching us. All that we have and rely on literally has passed through thousands of hands and tens of thousands of steps before coming to us, and in this way all sentient beings are extremely kind to us. It is actually amazing to consider just how much kindness we receive from countless others.

His Holiness shared a feeling he had one day while circumambulating Gyuto Monastery. Normally, we harbor some expectation that happiness will be produced by some new experience or acquisition. In this way, we project happiness into some imagined future. But happiness is in this moment and is available for us to experience at any moment. While walking around Gyuto, His Holiness said he contemplated the great number of conditions that had to come together in order for the air that he was breathing to be available to him, As he did so, he was filled with a sense of wonder at the fact that the natural environment on its own had made this available at every moment of every day. If we had to arrange it on our own, we would be unable to, yet all the air we need is effortlessly available to us at all times, and this alone can be a source of great happiness.

With this as the preparation for contemplation on interdependence and the kindness of others, the assembly meditated together in silence. As they did, thousands of people breathed together the air that is given so freely, and enjoyed together the second session of the Kagyu Monlam—another condition of goodness and happiness that is made possible for us through the kindness of thousands of others.

December 17, 2010 - Bodhgaya


Parting from Wrongdoing
As an aid to setting the motivation for his teaching during the day’s second session, His Holiness cited a verse from the King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Noble Conduct.
As far as to the ends of the blue sky,
As far as to the ends of sentient beings,
Until the end of karma and afflictions,
Thus far are the ends of my aspirations.
This reflects the vastness of the spontaneous aspirations of bodhisattvas, he said, which is grounded in the vastness of their great compassion that has arisen in their minds. When we speak of mind, the Gyalwang Karmapa said, Buddhist texts offer numerous ways to analyze and classify types of mind. However, the most important of minds or mental states are wisdom and compassion. The term for ‘wisdom’ in Tibetan is sherab, with she meaning consciousness or understanding, and rab meaning best. The term for compassion is nyingje, with nying meaning heart and je meaning lord. As such, wisdom can be understood as the best of minds and compassion as lord or supreme of hearts. By practicing the two indivisibly, enlightenment can be brought within our reach, His Holiness stated.
Between compassion and wisdom, His Holiness said that Buddha’s own way of guiding disciples and teaching the Dharma reveals that compassion is primary. For example, the Buddha did not insist on having all his students think as he did. Rather, he offered various presentations in accordance with what would benefit his students and what they could most easily understand and practice. For this reason, we may say that when Buddha opened the door to Dharma, he did so out of compassion.
Compassion is thus indispensable, and therefore it is essential that we give up violence and cease harming others. This does not mean simply refraining from physically or verbally assaulting others, but includes the source from which such actions spring: the mental states of anger, hatred, jealousy, resentment and greed. Among the 10 unvirtuous actions described in Buddhist texts, the three of body and four of speech come about when we harbor resentment towards others. That is to say, it all boils down to our mind. Even if our negative thoughts or attitudes do not lead to physical and verbal harm to others, the mere presence of such mental states within us is harmful to us. There is a wise saying that even before anger harms others, it has already harmed the one who is angry, and this is clearly the case, the Gyalwang Karmapa stated.
Rather than such disturbing mental states, what we need is peace and a sense of comfort within ourselves. Nowadays, His Holiness observed, there is growing awareness of the importance of inner peace. Yet our lifestyle has become increasingly busy, such that it causes us to lose our peace of mind. His Holiness recollected that during his childhood in a nomadic region of eastern Tibet, people needed to work no more than three to four hours a day, and spent the rest of their time warming themselves in the sun, talking to one another and drinking tea. By contrast, people living in urban environments seem to be working 24 hours a day, and even then do not have enough time to finish their jobs. Our lives are regulated by the clock, rather than by what it is necessary to do, His Holiness observed. Technology has captured our imagination and we are carried away by our fascination with electronic goods, but this is not the fault of the machines or electronic devices. It is a mistake, he said, to expect human beings to function as machines, working around the clock without rest. We seem to have developed such an expectation, and there are cases of factory workers committing suicide due to the pressure placed on them to perform.
Along with practicing non-violence and ceasing harming others, the Mahayana teachings require us additionally to act to benefit others. This is necessary if we are to live up to the name of Mahayana practitioners that we claim for ourselves. His Holiness then related an anecdote, which he emphasized was a true story, of a person who had recently become Buddhist. When this man was driving his car, he was struck by a truck. The truck driver descended from his truck and began berating the man, accusing him of being at fault. The new Buddhist had the thought that he lacked the wisdom of a Buddha, but needed to train himself in the compassion of a Buddha. Therefore, he did not respond verbally to the man’s accusations. After a police officer arrived, the truck driver continued his abusive rant and his false accusations. Suddenly, there was a downpour of heavy rain, and the truck driver moved to return to his truck, but then noticed that the rain was not falling on him, although the driver of the car himself was being drenched by the rain. As he looked about, he saw that the driver, practicing compassion, was holding the umbrella up over his head, exposing himself to the rain. He was at once struck by the incongruity between his own abuse of the driver, and the driver’s kindness to him, and regretted his behavior. The truck driver then admitted to the police officer that he had been at fault. This shows the power of compassion, and inspires us to practice it even if we may lack the wisdom to do so perfectly.
Returning to the text, His Holiness made some additional comments on the branch of offering. One danger in making offerings, he said, is that our act of offering can be rendered improper or impure due to the object itself that we offer, as well as due to our attitude in offering. Nagarjuna’s Ratnavali gives a clear presentation of forms of ‘wrong livelihood’ associated with offerings, enumerating five that monastics must avoid, and five for householders to give up.
In general, His Holiness observed, it is said to be difficult for monastics to give up sustenance, while what is difficult for householders to abandon are their views, particularly their tendency to seek ordinary refuges and their lack of conviction in karmic cause and effect. For example, when they face sickness or a family crisis, householders tend to turn to worldly refuges rather than to the three jewels.
In Buddha’s day monastics subsisted on alms given by the lay community, and continue to do so today in some Theravada countries. A monk or nun might receive only rice, or only dal, and that had to suffice for them for the day. Monastics relied entirely on what others voluntarily offered them. For this reason, there was a temptation to manipulate or act deceitfully in order to gain the means of sustenance. These faulty ways of gaining offerings constitute wrong livelihood in the case of monastics.
His Holiness noted that there were instances when even senior monastics engaged in flattery or were particularly friendly towards potential benefactors in hopes of receiving material support from them. Of course, His Holiness commented there is no fault in showing kindness to others, including our sponsors, but to do so in hopes of gaining offerings is wrong.
Another fault that can creep into monastics’ dependence on offerings from the lay community is giving gifts to sponsors or potential sponsors in hopes of getting back more later from them. A further form of wrong livelihood for monastics is to insinuate that they would like the sponsors to offer something. For example, if a given benefactor has offered something to one monk, another monastic might highly praise that act and stress how beneficial it had been, in hopes that the benefactor would give something to them as well. Additionally, pretending to have spiritual qualities that one lacked in order to gain offerings also constitutes wrong livelihood, and must not be done.
In the case of householders, wrong livelihood refers primarily to their means of earning a living. The five wrong livelihoods in this context refer to making offerings of objects attained with money earned by selling sentient beings, such as animals, by selling meat, weapons, poison or through selling alcohol.
This concluded His Holiness’ presentation on offerings. He turned next to the branch of confession, as expressed in the text in the line:
Under the influence of desire, hatred
And ignorance, I have committed wrongs
Using my body, speech and also mind—
I confess each and every one of them.
Sometimes, His Holiness observed, we focus on certain negative deeds done earlier in life, such as killing birds, frogs or other small animals. Once people gain some understanding later in life, they may feel great regret for such acts done as children. To sincerely confess these is excellent, but confession should not be limited to such deeds.
Rather, the Gyalwang Karmapa stated, the negative acts that are particularly important to confess are any and all acts we have done that contradict our vows. Within the Buddhadharma, we have the opportunity to take three types of vow—the outer vows of pratimoksha, the inner vows of a bodhisattva and the secret vows of tantra. Setting aside these technical Buddhist categories, His Holiness said, in general terms if one makes a solemn commitment or accepts a serious responsibility, but later does something that contravenes that commitment, this has a very deep impact on our mind within the same life.
Setting aside past lives, if we try to recollect all the mistakes and wrongs we have done in this life, it would be extremely difficult to bring them all to mind. So while it is good to remember and confess as much as possible, more importantly we need to generate a sense of regret for all the misdeeds we have committed since time immemorial.
As an aside, His Holiness noted that it is said that misdeeds or negative actions have one positive quality, and that is the fact that they can be confessed and purified.
All our misdeeds are commingled with afflictions and arise based on them. All the afflictions in turn arise from confusion or ignorance. Ignorance is compared to a boss, with attachment, anger and the remaining afflictions serving as the henchmen of ignorance. This is because ignorance suggests to us mistaken ways of acting, and anger and attachment impels us to actively engage in them. Yet these are faults in the mind, and based on those we engage in physical and verbal misdeeds.
Heretofore, we have been speaking of misdeeds we engage in ourselves directly. Even heavier than these are instances when we encourage or get someone else to engage in wrong deeds for us. His Holiness gave an example from his childhood in Tibet, where people were unwilling to engage in killing themselves, and so hired a butcher to slaughter their livestock on their behalf. This is doubly wrong, for we are involving others in our own wrongdoing. In this sense, His Holiness said, it would be better to kill the animals oneself, rather than make someone else do so on one’s behalf.
In addition, rejoicing in the wrongdoing of others also incurs negative karma and is counted as a misdeed. For example, if we were to hear that our archenemy were beaten, tied, imprisoned or killed, and then rejoiced, this would also be a misdeed. If on top of the mental rejoicing, we expressed our delight or approval of the harmful act physically or verbally, this would be even more serious. His Holiness cautioned that rejoicing in acts that one has taken vows to refrain from doing oneself can actually cause one to lose those vows. Monastics for whom abstaining from killing is a root vow are in danger of losing their vows altogether if they express their delight in someone’s else act of killing either by physical or verbal means, such as clapping one’s hands or exclaiming approval. Laypeople run the same risk of losing their vows through such acts of rejoicing.
There can be many wrongs that we do not recollect and thus will not regret having done. However, we can reflect that the buddhas through their omniscience do know all the misdeeds we have done. With that in mind, we can then confess all the deeds that the buddhas know we have done under the influence of the afflictions, with body, speech and mind, since beginning-less time, and add to that the acts of all other sentient beings. In this way, our confession practice can become inclusive, vast and powerful. Nevertheless, although we may add others’ deeds to our own when we are generating regret and confessing, we should not pay any substantial attention to others’ mistakes. It is our own faults we are concerned with recognizing and remedying.
Purification is made complete through the application of what are called the four powers—regret, resolve, support and antidote. Each of the four powers has its own benefit in terms of purifying, His Holiness, serving to counteract different forms of karmic results.
The four are called powers because they have the power to purify our misdeeds. Among the four powers, His Holiness said, the most important is the power of regret, which entails recognizing our wrong deeds as wrong. When the power of regret is combined with the power of resolve—in which we determine not to repeat our wrongdoing—the remaining two powers, of support and antidote—will come naturally, His Holiness said.
If we feel content to have done misdeeds, there is little chance of changing, and we will continue to enjoy and look forward to engaging in further wrongdoing, the Gyalwang Karmapa reflected.
Regret too can be grounded in an understanding of the results of our misdeeds, which is rebirth in the three lower realms—the animal, hungry ghost and hell realms. These three correspond to the three main delusions of ignorance, attachment and anger, respectively. We can perceive animals directly, but people often express skepticism about the remaining two realms. Yet His Holiness suggests that we do not need to see them directly, for it is sufficient to observe our own minds when under the power of attachment and anger. This alone offers a glimpse of what the hungry ghost and hell realms are like. For example, when we burn with anger, we can see how anger consumes us like the fires of hell consume those who live there.
We must examine what anger and hatred do to us—how they transform us—in order to understand how deeply problematic they are for us. To fully work to remove them, we first need to see them as entirely and completely harmful and undesirable. Often a serious obstacle to our practice is that, on the one hand, we dislike our anger, but, on the other, we feel it serves some purpose. Yet we need to reach the point that we see our afflictions as utterly revolting, and almost feel nauseous when we see them arising.
The power of support entails going for refuge and generating bodhicitta. These two basic practices that we do regularly have a purifying effect. However, only when combined with a resolve not to commit the wrongdoings is the purification full and complete. His Holiness raised the question of whether failing to keep the promises or resolves we make to abstain in future from negative deeds constitutes a form of lying. It does not, he explained, as long as we have a sincere and genuine wish to refrain and feel a sense of resolve at that time that we make the resolve. If later we find ourselves unable to follow through, this is not a lie. For example, we might be asked if we plan to go somewhere and reply yes, because at the time we do intend to do so. If later it turns out that we do not make the trip, this does not render the previous assertion a lie.
The crucial point is to regret the misdeeds we have done. However, if we allow ourselves to wallow in guilt and cling to a self-image of ourselves as wholly faulty and good for nothing in this life or in the next, this is extremely harmful, and is clearly not the point of confession practice. Reflecting that we did not arrive in this life perfect, but came with a beginning-less personal history of engaging in wrongdoing, we should not feel shocked or discouraged by our present misdeeds. On the contrary, the mere fact that in this life we recognize our wrongdoing as wrong is already wonderful, and can be a source of great reassurance and joy.
His Holiness related that he once had the thought that the Tibetan word for confession – shakpa – is etymologically connected to dividing or splitting, in the sense of cutting something in half with a knife. This aspect of separating ourselves from our own misdeeds is an important component of the practice of confession, he said. This shakpa or parting from our wrongdoing entails not only giving up misdeeds in the future. It also indicates that we ought not to continue carrying our past wrongdoings, holding on to them as if they were still part of who we are.
With this profound advice, His Holiness concluded the teaching and turned to guiding the motivation for a meditation on bodhichitta.
All sentient beings in the three realms are wandering in samsara, not just at the moment, but at all times and continuously, the Gyalwang Karmapa reflected. Yet they are unaware that they are mired in suffering, and do not see their suffering as suffering. In their confusion, they would not recognize the magnitude of their own suffering even if it were pointed out to them.
His Holiness offered the analogy of a frog in a pot of water on a fire. The frog might find it pleasantly warm at first, and by the time it realized that it was being cooked it would be too late. Similarly all our mother sentient beings are trapped in fiery pits of suffering, but do not recognize this fact, and do not know what they ought to do or what they ought not do.
With these deeply moving comments, His Holiness sounded the gong and the vast assembly sat together for several minutes of meditation.

December 18, 2010 - Bodhgaya


Upholding the Dharma means Taming Our Minds
As usual the second session began with prostrations to the beat of a wooden bell, followed by the refuge prayer, and a mandala offering to His Holiness.
An extensive list of sponsors, read while the tea servers skilfully eased their way between the crowded rows of monks, nuns, and laypeople, was interrupted by two offering prayers, the first in Sanskrit, the second in Tibetan, then the reading of the list continued while people sipped their butter tea and munch on soft white bread rolls.
Gyalwang Karmapa began by reminding everyone that saving ourselves from the suffering of the lower realms and samsara while neglecting other sentient beings is not sufficient. Bodhicitta is essential and the root of bodhicitta is great compassion, which is non-partisan and offered freely to all sentient beings without distinction.
Then he asked the assembly to check their motivation for attending Monlam. Has it become a mere habit? Something we have to do at this time each year? It is important to have the correct motivation, he warned, to be committed to and focussed on the purpose of the Monlam, and otherwise attending the Monlam is of little value.
As to negative actions, some texts define them as actions of body and speech, and others as actions of body speech and mind. Whatever the case, the root of all negative actions lies in the mind; that’s where the seed for a negative action is found. Continuing the analogy, he said that if we remove a seed from the ground, it cannot grow into a tree, and so we have to remove the seed of negative actions from our minds.
Conversely, we should understand that virtuous actions, even if we only do one or two or they are small, can still be a very powerful purification. If someone falls down, you pick them up. Similarly, we need to purify our bad karma, and Bodhgaya is the best of all places to do it. The practice of Vajrasattva is very good for purifying negative deeds resulting from the afflictions during this lifetime. During the 28th Monlam he will give the Akshobhya Empowerment, and the Akshobhya Purification Ritual is the best way to simultaneously purify negative karma and accumulate merit. However, reciting sadhanas will bring no benefit if we fail to recognise and regret our misdeeds. Virtue arises in an unclouded mind and that’s why it is stronger than non-virtue.
His Holiness then told a story to illustrate the importance of acknowledging our faults.
Once upon a time, two monasteries – let’s call them A and B- stood atop a mountain. The monks in A were an unhappy lot, always arguing and falling out with each other, whereas the monks in B were the opposite, always happy and smiling, living harmoniously with each other.

Concerned by the great disparity between the two monasteries, the abbot of A set out for B to investigate.
At B he met one of the novice monks and said,
“I hear that in your monastery everyone’s really happy. Why?”
Without hesitation, the little monk said,
“That’s because we always make lots of mistakes.”
The abbot was very puzzled by this answer then he witnessed the following incident. One of the monks was washing the floor. A second monk appeared, lost his footing on the wet floor and fell down. Immediately, the first monk rushed over and helped him to his feet, exclaiming,
“I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault! I used too much water."
A third monk came over to them, protesting,
“No, no, it was my mistake for telling you to wash the floor.”
Finally, the one who had fallen over said,
“No, no! It was my own fault. I wasn’t being careful.”
Then the abbot understood what the little monk had meant.
If someone makes a mistake, admits it and recognises it, it makes for harmony, but if people walk around being too proud to admit when they are in the wrong, it makes for conflict.
The 4th branch of the Aspiration is the branch of rejoicing. The text lists five groups:
And I rejoice in all that is the merit
Of all the victors and the buddhas’ children,
Of the self-buddhas, learners and non-learners,
Of all the wanderers of the ten directions.
The last category refers to ordinary beings and their accumulation of merit. We should rejoice in this with neither pride nor jealousy. Gyalwang Karmapa then explored the importance of rejoicing as one of the greatest practices: it encourages us to be virtuous; rejoicing in great merit is meritorious in itself; the greater we rejoice, the more merit; it is the antidote to jealousy, one of the most harmful afflictions.
Returning once more to a theme which has run through this and his earlier teachings during this year’s Monlam, the Gyalwang Karmapa said that it was wrong to rejoice solely in the virtues of our own school and the virtuous acts of our own lineage masters while ignoring the virtues of masters in other schools. As all the teachings of the Buddha and bodhisattvas hold great virtue, such a sectarian view amounted to abandoning or rejecting the Dharma, and, as prophesied in the sutras, such conflicts would cause a decline in the teachings.
What then does it mean to uphold the teachings? To tame your mind. Apply the antidotes, then you are upholding the teachings. Train in the three trainings: listen, reflect, meditate. And rejoice in the good that is done by all people.
Returning to the text itself, the next request is to turn the wheel of dharma:
I request all those guardians who have
Wakened to buddhahood and found detachment—
The lamps of the worlds of the ten directions—
To turn the Wheel that cannot be surpassed.
The meaning of ‘turning the wheel of Dharma’ depends upon our perspective. Sometimes our pride can cause an obscuration of the Dharma, commented His Holiness.
The Dharma of the Buddha is like the wheel on the chariot that will take us to the other side of samsara, but the cart won’t move until we turn the wheel. Only then can we escape samsara. We have to respect every word of the Buddha, and also respect the Lama. It is also important to teach people at an appropriate level so that they can follow the steps along the path. Within the whole world realm every part, even the smallest particle, is encompassed within the Buddha’s teaching, and is pervaded by the activity of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, in every part of the universe. We have the great fortune to have the opportunity to encounter this vast Dharma, and having considered the benefit, we have to ask for the wheel of Dharma to be turned.
Following his enlightenment, Lord Buddha spent 49 days in the forest without speaking; he thought that the Dharma he had realised might be too profound for ordinary people, and then someone requested him to teach, and after that, he did. We have to be like the Khenpo, ardent for knowledge of the Dharma, who went from Lama to Lama pleading, “Please teach me this text...Please teach me that text...” In the Vinaya Sutra the Buddha says he does not do what he is not asked.
The next part of the text contains the request not to pass into nirvana:
With my palms joined, I supplicate all those
Who wish to demonstrate nirvana to stay
As many aeons as atoms in the realms
To aid and bring well-being to all wanderers.
Shakyamuni Buddha first developed bodhicitta then spent three kalpas gathering the accumulations, before he finally became enlightened. The Buddhas manifest in the sambhogakaya [the enjoyment body, of bliss and clear light] for those who have purified their minds, other buddhas and bodhisattvas, and in the nirmanakaya [the created body, which appears in time and space] for ordinary beings.
Requesting the Buddhas to stay to teach the Dharma is very important. Ordinary, childish individuals cannot be taught by the Buddha, and, Shakyamuni Buddha passed away 2500 years ago, so we do not have the fortune to meet him. Though there are an innumerable number of Buddhas, the people we can ask for teachings are our spiritual friends, the Lamas. We should recall the qualities of all the Lamas who uphold the teachings and appreciate the, which is why the Monlam included a remembrance of the kindness of Khenchen Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche, Dorlob Tenga Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso in a special ceremony on the eighth day.
Gyalwang Karmapa reminded everyone that for us the kindest lamas are in the practice lineage, but also, in particular, we have the Dalai Lama, who is praised as being a second Buddha. If we have the wonderful opportunity to see his face and hear his words, we have immensely good fortune, but we often don’t realise this, in which case it has no meaning for us.
At this point, Gyalwang Karmapa returned to the importance of taking responsibility to transform our minds. All of the practices [in the King of Aspirations] beginning with prostration and progressing down to the request not to pass into nirvana, are, essentially, practices we can all do and methods for taming our minds.
Every word of Dharma has the power to tame our minds.
Once more, His Holiness used a story to make everyone laugh and bring his message home.
Once upon a time there was a man with a huge, suppurating boil on his neck, so he went to consult Drukpa Kunley, who told him he needed to make a torma for it, so the man made a torma. Then Drukpa Kunley told him to throw the torma away.
“How can I throw the torma away? Where could I throw it?” asked the man. “There are buddhas in all of the ten directions.”
So Drukpa Kunley said,
“Give it to me!”
He took the torma and threw it really hard at the man. It hit him on the neck, burst the boil, and the pus was released.
Our internal enemy is the afflictions and the three poisons, so we need to review our progress each month, to make sure that the instructions we have received and the mantras we recite are working. The principal point is whether we can tame our minds or not. Taming our minds is not instantaneous, and it’s not something which can be bought, but, whatever we do, that should be the aim in our minds. If we forget this and put the Dharma aside and use the practice to work for a different aim, it is very difficult for the Dharma to be effective.
An example might be reciting Tara because we want children, or wanting a new house. These worldly aims are not commensurate with the aims of the Dharma, so such a practice ceases to be a Dharma practice. We need to use our body, speech and mind, for the aims of the Dharma.
In a holy place such as Bodhgaya, many people circumambulate, prostrate, and light butter lamps and so forth, but whether such are virtuous or not depends on our attitude. Our annual pilgrimage here is an ideal opportunity to review the year that has passed—remember misdeeds we need to regret, rejoice in the virtue we have created, and aspire to do better in future.
The short meditation was on generating the wish to liberate all sentient beings. First we should remember the kindness of our parents, or those who had shown us love, those who have nurtured and helped us. Even consider the wider environment and all the living things that support our lives.
Recall that there is not a single person here who has not been our parent or our best friend.
Generate the wish to liberate them from the suffering of samsaric existence.
The final instruction: Don’t go to sleep! We should sharpen our minds, focus in meditation.

December 19, 2010 - Bodhgaya


Infinite Bodhicitta For Beings Beyond Number
Pausing at the top of the stairs to remove his shoes, His Holiness descends the stairs leading to his throne and the Bodhi Tree. As usual he passes by his throne through a door of yellow cloth into the inner path around the stupa. Walking around the left side to enter the main temple, he offers prostrations to the golden Buddha and then offers a radiant set of robes to the statue.
Returning to his throne outside, the Karmapa begins to receive the offerings for his long life. The main one this morning was offered by Thrangu Rinpoche with his senior monks. Following them come long lines of devotees carrying a variety of scarves, some white and short, some so long they almost touch the ground, some golden with the eight auspicious symbols, and some bright red. Afterward, the main sponsors pass along the rows of burgundy and yellow robed monks to make individual offerings of scarves and envelopes with money inside. All the while prayers are being said or the names of sponsors and their wishes in making their offerings are being read. These declarations are almost a literary form in themselves, often quite flowery following the Sanskrit influence on Tibetan poetic thought. Lamas are described as the shining lights that illuminate the world; they are the second buddha, the ones who hold perfectly the vows of all three vehicles (Foundational, Great, and Vajra), and so forth.

There are praises along with aspirations that extend to limitless numbers of living beings who fill all space, and the merit of the offerings is dedicated so that they may swiftly attain full awakening. In line with the Karmapa’s wishes for the Monlam this year, the victims of earthquakes in Tibet and the floods in Ladakh are especially remembered. During this long recitation, servers are moving among the crowd pouring tea and passing out buns wrapped in cellophane to everyone. After these have been presented to the Buddha and a tea offering prayer has been recited (often to the teachers of the lineage or to Guru Rinpoche), His Holiness is asked to turn the wheel of Dharma.
Following his custom, he begins with some words about bodhicitta. Living beings are a source of infinite merit. Why so? When we have the wish to dispel their suffering, even for just a second, this brings us infinite merit. If this is so, then there’s no need to speak of the merit in the desire to bring all living being to unexcelled enlightenment.
If we wish to arrive at the level of Buddhahood, we have to turn our attention to what helps us attain it. Some people direct their dedication to liberation and omniscience in their next life, and at the same time, hope to get better things in this life as well. It is not necessary, however, to have such hopes or fears.
If we aspire to bodhicitta, we will naturally gain happiness in this life and the next, as our roots of virtue will increase exponentially and never run out. If we give a single drop of water or a single grain with a good motivation, this virtue, if it had a form, would be immeasurable. If we do not have this motivation, even if we make a huge material offering, there is not so much merit. If we know how to make offerings, even a small one, the merit is equal to the reach of space, for merit does not depend on material objects, but on our intention. We should not be discouraged about making a small offering as the physical aspect of the offering is not so important. What does matter is our intention, our pure motivation. We think about making an offering, we should make it a vast one.
We are here at Bodhgaya, the Vajra Seat where the Buddha became enlightened. He has said that when people cannot see him, if they come to the place where he became enlightened or entered parinirvana that would have as much merit as actually seeing him. So being here is the same as seeing the Buddha in person.
All our many friends here are directing their minds toward virtue and gathering the roots of merit through prostrating, circumambulating, giving tormas, doing prayers, and so forth. Their activities and aspirations make this a special place. This mandala of virtue and love blesses the site and the site blesses the individuals. All of this, however, is not only for our individual happiness but to bring all beings as vast as space to full awakening. Here at the Buddha’s place of enlightenment and in this special state of mind coming from our practice is the right time to make this aspiration.

His Holiness then turned to the “King of Aspirations” continuing his explanation. Basically, the aspiration prayer is speaking of following the Buddha’s example, which Shakyamitra defines as training in the ten perfections (Skt. paramitas) to gather all the accumulations. Actually, the essence of the prayer can be found the following two verses:
I offer to the Buddhas of the past
And those who dwell in all the worlds in the ten directions.
May those yet to appear fulfill their wishes
And swiftly awaken to enlightenment.
May every world in any of the ten directions
Become vast and completely pure
Filled with bodhisattvas and with buddhas
Who’ve gone beneath the lordly Bodhi Tree.
The text also speaks of living in harmony with all beings. The Buddha always abides in harmony with them. How do we do this? I’d like to tell a story here. Once there was a lay practitioner who liked beer and gambling and who hung out with similar people. Then a lama asked him, “Why are you doing this? It’s a terrible way to lead your life.” The man answered, “The King of Aspirations says that you have to get along with all living beings. If I don’t hang out with them, they won’t have the chance to connect with the Dharma.” But is this really what the prayer meant? If we just follow after others, we may have a good motivation, but it is not accompanied by intelligence, which tells us what to do and what not to. So this was not a good way to be in harmony.

When we talk about being harmonious with others, there is a big difference between hanging out with people and being truly harmonious. Being in harmony means making a good connection, one which is not one based on the afflictions. To give another example: If someone else is angry, we do not respond with anger, but show great compassion. In this way, we sow the seeds of good imprints in our minds. Looking at living beings in terms of their nature, we should get along with them, but when it comes to their afflictions and misguided thoughts, we should not emulate them. Getting along with people means relating to them in accord with the Dharma.
Being harmonious also means respecting all living beings as buddhas and bodhisattvas. It is due to their kindness that buddhas and bodhisattvas are able to attain full awakening, so we can think of them as the source of enlightened beings. And it is always important to remember the causes. We can think of living beings as the field to which we make offerings and regard ourselves as being lower. We are humble in respect to all living beings. If we think of ourselves as superior and others as inferior, bad, or difficult, we think we must change them into something good. Being arrogant like this is not the way. We should become someone who always puts others first. Just as people in India transport things on their heads, the most valued part of the body, it is there that bodhisattvas carry all living beings.
When we gradually train in the sequence of prostrating and praise, we become able to praise others. This is why we train. If we make offerings and then criticize others, we are doing two contradictory things. Whether we praise the Buddha or not, it does not make any difference to him. It’s like a flower keeping its fragrance whether we throw it or not. So we praise the buddhas and bodhisattvas in order to train our mind. They are so captivating, so attractive, everything that we want to be, so it is rather easy.
Actually, if we think about it, the fact that the buddhas and bodhisattvas have a vast ocean of qualities is not as amazing as when living beings, so habituated to the afflictions, develop one positive quality. This is truly wondrous. So we need to praise and think of as a lama or bodhisattva all the living beings who may have one or two virtuous thoughts in their mind. This training in offering praise, of course, will not happen immediately, but gradually as we train on the path.

We will have to move along more quickly now as the time is running short, so let us look at the verse on languages. [This is a verse that His Holiness recites at the beginning of the teachings.]
May I teach the Dharma in all languages—
In those of the gods, the nagas, the yakshas,
Of the kumbandhas and humans, too,
In as many languages as living beings know.
In the beginning I did not have much of a feeling for this verse, but then that changed. I thought what a wonderfully vast aspiration this prayer is, wishing to connect with all beings through their own language. If we could just say one verse in all the different languages of this world, we could share this Dharma with others. Those of you who have come here have spent a lot of money and some do not know English, or Tibetan, or any of the Indian languages. I am sorry that I cannot talk directly with all of you. I thought of becoming a scholar and training in all the languages, but maybe all I can learn is Yes and No.
Actually, there is a story about one man who studied Yes and No in many languages and then he had a chance to go abroad. He came to a place that was guarded by a big, burly man, who asked him, “Are you going to fight with me?” Not understanding the question, the traveler wondered, “Shall I say Yes? Or No?” He decided to say Yes, and the hulk beat him to a pulp. The next day, the traveler was walking in the same area and met the brawny man again. He had, however, changed his mind and asked, “Do you want to be my friend.” After the disastrous Yes, this time the traveler was sure he wanted to say No, and again he was creamed. So maybe we have to know more than Yes and No.
Another verse states:
Free from afflictions, karma, and the works
Of maras, may I act in every realm.
Like a lotus to which water does not cling,
Unhindered like the sun and moon in space.
When we are pulled around here and there by our karma, afflictions, and the maras, we can put on the armor of our compassion and wisdom to protect ourselves and not fear these.
I’ll act to fully quell the suffering
Of lower realms and bring all beings to joy.
I’ll act to benefit all beings throughout
The reaches of the realms and the directions.
Buddhism talks about infinite realms in all directions, up, down, and around, in whatever size they may be, which are all filled with living beings. We act to benefit everyone and not just once but for all eons. Lifetime to lifetime, we are able to remain in the lower realms just to help one living being. On another scale, it is infinite living beings whom we vow to bring to buddhahood. This seems to be a task we cannot accomplish, but bodhisattvas have tremendous courage; they can even give their own flesh and limbs. This is so because the roots of virtue we accumulate are not for ourselves but for all living beings, to whom we dedicate all that we do.
Another verse states:
And may I always meet those spiritual friends
Who have the wish to bring me benefit
By teaching conduct that is excellent.
I’ll never do anything to disappoint.
Spiritual friends are there to help us but when we place them too high up and make them into gods, it is difficult to have the feeling of being close to them. Some people hear the name of a lama and they get afraid. A spiritual friend is our good friend, someone to whom we turn our minds, seeking to be in harmony with them. So a lama is someone who is close to your mind and wishes you well, so there is no need to fear them.
The next verses combine the ten bodhisattva levels with the ten perfections. [What follows are excerpts from the Karmapa’s comments.]
The buddhas possess the ten powers, and the power of miracles which allows them to enter in a single instant [the Karmapa snaps his fingers] all the realms; in one moment they can be everywhere to help all living beings at the same time. Now that is being swift and vast.
The power of the vehicle in terms of the mahayana means that our aspiration to help others is so powerful that everything we do becomes beneficial. People are very busy with work these days and it is difficult to help others directly, but if we know how to sustain our bodhicitta, we can be helping all the time. When we are drinking tea or coffee, we can benefit others. We do not have to make a special time, thinking, “Now I’m going to help.”
The text also speaks of the power of conduct which is virtuous in the beginning, virtuous in the middle, and virtuous in the end. Whether an action becomes virtuous or not, depends on these three stages: at the start is the motivation of bodhicitta; in the middle is good practice; and in end is the dedication of merit to benefit others. Like this, the buddhas spend countless eons practicing, all in order to help living beings.
“The power of love is pervasive everywhere,” means that we imbue the whole extent of space with love. The universe is not small like the little mat we sit on: it is vaster than all space. The moment we feel bodhicitta we have infinite merit. We should develop the resolve that whatever I do, whether I’m happy or sad, I will help others. Awakening to buddhahood comes down to just this.
Living beings have different capacities, shapes, and colors. Only the Buddha can understand all the causes for these. As ordinary beings, we have to understand the inclinations and minds of others through their physical actions and verbal expressions.
“The King of Aspirations” ends with a series of dedications, the essence of which is that for living beings as limitless in number as space is vast, we pray that whatever we do, even the slightest virtue, may bring them onto the path of happiness, and that ultimately, we all may realize the true nature of phenomena and be liberated from the ocean of samsara.
This concludes a brief explanation of “The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct.” It was the primary focus of the Kagyu Monlam when Kalu Rinpoche began it in 1984 and remains central to our practice. I hope that my few comments have been helpful to you.
Attaining the state of full awakening is in order to benefit others. All masters of the past accomplished all they did for this sole purpose. This should also be our intention, and not just during the time of the Monlam, but all the time. If we can make this commitment, then I feel that these talks will not have been wasted.
At the end there was a minute of meditation on anything one wished and the recitation of the first twelve verses of the aspiration prayer, which epitomize its vast intention with its countless, immeasurable, numberless buddhas and atoms encouraging our minds to expand beyond the limits of space and include every being in our hearts and minds, wishing them freedom from suffering and the greatest happiness of full awakening.




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