Gyalwang Karmapa’s teaching on the Torch of Certainty: Session Four


January 1, 2013



During this session, Gyalwang Karmapa continued the reading transmission of the text and his commentary. This account is based on Ringu Tulku’s translation.

Gyalwang Karmapa began with a résumé of the teachings so far on the common preliminaries.
By meditating on the precious human life and impermanence we can counter attachment to the pleasures of this life and focus on future lives. No one wants to be born in the lower realms.

This leads us to reflection on the immutability of the law of karma—action, cause and result—so that we understand the effects of negative thoughts and actions. However, ultimately, it is the understanding of  impermanence which leads to the realisation that there can be no lasting happiness within samsara, and this will generate the desire in us for liberation and strengthen our resolve to escape.

Action, cause and result

The Buddhadharma, he explained, is a description of reality. It describes the relationship between causes, conditions and their results. When we understand this cause-effect relationship, the actions which cause suffering and pain and those which result in benefit and happiness, we try to abandon the former and adopt the latter. That is the practice of Buddhadharma

How does this causal relationship work?  It is difficult to know the detailed and very precise connection between causes and their results; it’s very subtle and not straightforward. However, generally, a good cause has a good result, and a bad cause creates a bad result. The key always is motivation; whether an action becomes negative or positive depends on our motivation. The intention is perhaps more important, he suggested, than the action itself.

If our mind is not in its natural clear state but is overpowered by the kleshas – disturbed states of mind – and by the root cause of ignorance, we create negative actions which result in further suffering. The most important factor is how our mind functions. For example, killing is one of the ten non-virtuous actions, the causes of samsara. However, if we accidentally or unintentionally kill somebody, though it is still a negative action, it is not considered to be one of the ten non-virtuous actions, because the motivation to kill is absent. For it to be non-virtuous the intention has to be there.

The four common preliminaries are essential  

At first we may try to accumulate positive deeds which will be the cause of a better life next time; longer life and so forth, but later our goal becomes enlightenment and liberation.

These four contemplations that turn the mind to the dharma— the precious human life, impermanence, the law of karma and the suffering of samsara —have to be understood. We need to gain some insight into them and some experience; otherwise, when we try to do the uncommon or special ngöndro practices, they will not become a cause for our liberation. If we are still driven by attachment to this life and the eight worldly concerns, we will have no genuine interest in working for the benefit of future lives. If we are only concerned about this life and this life’s cravings and attachments, doing prostrations, Vajrasattva practice or mandala offerings will not really transform us. According to the Abdhidharmakośa laypeople and monastics face different challenges in this respect. The former find it hard to change their basic view and the latter have to compromise because they depend on donations for their livelihood.

When hardships arise, too many householders rely on mundane deities and ask for rituals related to them. This shows both a lack of understanding and a lack of trust in the objects of refuge. Basically, such people have blind faith and don’t truly or completely understand refuge or the law of cause and effect.

The real meaning of going for refuge

Because it is said that once we have gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha we should not go for refuge to anyone else, there can be confusion. If you’re sick, can you visit a doctor or not? Actually, this is not what taking refuge means. Nor is refuge a plea for help from a position of helplessness or powerlessness.

The real refuge is a deep understanding that until and unless I myself have actualized myself as Buddha, or reached enlightenment, I cannot completely be free from the sufferings or fear or dangers of samsara....Therefore it is not about just praying to somebody, seeking somebody’s help or kindness. It’s to attain it for ourselves, knowing that we ourselves can attain this power; this state where there is no suffering...it’s an inner refuge.
The Gyalwang Karmapa explained,

The true meaning of taking refuge and going for refuge is that it’s myself, I need  to go to for refuge, I want to actualize that state of Buddhahood and I need to do something about that and I need to work towards that. That’s taking refuge.
Of course there is an outer refuge – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha- because of its existence we can study and practise the Dharma.  Ultimately, however, it is the inner refuge to which we need to go for refuge; we need to assume responsibility for ourselves.  Some people give away all personal responsibility to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha or to their lama and say “I have faith and devotion, so now it’s all up to you,” then they do as they want.  But if we commit negative deeds, we will inevitably suffer negative consequences; there is nothing that the lama can do to stop that happening.

This attitude is not to be confused with genuine faith and devotion to a lama. The lama or spiritual friend is essential on the path to liberation. He or she gives us instructions and guidance:

When you say  rely on the teacher,  have complete trust in the teacher, that means that, yes, I have trust in the teacher, I rely on the teacher, so therefore I do what the teacher asks me to do and I follow the guidance of the teacher. Thereby I assume my responsibilities.
Milarepa completely relied on Marpa, and gave everything to his teacher, but he did whatever he was told to do.  He acted diligently exactly according to the teacher’s instructions. Likewise we have to take responsibility, not give all the responsibility to the teacher.

The shortcomings of samsara

Gyalwang Karmapa then read the next section of the 1st Jamgon Kongtrul’s text and concluded his explanation of the four common preliminary contemplations with the fourth one, the shortcomings of samsara. Under the power of negative karma and disturbed mental states we are never free, and we go from suffering to suffering. This is the nature of samsara. We have to do whatever we can to free ourselves from the control of these negative states and actions. That’s the whole point!

The four special preliminary practices

Although there was not time to go into great detail, Gyalwang Karmapa then gave guidelines on how to practise the four uncommon ngöndro according to the long Kagyu ngöndro text: Refuge and Prostration, Vajrasattva Recitation, Mandala Offering and Guru Yoga.


He also gave the reading transmission of his own compilation of a short ngöndro.

Dedications and thanks

Gyalwang Karmapa concluded the session by first dedicating the merit from the last few days:

...whatever positive deeds we have accumulated, whatever positive things we have done, I would like to dedicate them for all the sentient beings throughout space, that they may find lasting peace and happiness and great enlightenment.  And I request you also to do the same...
Then he specially thanked Kyabje Jamgon Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche , followed by  all the khenpos, the tulkus, the sangha, and people who had come from very far away places, facing lots of difficulties and problems, and overcoming all of them.

Moving on, he thanked those who had joined the Monlam via the webcast.

Finally, he thanked the Government and people of India:

The Government and people of India have always been very gracious and have been very kind to all of us, so I would like to thank the Government and people of India in general, especially the Government and the people of Bihar,  particularly  the administration and the concerned authorities and  the local people  in Bodhgaya. Because for us Bodhgaya is a very, very important place and we believe that not only the land, but all the people are actually blessed by the Buddha. So, therefore, you have created and you have given us this great opportunity and space and positive environment to perform this great Monlam, so therefore I would like to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. And not only that, but I would also like to dedicate whatever positive results or positive karma we’ve generated, for the wellbeing of this country, the government, and all the people of India and Bihar, and especially of Bodhgaya.


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