HH the 17th Karmapa teaching at Kingston New York, April 2015
April 18, 2015
Kingston, New York
This is a transcript of HH 17th Gyalwang Karma's teaching at Kingston, New York, in April 2015.
I'd now like to introduce the mayor of Kingston, The Honorable Shane Gallow, who has consented to come give a welcome to His Holiness.
[The Honorable Shane Gallow]
Good wishes and welcome to His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, and to all.
Today is an auspicious day for all and a blessing for the city I serve. In all of Buddhism, the core values of family and community are necessary for any meaningful transformation and full change that benefits all sentient beings. Thank you for being a part of our community today, Karmapa.
Thank you to His Holiness for coming to the city I serve, to reiterate your message of love, compassion, and peace, which only come from change within all of us. As His Holiness makes unequivocally clear, change within is necessary for true loving, meaningful, productive transformation of not only the community I serve, but our world.
From His Holiness's message of transformational change within comes a responsibility of service and commitment to use our blessings, be such personal and or from science and technology, to use as offering in service for all sentient beings in our community and on our planet.
His Holiness the Karmapa's message is explicit. We must use our blessings constructively, and with compassion to empower and facilitate enlightenment for all sentient beings and life on our planet.
Thank you to His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, for your offering and blessing upon our city. Karmapa chenno - Karmapa, hear us all.
[HH the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje]
To begin with, I want to welcome all of you who have come here and offer you my most heart felt Tashi Delek.
Next I want to say that, on this third visit of mine to America, I'm especially delighted to have the opportunity to return to the seat established, the North American seat established by the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. And I'm equally delighted to meet with all of you, my many friends.
One thing I should tell you before going further, before arriving at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, I've been touring a number of universities, at each of which I have had to give many lectures. So I have been busy speaking. And for the last few days, I have been equally busy in DC.
So last night I began to feel so exhausted that I actually felt a little unwell, a little weak. So although I'm going to be teaching, starting this morning, for the next three days, I think it is rather unlikely that I will be doing so with the energy I would have hoped.
The schedule indicated that this morning I am to present the vow of refuge and then in the afternoon talk about the development of genuine compassion. However, I think it would be better if I were to introduce the refuge vow this morning and then confer it this afternoon.
I expect that many of you are already somewhat well educated in the Dharma, but that there are also people here who are fairly new to it. So let me begin by saying that the Vow of Refuge is a gateway or doorway to all of the Buddhadharma. And in going for refuge as a practice is not only the root of all Buddhist practice, but also includes the essence of all Buddhist practice.
In exploring the Refuge Vow, we first need to inquire into the cause of it. In other words, what are the reasons for which we might take refuge? What are the conditions under which we might take refuge? The reason why we must begin our exploration with this is that in the study of any aspect of Buddhadharma, it is essential that one understand the reason for doing anything.
In the Sanskrit source for the Tibetan translation, there is a verse in which the Buddha is quoted as saying "Examine my teachings as carefully as you would gold before purchasing it." And this is only one stanza, four lines, given in the Sanskrit source, and in the equivalent Pali source, the explanation is much more extensive and goes on to say "do not take anything on the authority of a teacher nor engage in the teachings out of family tradition. Only engage in them after having understood the valid reasons for doing so."
In a way, I'm embarrassed to talk about the difference between English words, because my English, in my own opinion, seems to be somewhat lacking. But there seems to be a difference between the words spiritual tradition and religious tradition as commonly used in the English language. And I think that the difference is that a religion or religious tradition is a handed down set of beliefs, a tradition, a set of customs. Whereas a spiritual tradition, spirituality is a matter of personal exploration and experience.
I think that every religious tradition in this world began as a spiritual tradition. Each religion began when the founding teacher of that religion shared their realization, their experience, with their followers. But then beginning with their followers, what began as a spiritual tradition gradually became a religion, in which people follow based on the faithful acceptance of what is taught. And so their basing their following the religion on faith and the following of custom.
The problem when spirituality becomes religion is that what began as the sharing by the founding teacher of his or her own experience and realization, pointing that out to students and enabling them to practice in such a way that they might achieve it, over time, starts to become, based on tradition and mere custom, something that must remain, even when it is pointed out, a matter of individual or personal discovery and recognition, lest that becomes less important than mere conformance with tradition and custom.
So because, finally, spirituality must be a journey of personal discovery, it is for that reason that it is important to understand the reasons for conditions under which one goes for refuge.
In this, as in all things, we must respect the basic principle, we must emphasize the essence of Dharma. Sometimes we make the mistake of casting aside the essence, and overemphasizing unimportant, even extraneous details. We reject the root, and cling to the branches.
I'll give you an analogy for this.
The darkness in this hall will help those of you who wish to sleep. Westerners may be slightly better off because they are used to paying attention in these circumstances. Tibetans are used to falling asleep as soon as the Dharma lecture starts, and only waking up when it ends.
I'm going to give you an analogy for this. And remember that this analogy is made up, it is imaginary, and it is like any analogy, it is not exact. But basically imagine that the Buddha taught in a very large room. That room only had one door, which was to the Buddha's right. So at the end of the teaching, after teaching the Dharma, the Buddha indicated the door, pointed to the door, and said "this is how we shall all leave this room." And then the Buddha left the room. And his disciples remained in the room, which represents the Buddhist tradition, teaching, after the Buddha has left the room, which indicates his parinirvana. Now, the disciples continue teaching others in that large room; but over time, there come to be two doors, one to their right, and one to their left. So there are two doors through which people can leave. But because the Buddha said leave through that door to his right, they make up a rule, a tradition, that one can only leave the room through the right door, and never through the left door.
Gradually, it becomes a custom, then a tradition, and finally a rule, only use the right door. In which case, the reason why the Buddha pointed to that right door has been lost. The reason why the Buddha pointed to the right door is because that was the only door there was when the Buddha was in the room. He wasn't saying never go out left doors. He was pointing to the door there was. If there had been two doors there, he might have pointed to both. But that point has been obscured by the fact that is now has become customary only to use the right door.
And in a sense, the disciples have now forgotten what the Buddha intended in pointing out that right door. The mere custom of only using that right door has become more important. This type of customization or making a tradition out of things and losing the reason has caused us to use the English words "a lot of problems". Consider gender issues, and the plight of female monastics, nuns, in Buddhism. People will quote the Buddha's statements without any understanding of the principle, the reason on which they were based.
It's taught that we go for refuge for two reasons. One is fear, and the other is faith. Fear arises within us in consideration of that from which we seek refuge, and it inpires us to search for a refuge. Faith also arises within us, and gives us the momentum or impetus to rely fully upon a source of refuge once we have found it.
Of these two, fear and faith, I'm going to begin by talking a little bit about fear. Fear is an emotion that we all feel. But fear in this case is more than simply a feeling or emotion, more than an instinctive reaction to danger. It is a fear based on careful examination, or to use the English word, analysis of our circumstances. In this case, fear is the reasoned understanding of the difference between what could harm us, what is a problem, and what could help us, what is a good quality that we wish to achieve. And through that analysis, the correct identification of problems as problems or dangers as dangers.
The human brain has evolved to include a fear because fear serves to protect us from danger. However, our fear is limited to a fear of what poses an immediate danger. We only feel fear instinctively when something dangerous is right in front of us. For example, if a tiger jumped right in front of any one of us, we would feel fear, and we would seek a way to flee or avoid the tiger. In that way, we've developed fear, we've been designed to possess fear in order that we be protected from danger. The problem is, that because our instinctive, emotional fear is limited to fear of immediate dangers, if something is not right in front of us, if it is a not a immediate danger, even though it might be a great danger, but an indirect one, we feel no fear.
The best example of this is climate change. People don't feel fear when they contemplate climate change, even though it is incredibly dangerous to us, because it is a distant danger. It is so vast, and so gradual an ongoing event, that we don't feel fear. To return to the tiger analogy, our lack of fear of climate change is very much like if someone were to say to us, "In three months a tiger will be right in front of where you are now", we wouldn't feel fear. So our instinctive emotional fear does protect us from danger, but only immediate danger. And in order to be protected from indirect or eventual danger, even grave or disastrous eventual danger, we need to think carefully, to analyze. Emotional, instinctive fear will not do it.
Somehow we fail to fear dangers that are invisible to us, that we cannot feel. So in order to assess the danger of invisible or imperceptible situations, we need to analyze them, we need to look at a situation and ask does this pose a danger to us, and if so, what.
We easily identify many of the dangers that the people in this world face. Warfare, violence, millions of people suffer from that. Sickness, famine, millions more suffer from those.
But there is a danger even graver than those that we remain largely unaware of. And that is either a total lack of love, or our insufficiency of love. Because it is our insufficiency of love that leaves so many without protection, without refuge, to causes and conditions of terrible suffering. These are forms of suffering from which they could be protected if we had enough love to protect them. But we don't recognize this gravest of all dangers, because it is not external. It is within us. In fact, it is inseparable from us, it is part of us, but yet is is our gravest danger. And we need to recognize it, through careful analysis, because it is a source of eventual disaster, for even us as individuals.
In order to protect ourselves and others from this gravest of all dangers, our lack of love, our insufficiency of love, we need to increase our love. Now it is not truly the case that we lack love all together. We all feel love. But our love is limited. It is limited in that we love some, but not all. We may love our friends, we may love our families, but we don't love everyone. Our love is not unlimited. And that is why we say things like "it's not my business. I'm not involved. That's not my responsibility." When we say things like that, what we are saying is that there is a boundary between self and other, and we may be willing to include some others, our friends, our families as part of ourselves, but we are ignorant of the profound connection we share with all of those whom we may not know.
We habitually think that we are unconnected to others, and therefore whatever happens to them, happens to them, but it is not our problem. It doesn't affect us. We need to apply all of our intelligence to this, and ask ourselves the difficult question: Is it not the case that we are actually connected to everyone else?
We think to ourselves, this has nothing to do with me. When we think about or read about anything that happens to anyone else. And we keep on thinking that this has nothing to do with me until this, that, happens to us, or happens to someone we regard as a brother, and so forth. And we think - of course, I don't care what happens to him or her, because they wouldn't care if it happened to me. So we don't care what happens to them, and they don't care what happens to us, and through this, we have created a world without love, a world that lacks warmth. And this is the gravest danger posed by our insufficiency of love.
The first inspiration, the first reason to go for refuge to the three jewels is the recognition of that danger, and the wish to be protected from that danger by developing the type and degree of love and compassion taught in the dharma.
Faith is very difficult from one point of view. Many Westerners I know say to me that faith is very difficult. especially devotion for the guru is particularly difficult.
Faith, to use the English word, fundamentally has to be a trust in one's self, trust in one's self and one's actions, so a type of self-confidence. To use my own life as an example, I left Tibet for India when I was 14. And I did that based on the fact that I had sufficient self-confidence to make that journey. If I had thought very carefully about everything that could have happened, I probably wouldn't have dared to do it. I would have been caught up thinking 'well this might go wrong or that might go wrong'. Preparation for anything is not enough. We have to have self confidence. And it was self confidence that enabled me to take that daring step and make that daring journey. So in my experience, our actual ability, whatever ability we have to do anything, comes from self-confidence.
When we describe the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, sometimes it seems that we are describing something that couldn't possibly exist in reality because they are literally described as being beyond what we can conceive of or even think about. They sound almost made up. But I think that this is very significant, because through such descriptions, we are actually stating what a high level of faith is really needed. We need that type of faith that is invulnerable to adversity, difficulty, and harm. That no matter what, there will be no hesitation. And so I think the inconceivable, the ascription of inconceivable qualities to the Three Jewels is an accurate depiction and an important depiction of the degree of faith that we need.
So I think this points out the importance of immeasurable faith on our part as individuals; immeasurable confidence, immeasurable hope and immeasurable aspirations.
And I also think that this points out the need for us as individuals to have a one pointed focus in our minds on our goal or aim.
I therefore think that faith is not limited to faith in other persons, or other beings. It must also include self-confidence and hope in one's self. If our faith is based on desperation, on a sense of our lacking any means whatsoever ourselves, and desperately appealing only to others, I think that is not true or authentic faith, because authentic faith is joyous and courageous and brave.
So that is an explanation of the two reasons for which we go for refuge, fear and faith. Although in this sense, it might be better instead of fear to say 'sense of danger'; the word actually means danger, so it means a recognition of danger. These are the reasons for which we go for refuge, and I think it is important that we do so based on our own experience and analysis leading to an understanding of these reasons.
So looking at the schedule, this seems to be the time at which I'm allowed to stop for the morning, so I am going to stop, and I'll see you all this afternoon.
It begins with people taking the Vow of refuge.
Those of you who wish to receive the vow of refuge, having now repeated it three times, when I, in a moment say, that is the method, in response say Leh-so or Excellent, and with that you will receive the vow.
One thing that I forgot to mention, as I said earlier there is, there must be a definite duration of the vow in mind when you take it. For it to be a vow, you have to think I am going to take refuge until such-and-such time.
Usually, people when they take the vow of refuge for the first time, take it for the duration of this life. And the reason for that is that the duration of this life, the remaining duration of this life, is the longest period for which you can take a pratimoksa or individual liberation vow.
So when the vow of refuge is administered in the format of the preliminary ordination of an upasaka or a lay disciple who holds the three refuges, then it can only be given for the duration of this life, according to the common vehicle.
However, when it is given in the context of the Mahayana, one takes the vow of refuge until one achieves buddhahood, so not only for this life.
And now I'll tell you the rules. (Laughter from the audience.)
The real rule here, first of all, these are not my rules. The real rule here is your commitment to taking refuge, if you have taken the vow. So the idea of the trainings or the commitments are how to keep that rule, by avoiding all that is contradictory to that commitment, because contradictions of any commitment will automatically weaken that commitment.
And how to reinforce it positively, because reinforcement of a commitment will obviously increase that commitment.
In a sense, these trainings or commitments are the answer to the question - having taken refuge, and having committed myself and my mind to continuing to take refuge, how can I keep this commitment, how can I protect it from impairment? How can I keep it unimpaired, and how can I cause this commitment to deepen or increase?
There are many aspects of this training or these commitments. One could divide them into what must be avoided - that is, all those things that are contradictory to going for refuge, and what needs to be cultivated or practiced, that is, all that facilitates or increase or strengthens the vow of refuge.
There are two ways that the vow of refuge, the commitments of the vow of refuge have been described traditionally. In any case, in general they are divided into restrictions and observances, but there are two ways these can be categorized or subdivided. One is called the Shastra tradition, because it is based on the Shastras on this matter, composed by many eminent scholars of Buddhist India. The other is called the Upadesha, or Special Instruction tradition, because it is based on the oral instructions of Lord Atisha's Kadampa tradition who emphasize the vow of refuge not only as a vow you take, but as the essence of your ensuing practice.
Most commonly, in Tibetan Buddhism, the explanations of the commitments of the vow of refuge are given following the Upadesha tradition of Lord Atisha and the Kadampas. And that is the tradition I will follow today in my explanation.
The first category in this explanation of the commitments are the restrictions. The restrictions or avoidances are things that you should not do after having taken refuge.
These correspond to the three sources of refuge. The first is, having gone to the Buddha for refuge, or having taken refuge in the Buddha, do not seek refuge from mundane gods or spirits. The second is, having taken refuge in the Dharma, do not engage in anything that is harmful to other beings. And the third is, having taken refuge in the Sangha, avoid the company and especially the influence of evil companions.
There are many other commitments associated with the vow of refuge, but I usually emphasize these three, the three restrictions. And the reason is that these restrictions protect us from all that is adverse to or contradictory to our vow of refuge. And since there are far more adverse conditions than there are conducive conditions in going for refuge, I emphasize in my explanation of the commitments, those restrictions that protect us from those many adverse conditions.
The first of these, as I said, is having taken refuge in the Buddha, do not seek refuge from mundane gods. And this means, do not engage in the worship of mundane gods. And there are many issues that ensue from this commitment, such as the question as to whether there is some kind of creator god or deity. And there are many other implications as well. But let's leave those troublesome side issues alone, I want to talk about the essential meaning of this restriction or rule.
I think that Buddhists, and in particular, Vajrayana practitioners can be in some danger of violating this restriction.
I say this because among other things, many practitioners of Vajrayana emphasize this customs and ritual.
[As the translator listens to what His Holiness is saying, he starts laughing, somewhat uncontrollably. Then he says "Sorry. The worst thing is it won't be funny when I say it."]
One thing is that Dharma practice cannot be something that we do only in our meditation room, or in the shrine room. We have to bring it out of the shrine room and the meditation room into all of our daily life. But some people think that ritual practice alone is enough, and they get so into ritual that they collect all sorts of grisly... items such as skulls and skull malas and things like that. And they actually frighten their families, who will say things like "he went to Tibet [translator starts laughing uncontrollably] and he came back with all these horrible things, [translator starts laughing uncontrollably] horrible objects."
Where I think that this becomes an overt contradiction to the vow of refuge is when someone has the idea of a yidam deity as an external god of some kind to whom they make offerings. By making offerings to them they please them, and in return, the yidam, the god is supposed to give them whatever they want. And give them whatever they want, no matter what they do or how they behave. And people who have that type of attitude will think "I can do anything I want, whatever I want to do, whether it's good or bad, the yidam will fix it and give me whatever I want." That type of attitude is in contradiction to the vow of refuge.
The problem here is that you are relating to a yidam deity as you would relate to a mundane god, which is unfitting.
Now I'm not saying, I'm not commenting on the nature of mundane gods themselves. I'm not saying that they are good or bad. What I'm commenting on here is that we relate to wisdom deities as if they were mundane gods and that is a mistake.
The idea in the worship of mundane gods is that we worship them because they are all powerful, they are omnipotent, they can control everything. And therefore all we need to do in order to get whatever we want is please that god or those gods because we believe that they can give us everything we want. And this has led to customs such as animal sacrifice and other things that we see in some traditions.
By the same token, those that believe that also believe if we displease the mundane god or gods being worshiped, they will cause us things that we don't want, because they are omnipotent. Now we cannot ask the gods themselves what they want. We cannot speak to these mundane gods and say "Do you really want this stuff, or would you really like a cup of tea, what would you like?"
The Buddha's intention in forbidding taking refuge in mundane gods was that if we do that, then we ignore developing or changing ourselves for the better, because we think that the god being worshipped will take care of all of our needs. the Buddha's point was that we need to take authentic refuge by gradually becoming sources of refuge unto ourselves, which requires change, and development. This is therefore much harder than merely worshiping a mundane god that might give you what you want. Only by being willing to change, by being willing to improve ourselves can we take refuge, become sources of refuge, and eventually protect others.
We find in many Buddhists, in many Buddhist countries, who regard taking refuge in the Buddha as an act of worship, worshipping the Buddha. And it is not easy to change this, because this externalization of the Buddha, as an external object of worship is based fundamentally on a lack of confidence, a lack of courage.
Therefore I think that the Buddha's instruction, having taken refuge in the Buddha, do not take refuge in mundane gods, was not pointing at other gods or deities that we might chose to worship. The Buddha was pointing at himself and saying don't make a mundane god out of me. When you take refuge in me, don't do so in that way.
The second restriction is, having taken refuge in the Dharma, don't harm other beings. The message of that is very, very clear, but it is not easy to fulfill.
The problem we face in attempting to fulfill this is that not harming beings means more than simply stopping actively harming them directly. If you were to ask someone, do you hurt other beings, most people would say no, because they are appraising hurt as open or obvious acts of direct harm. And because they think “I've never killed anything, and I don't beat humans or animals, I therefore am not hurting beings.”
But in a sense, what harms other beings is more than that. We can harm beings with two gates or faculties, our bodies and our speech. We cannot directly harm beings with our mind alone.
However, even though our minds cannot directly harm others, we certainly harm ourselves with our minds, and further, the harm that we bring other beings with our bodies and speech is always inspired by a state of mind such as malice or greed.
And also, the grave danger that I mentioned this morning, our lack of love, our apathy, is in a sense harmful to other beings, because it places beings in a danger of disaster.
While apathy, a lack of compassion, does not, in and of itself, directly harm a being in the sense of actually beating them or hurting them physically, it harms them indirectly and much more. So we need to widen and deepen our idea about what avoiding harming others really entails. And this is why we need, in order to avoid or abstain from harming others, to develop love and compassion.
HAVING TAKEN REFUGE IN THE SANGHA, WE ARE TAUGHT TO AVOID THE COMPANY OF EVIL COMPANIONS. I DON'T REALLY HAVE TOO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT AVOIDING EVIL COMPANIONS EXCEPT THAT WE NEED TO QUESTION WHETHER EVIL COMPANIONS ARE ALWAYS OUTSIDE OURSELVES. SOMETIMES OUR EVIL COMPANIONS ARE A PART OF US. FOR EXAMPLE, SPIDERMAN, THERE ARE TWO - ONE OF THEM IS RED, AND THEN THERE IS ANOTHER ONE THAT HAS A BLACK COSTUME AND IS BAD. AND SO, JUST AS THERE ARE TWO SPIDERMEN, THERE ARE... AT THIS POINT HH INTERJECTS: "WE HAVE TWO INNER SPIDERMEN ALWAYS FIGHTING EACH OTHER." AUDIENCE LAUGHS.
When we have a good attitude, good intentions and good thoughts, we become like the good Spiderman, and when we have negative intentions, negative motivation, we become like the evil Spiderman, So I think in a sense, it is more important that we take control, and observe our own thoughts than it is to worry about who our external companions are.
So that was a brief explanation of the commitments of the refuge vow.