Gyalwang Karmapa’s teaching on The Torch of Certainty: Session One
December 31, 2012
The correct way to practise the Buddhadharma
Gyalwang Karmapa arrived in procession. He prostrated three times and then took his seat on a low throne, an adaptation of an armchair design, surrounded by his lamas, with Gyaltsab Rinpoche on his right and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche on his left. The translator Ringu Tulku sat at the head of the first row of lamas, and lounging behind him, cheeky little Drupon Dechen Yangsi could be clearly seen on the all-revealing monitors.
Gyalwang Karmapa explained that he had chosen this text, written by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, because the theme of the Monlam was the commemoration of the Jamgon Kongtrul lineage. He did not plan to go through the whole text this year as there was no benefit in rushing, but he hoped to be able to cover refuge and Vajrasattva, particularly as those who had taken the Vajrasattva empowerment would then have everything they needed to do the Vajrasattva practice.
[What follows is a summary of the main points.]
What counts as a genuine dharma practice? It seems that many who think they are practising dharma aren’t.
When we study the scriptures they describe the ideal way to practice dharma, and then it is up to us to practise to the best of our ability, step by step, depending on our situation. However, we should always make the effort to aim as high as possible rather than feel unconfident and underestimate our potential. Our viewpoint should be that of understanding the ideal and fixing our sights on it.
Although some of the things we regard as important practices such as going on pilgrimage, prostrations, mantra recitation, and circumambulations may be part dharma practice, it is questionable whether these alone can be termed a pure practice.
To begin with, we should have full devotion and trust in the three jewels, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, but have to examine the nature of that devotion and trust. Devotion has to come from the depths of our hearts – it’s not just a matter of folding our hands together and repeating the words!
Devotion and blind faith are not the same: To develop such devotion and trust does not happen automatically, except for a few who have very strong imprints and karmic connections. Rather, generating this devotion and trust is a slow process, but both are essential for the path to liberation. Devotion has to come from a clear understanding. First we have to find a genuine lama and receive genuine teachings. From this comes clarity of mind – so that we can understand cause and effect, and understand how dharma practice can transform us. It is not enough to blindly follow what the teacher says.
We need understanding and clarity not blind faith.
An understanding of causality is the foundation of Dharma practice. We need to understand the effects of practice, what to do, what not to do, and the consequences. This is true dharma practice. When we have this clarity and certainty we can decide independently what we should do, and it adds depth to anything we do do, such as prostrations. Likewise devotion
Dharma practice should become a way of life. True devotion arises when we become clear and certain that we have no option but to act in that way. That is the basis of true devotion, practice and study. We need to have a teacher and receive teachings and instructions from that teacher. These teachings and instructions may be long or short. The important thing is that when we put these teachings and instructions into action our dharma practice becomes a way of life, not something compartmentalised into the times when we sit on our meditation cushion or practice sessions.
The guru is essential: though some people think that they can practise without a teacher. We may think we know how to do prostrations, but it is the teacher who helps us understand the nature of the practice so that our practice transforms our minds. We need three things: instructions from a teacher, study and reflection. In the end, no one attains enlightenment by completing a certain number of prostrations or circumambulations!
Ultimately, the measure of the success of our practice lies in the transformation of our minds.
The value of the ngöndro is to turn our minds towards the Dharma.
Reflecting on the first two common preliminaries – the precious human life and impermanence– counteracts attachment to this life. When we have reflected on them sufficiently, we move to the second level, reflecting on karma, cause and effect, and on the intrinsic suffering of samsara. The purpose here is to dissuade us from attachment to future lives, and to develop genuine renunciation of samsara.
Successfully completing the ngöndro is not about doing 100, 000 prostrations. If we want to know whether the ngöndro are working or not, we should check the state of our minds. Are negative emotions still controlling our mind or are they diminishing? At all times we need to apply the best antidotes to counteract negativities in our mind.
A genuine Dharma practice is not about:
- Following rules or emulating anyone; it is about transforming ourselves and we are the only ones who can do that by working on our negative states of mind.
- External things and rituals; it concerns our minds and internal transformation.
Transforming ourselves is not about changing our outward appearance or aspects of our external behaviour such as our speech. It is not about suppressing our anger and dislike so that it no longer shows. That is not genuinely practising Dharma. Rather, when we transform our minds by getting rid of negative states of mind, our external appearance, speech and behaviour automatically change too. Transformation comes from within.