Gyalwang Karmapa’s teaching on The Torch of Certainty: Session Two


December 31, 2012



Taking Responsibility

The following is an edited summary paraphrasing the Karmapa's teaching:

Study, reflection, meditation are interconnected when following a genuine path.  What exactly are study, reflection and meditation?

The wisdom that arises out of study does not mean collecting various types of teaching. When we just listen to teachings we tend to forget them. This is not the kind of study we are talking about.

Study and the wisdom that arises from study are separate. The wisdom that arises from listening comes first from remembering the words. When the meaning of the words remains in our mind-stream, this is called the wisdom that arises from listening. This wisdom is generated in us with the help of some other person. It can be a teacher or something else.

Reflection is based on careful listening and understanding. When we have complete understanding from listening, we reflect on it. We do not rely on someone else's power. We reflect again and again and try to understand it deeply.  

After examination and reflection, we gain a clear understanding that if we train in this way, certain experiences will arise. The certainty thus gained through understanding and investigating, is what we call the wisdom that is generated through reflection.

Similarly we can divide reflection into just reflection and the wisdom that arises from reflection. When we develop the wisdom of reflection we understand the meaning of all the studies we have done and how it leads to transformation. We then become highly motivated and inspired to practise the teachings. That is called the wisdom generated from reflection.

The result of investigation and the wisdom arising from it is that it becomes so important to practise immediately that we feel we must go away to a quiet place and practice without delay.

However, without meditation, study becomes static. If you understand intellectually but this does not interact with your experience, it doesn't become transformative.

The word meditation means to become familiarised.  We try to use what we understand to subdue our rough mind. When we make it a habit, then it becomes our life. Dharma practice is not separate from our life. We become the dharma. Dharma becomes our life. Bodhicitta is not outside, separate from our mind. Mix your experience with bodhicitta.  Merging study with meditation right from the beginning is very important.

Meditation is there to improve the mind. That is dharma practice. There is nothing more to it than that. We have attained this precious human life and entered into the dharma. When we enter into the practice we need to make it true. To do that we need to turn our mind towards the dharma. We develop devotion, trust and certainty in buddha, dharma and sangha.

Death and impermanence

Everybody fears death, even animals, and barbarians who have wrong view.  It is not in itself very special. Reflecting on impermanence, however, means knowing that now we have this precious human life which will not last forever. We do not have much time. When we realise the preciousness of our time right now, we need to do something at this very moment. I must do something now. I cannot delay. It becomes the most important thing to do in life.

If you have generated bodhicitta it becomes even more urgent to act because you have the capacity to work for sentient beings and do something very strong right now. The strength of that motivation brings enthusiasm and the wish to act immediately. When we do something for ourselves only, it's not that urgent, but when there is a chance to benefit many people it becomes more urgent.

A true understanding of impermanence cannot arise unless we have a strong experience of our precious human life. This frees us from too much attachment to this life's activities.

16 unfavourable states

Reflect on the favourable conditions we have attained to practise dharma and make this life useful. Most of us have all these right conditions. If we didn't have them, we wouldn't be here at this moment.

Even if we have the right opportunities, all the positive states and freedoms, we still don't do the practice because of the 16 unfavourable conditions.

8 of these are based on present circumstances:
  1. strong negative emotions disturb us too much;
  2. we are under the influence of corrupting companions;
  3. we hold false views and practice;
  4. we are subject to extreme laziness;
  5. due to previous bad deeds a flood of obstacles advances;
  6. we are under the control of other people;
  7. we enter the dharma because we need food or clothing;
  8. we may seemingly be in dharma but it is for profit or renown.

8 conditions are based on the mind:
  1. we have too much attachment to the body or wealth;
  2. our character is extremely coarse and all our acts are very mean;
  3. no matter how much the teacher explains, we have no fear of the lower realms;
  4. we have no faith in the blessing of liberation;
  5. we enjoy doing unwholesome things;
  6. we don't want to practice dharma like a dog is disinclined to eat grass;
  7. we violate the roots of bodhisattva and other vows;
  8. we break the sacred commitments to guru and vajra brothers and sisters.

We have all the right conditions because we have a special intelligence to act for long term benefit. We have the capacity to understand and formulate the thought to do something beneficial. We should not use it to harm or destroy others. In the end we destroy our own race. We need to use our special intelligence to help each other and do something great.

Look at how we treat animals: we eat their flesh, take away their habitation and make them extinct.

Once, at an environmental conference the monks were puzzled why we should try to protect the tiger. The tiger is cruel and eats gentle herbivores such as deer. However, there is a Jataka tale of the bodhisattva who offered his body to the hungry tigress. If the tiger were not important, why would the bodhisattva sacrifice his body?

We are very afraid of tigers but they are not as dangerous as humans. We destroy and inflict harm on so many beings and animals. We have created weapons that could eliminate billions of beings in one second. We are the most powerful on this earth and we have to think about our responsibilities. Not only do we inflict pain on others, but we also create causes to harm ourselves and future generations. When we see this clearly we have to take responsibility.

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