Developing the decisive wish ‘to emerge’ from samsara by 8th Karmapa

8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje

I have been reading and translating some of the Short Instructions of the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, in his Collected Works, in particular, his Guiding Instructions on Chod[i] (which will be published here in full soon). In 2012, after attending the 17th Karmapa’s empowerment of Chod and his teachings on this text in India, I remained struck by something HH said about the importance and meaning of the Tibetan term ngey jung (nges byung), often translated as ‘renunciation’.  Here, I offer some newly translated excerpts from texts by the 8th Karmapa on the importance of ngey jung and what HH 17th Karmapa recently had to say about this as well.

Chod Instructions
Machig Labdron, Karma Kagyu thangka,
for more details see:

In the Chod text, an instruction manual on practising Chod for one week, the 8th Karmapa explains how the first session of Chod should be focused on developing genuine weariness of samsara and the wish to be free from suffering of samsara. He says:

This cyclic existence is nothing but suffering. Here, without beginning, there is no place where one is not wandering in it. Due to this, there is no karma one is not impelled to do. Here, there is no body which one does not attain.  Not only is all nothing but suffering but also there is no happiness for even a moment.  The toxic nature of all cyclic existence itself is like a black, poisonous snake. It is necessary to have generated, without losing endurance, the definitive wish to emerge [from it]. Thus, the thought of how wonderful it would be to be free from the entire cyclic existence, that is the first practice.

འཁོར་བ་འདི་ཐམས་ཅད་སྡུག་བསྔལ་འབའ་ཞིག་ཡིན། དེ་ལ་ཐོག་མེད་ནས་འདིར་མ་འཁྱམས་བྱ་བའི་གནས་མེད། འདིས་མ་འཕངས་བྱ་བའི་ལས་མེད།་འདི་མ་ཐོབ་བྱ་བའི་ལུས་མེད།དེ་ཐམས་ཅད་ཀྱང་སྡུག་བསྔལ་འབའ་ཞིག་ཏུ་ཟད་པ་མ་གཏོགས་བདེ་བ་སྐད་ཅིག་ཀྱང་མེད། འཁོར་བ་ཐམས་ཅད་ཉེས་པ་ཀུན་གྱི་བདག་ཉིད་དུག་སྦྲུལ་ནག་པོའི་ཚང་དང་འདྲ་བས། དེ་ལས་ནམ་ཐར་ན་སྙམ་པའི་ངེས་འབྱུང་བཟོད་བླགས་མེད་པ་ཞིག་བསྐྱེད་དགོས། དེས་ན་འཁོར་བ་མཐའ་དག་ལས་བདག་ཐར་ན་ཅི་མ་རུང་སྙམ་པ་འདི་ནུབ་དང་པོ་ལའོ།

In his explanation of this, in the 2012 teaching (that can be viewed here) HH 17th Karmapa explained that developing this wish to be free from samsara is an essential component of Chod practice and for any practice in general:

”First, one needs sadness, weariness and wishing to emerge (ngey jung) from it. By the ‘other’ influence of karma and afflictions, there is suffering, they cause nothing but suffering. As 8th Karmapa teaches, whatever arises from karma and afflictions is suffering by nature. All genuine independence (rang dbang) is happiness. All cases of being subject to the power (gzhan dbang) of ‘others’ is suffering and the nature of non-virtue. Sometimes in foreign countries, they mistakenly think that subtle small pleasures are beneficial. Yet even though there are instances that seem to be happiness, these are contaminated [by karma and afflictions] and these are not real happiness. We might think these instances are real happiness, and we apply lots of effort to gain that kind of happiness. If it is contaminated, by karma and afflictions, then even these small types of happiness are the nature of suffering. So, if it is produced by karma and afflictions this is the nature of other dependence.  We need to decisively determine that to be true.

Sometimes we end up in the heights of the realms of samsara or the lower realms, but wherever we are, we end up wandering in samsara. So, we find ourselves with all kinds of karma depending on the realms we are born in. Such as the different types of bodies that beings take on. For example, in terms of the human body, some have all their faculties present and some don’t. Even among those who have all their faculties present, some suffer from a variety of illnesses and so on.  Thus,  one has to determine that there is temporary happiness and ultimate happiness. Samsara has been compared to a pit of snakes and an island of monsters, and by contemplating this way, we can give rise to the attitude of decisive ‘wishing to be emerge’ from samsara,  for which has been translated in English as ‘renunciation.

The term ngey jung literally means ‘definitive emergence’. HH went on to explain that even though he felt he did not understand English language that well, despite having studied it for years, he felt that the word ‘renunciation’ did not do the term justice. He explained:

This word ‘renunciation’ in English for the Tibetan ngey jung is not such a great translation, as that is means more like to give up something, like with objects we throw away etc. Ngejung is not like that. It means decisively wishing to emerge from the suffering of samsara and be liberated from it. Definitively understanding that samsara is the nature of suffering, one generates sadness and wishing to emerge from it. Every day,  the whole day.  One needs to give rise to this attitude fervently and be decisive about it. So, according to the 8th Karmapa, the first session (or point) is from morning until night, one must think about the suffering of samsara and the wish to be free from it .

There is ultimate [lasting] bliss and temporary bliss, so this ngejung is difficult. Some might think that if the nature of samsara is suffering then there is absolutely no happiness in it at all. There is a danger that one might point outside of oneself and think samsara is out there. Others, like Tibetans, think if one stays in the household that is samsara and that someone who leaves the household, like a monk, is someone who is liberated from samsara. They think that samsara is a place. Samsara means cyclic existence. Under the influence of karma and afflictions, one goes circling around and around endlessly. Therefore, one has to draw a line or boundary against this circling. The ultimate root of samsara is karma and afflictions, that is what we need to point the finger of blame at.”

Instructions on developing the wish to emerge from samsara

The 8th Karmapa also wrote a short text[ii] called Instructions on Wishing to Emerge from Samsara, specifically on how to develop the wish to be free from samsara (I am also in the process of translating this text). It consists of thirty-three points on the faults of samsara and the attitudes or activities that need to be abandoned, in order to develop definite confidence in the wish to emerge from it. Here are the first two points of it:

  1. Here, look at desire and attachment to sex, clothes, food and drink and so on, and not remembering death.

Deluded by sex, food and drink,

Mindless of death, imagining all is happiness,

Is like nourishing an executioner’s hands:

That is not giving up consuming pleasures, food and drink.

2. Those with wealth and power not believing that the result of negative actions is experiencing suffering, continually perform negative actions, the cause of suffering. They are even more pitiable than lower realm beings.

From that moment on, they accomplish [the cause] of hell-beings and hungry ghosts.

This life, ablaze with suffering of worries about loss of wealth and power, and

Surrounded by lust, aggression, jealousy, aging, death.

That is not disgustedly turning away from wealth and power.

བཟའ་བཏུང་གོས་འཁྲིག་ལ་སོགས་ལ་ཆགས་ཆགས་ནས་འཆི་བ་མི་དྲན་པ་འདི་ལ་ལྟོས་དང་། བཟའ་བཏུང་འཁྲིག་པས་མགོ་འཁོར་ཏེ།་ འཆི་བ་མི་དྲན་སྐྱིད་སྙམ་ཀུན། གཤེད་མའི་ལག་གི་གསོ་བག་འདྲ།བཟའ་བཏུང་གང་དགར་མི་བཏང་རེ། གཉིས་པ།་འབྱོར་པ་དང་སྟོབས་ཡོད་པ་ཀུན་སྡིག་པའི་འབྲས་བུ་སྡུག་བསྔལ་མྱོང་བ་ལ་ཡིད་མ་ཆེས་པར་སྡིག་པའི་ལས་བྱེད་པ་སྡུག་བསྔལ་གྱི་རྒྱུ་ལ་སྤྱད་པས། ངན་སོང་པ་ལས་ཀྱང་འདི་རྣམས་སྙིང་རྗེ་བ་ཙམ་ཡིན། དམྱལ་བ་ཡི་དྭགས་ད་ལྟ་ཉིད་ནས་སྒྲུབ། ཚེ་འདིར་བྱོར་སྟོབས་ཉམས་དོགས་སྡུག་བསྔལ་འབར། ཆགས་སྡང་ཕྲག་དོག་རྒ་ཤི་ཁོ་ར་ཡུག། འབྱོར་སྟོབས་ལྡན་ལ་ཞེ་གཅིག་མི་ལོག་རེ།

Basis of Monastic Vows
17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje

Recently, in January 2019,  HH 17th Karmapa also gave advice at the Kagyu Monlam about how, without this solid base of ngeyjung, even a monastic cannot be said to have received monastic vows. Merely receiving the outer form of the monastic vows are not the actual vows, which can only be attained from a deep inner wish to be free of the suffering of samsara. HH gives an example of Potawa thinking he only got the full ordination vows from Dromtonpa, the teacher who really helped him develop ngejung. This probably means that the majority of monastics (many of whom are put into monasteries as children or teenagers) are not actually monastics, only in outer form and appearance only.  Part of the full transcript is posted here below:

Especially, many think that after ordination or according to the Vinaya, there are many things that ordinary people are allowed to do that monastics can no longer do. They think there are many things that are not allowed—that it is like a bunch of rules. But really, the vows of ordination are not just rules or a list of things we are allowed or not allowed to do. What is more important is that it is desiring or striving for liberation or having renunciation. This renunciation or longing for emancipation is very important. And it should also be unfabricated, meaning that one shouldn’t need to try to generate it—it should arise naturally from within. When it’s like that, we call it unfabricated. If it arises in an unfabricated way in our being, we will have what we call “the ethical conduct of renunciation” or “perfectly pure vows.” If we don’t give rise to this, we won’t have “perfectly pure vows” or “the ethical conduct of renunciation.” For this reason, the vows of ordination are not just an outer form or a ritual of body and speech. In truth, the essence of the inner meaning is the generation of this mind that strives for liberation and the mind of unfabricated renunciation or wishing for emancipation

There is a teaching of the Kadampa spiritual friend Potowa where he said that first he received novice and full ordination from an abbot. But it was later, when following the old Shramana of Ratreng, that he really received the vows of ordination. Now, this old Shramana of Ratreng is Dromtönpa. Dromtönpa was a lay person, a householder. So he actually received the novice and full monastic vows i from a lay person. What did he mean by that? It was based on the kindness of Dromtönpa that he generated the mind of renunciation, and it’s based on generating this mind of renunciation that one receives the true vows, the perfectly pure vows, the ethical conduct of the vow of renunciation. The vows that he received before were just an outer appearance of receiving the vows, he had not received the inner essence of the vows, the life-force of the vows. This illustrates a very important critical point. The vows are not received merely through the outer form; what we really need in order to receive the true vows comes from having this inner essence.

…..As I studied the Vinaya and my understanding of it gradually increased, I felt like my former way of approaching vows was not quite correct. I thought my previous manner of taking them was not right, and that if I really wanted to receive the vows in a pure way, I should start again from the beginning. Especially, if one wants to receive the vows purely into one’s being, one needs stable renunciation and wishing for emancipation in one’s being. Without this, it would be difficult to keep the vows in a stable manner. These days, it is as if we were just following the custom of taking monks or nuns vows, but it’s actually very rare that one thinks deeply about this and wishes, from the depths of one’s being, to ordain. I think many people must be wondering and talking about why I have not taken full ordination by now. From my side, the main thing is that if renunciation and wishing for emancipation has not truly arisen, the novice and full monks vows will not be based on this ethical conduct that longs for liberation, and it would be difficult for them to result in perfectly pure ethical conduct—though there must be some benefit in holding the vows anyway.

One thing is clear from these teachings, without a decisive and definite understanding of how samsara and nirvana, and whatever temporary pleasures they may bring, they are impermanent and contaminated and for that reason we must remain mindful of that and strive day and night to be free from it. Only then can our vows, faith and practice have a real, solid and lasting foundation.

On this full moon day today, I make the aspiration that myself and all beings develop, with deep certainty, utter revulsion at cyclic existence, no matter how pleasurable it may seem in appearances, and by doing so go on to attain the ultimate, incomparable bliss of immortal, stainless, happiness and enlightenment!

Translated, edited and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 18th August 2020.

[i] In the Collected Works of 8th Karmapa (gcod kyi khrid yig, gsung ‘bum/_mi bskyod rdo rje/  Volume 19: 595 – 616, TBRC 8039). 

[ii] ‘khor ba la nges ‘byung gi khrid/ Volume 19: 155-166, TBRC W8039, 6 ff. (pp. 153-164). In the Collected Works as above.

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