Gyalwang Karmapa concludes his teaching on The Life of Milarepa
December 28, 2009, Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, report by Jo Gibson, photos taken by Karma Norbu, Pema Orser Dorje
The second session of the Monlam, saw the successful completion of Gyalwang Karmapa’s four year reading transmission of and commentary on The Life of Milarepa.
His Holiness read the concluding part of Chapter Nine which describes the miraculous and auspicious signs witnessed during the time between Milarepa’s death and the conclusion of the funeral rites, a testimony to his attainment of the supreme liberation, and his having passed intothe crystal clarity of the Dharmakaya. Milarepa had completed his activities. Rechung declares: He caused the teachings of the Buddha to blaze forth like bright sunshine. Furthermore: He will serve sentient beings till the end of samsara throughout cosmic space
In his commentary on the text, Gyalwang Karmapa lauded Jetsun Milarepa as one of the greatest, yogis of Tibet, an exemplary dharma practitioner whom we should follow. His Holiness then referred to the Milarepa Ganachakra to be offered the following day, mentioning especially the pendants participants would receive. Each contained a sacred relic of Milarepa – a small piece of his white robe. Gyalwang Karmapa explained that Rechung had entrusted this precious cloth to Gampopa, and it was said that anyone who had this cloth would be spared rebirth in the lower realms for seven lifetimes. Only those people, ordained or lay, who had completed the Kagyu ngondro would be allowed to participate because as members of the practice lineage we had to hold to the root and that meant completing the Kagyu ngondro.
The assembly then sang Milarepa’s Song of the Six Essential Principles, Milarepa’s last set of instructions, sung to Rechung from within the cremation cell, and one of the miraculous occurrences at the time of the funeral rites.
Listen Rechung, dearest to my heart, to this song of My Last Will of Instructions.
In the ocean of three samsaric levels
The illusory body is the great culprit,
Striving toward fulfillment of material aims
With little time to renounce worldly efforts,
Rechung, renounce worldly endeavour.
In the city of the illusory body the illusory mind is the great culprit.
Enslaved by the flesh and blood of the body,
With little time to realise the ultimate reality
O Rechung discern the true nature of mind.
On the border between mind and matter inner consciousness is the great culprit.
Drawn into the realm of conditioned perceptions
With little time to realise the uncreated nature of reality.
O Rechung, capture the fortress of unborn emptiness.
On the border between this world and the next consciousness in the intermediate state
of the Bardo is the great culprit.
Seeking a body even though deprived of body,
With little time to realise ultimate reality.
O Rechung work your way towards that realisation.
In the deceptive city of the six classes of being
There is a gr4eat accumulation of defilements and evil karma following impulses of desire and hatred.
With little time to perceive the all-encompassing emptiness.
O Rechung abandon desire and hatred.
In the invisible realm of the heavens,
There is a Buddha who skillfully uses falsehoods,
Guiding sentient beings towards relative truth.
Little time hav ethey to realise ultimate truth.
O Rechung abandon concepts.
Lama, yidam and dakinis, three united in one—
Perfect seeing, contemplation and practice, three united in one―
This life, the next, and the intermediate―
This is my final instruction and my very last will.
O Rechung there is nothing more to say,
My son, devote yourself to this instruction.
This concluded the section of His Holiness’ teaching on The Life of Milarepa.
Gyalwang Karmapa now began a short teaching on developing compassion and bodhicitta, using the sevenfold training. He started by emphasising that view, meditation and action cannot be separated; all three must be practised to gather. View and meditation are inner qualities and action is their external manifestation. The afflictions are the basis from which we perform the actions which harm others. Hence we need to train our minds in bodhicitta, but this also has to be transformed into compassionate action.
The first step of the seven-fold training is to recognise that at some point in time all sentient beings have been our mothers, and in this life we do not know what our previous connections to other sentient beings may have been. His Holiness referred to a famous illustration of this:
“Your father was reborn as the fish you are eating. Your mother was reborn as the dog you are beating. Your enemy is the newly-born child in your lap.”
At this point, Gyalwang Karmapa, detoured briefly to explore the Buddhist argument for the existence of previous lives. If people required evidence, then the fact that some people could clearly remember their previous lives, should cast some doubt on the claims of those who did not believe in rebirth, he argued. Also, from the point of logic, the consciousness of a newly conceived child must be dependent on the existence of a previous moment of consciousness. His Holiness explained that in today’s scientific, materialistic world, it was important to have logical arguments and evidence.
The second step in the sevenfold training is to remember the kindness of our mothers. Gyalwang Karmapa reminded us of how our mothers underwent the difficulties of pregnancy and birth, and once we were born, fed us, clothed us, taught us to walk and talk, and nurtured us “from a size as small as part of a finger in the womb to the size of a yak!” Sometimes a mother was even forced to commit non-virtue such as killing or stealing in order to protect and nourish her children.
In short, as infants and young children, we were totally dependent on our mothers.
Consequently, we owe our mothers a great debt of gratitude and should wish to repay them, the third step. His Holiness explored this idea further, extending the field of gratitude. Though we only have one mother in this life, because of the interdependent nature of our existence, there are many other people who are like our mothers, working by their millions in fields or factories to produce the things we need to eat, to wear, and to use in our daily lives.
His Holiness reminded everyone of a saying: “A good person given a night’s lodging will be grateful for the rest of their life. A bad person, even though you save their life, will not be grateful.”
Having gratitude to our mother and all these mother-like sentient beings, and the wish to repay their great kindness, it would be shameful if we felt no compassion for them, if we were to be governed only by a selfish motivation. Unbearable compassion should rise within us when we see the suffering of our mothers. This is the fourth step. The fifth step follows naturally from this, that we should also want the best for them, which is an expression of loving-kindness.
His Holiness reminded everybody of the power of compassion and loving kindness: under the bodhi tree, Lord Buddha had vanquished the Maras with loving-kindness and compassion.
Step six is developing the altruistic intention to alleviate the sufferings of all our mother sentient beings.
Gyalwang Karmapa observed that in meditation we start with the mother of this life, however, if anyone had difficulties because of their relationship with their mother of this life, they should think instead of an alternative mother-figure, someone who has shown them kindness and nurtured them. He told the story of a Geshe who was orphaned and raised by an aunt, so he. would visualise his aunt during the sevenfold meditation.
The final stage is generating bodhichitta, the wish to become enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings, which cannot be generated without first developing strong compassion, the type of active compassion that bodhisattvas display when they work selflessly for kalpas or are prepared to go to the hell realms to help one sentient being.
At this point His Holiness drew attention to the need to protect the environment for the sake of ourselves and all sentient beings, and to consider the hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying in conflict worldwide because of lack of compassion. “We must wear the armour of bodhichitta, ” he proclaimed. “Even though it may seem at times that the world is so full of negative people that there is little point in having a good heart, we are dharma practitioners and we have to take a positive attitude. If we become a positive person, at least that is one less negative person in the world!”
Finally, as the session moved to the dedication prayers, Gyalwang Karmapa reminded everyone of the importance of sealing all we do with the dedication of our merit.
This year’s Monlam theme is gratitude, and His Holiness has especially highlighted the debt of gratitude that members of the Practice Lineage – the Kagyupa- owe to Milarepa. In commemoration of the conclusion of the transmission, there will be three more activities related specifically to Milarepa. On Thursday 29th His Holiness will bestow a Milarepa Empowerment, followed in the evening by a Milarepa Ganachakra. Finally, on January 1st in the evening there will be the premiere of Gyalwang Karmapa’s first musical drama, based on the Milarepa’s life.