‘Dismantling Artificial Boundaries’: Concepts of nations, ‘self’ and ‘other’; developing great love and compassion and ‘without borders’ ultimate nature. ‘Four Dharmas of Gampopa’ by 17th Karmapa (Day 8)

“Then the ‘path clarifies confusion’. First, meditating on impermanence, clarifies the confusion of fixating on this life. Meditating on karmic cause and effect, clarifies the confusion of wrong views. Meditating on the defects of samsara, clarifies the confusion of attachment to samsara. Meditating on loving-kindness and compassion, clarifies the confusion of the Hinayana vehicles. Meditating on phenomena being like dreams and illusions, clarifies the confusion of clinging to objects being real. In general, the higher clarifies the confusion of the lower.”

–Je Gampopa in ‘The Four Dharmas: An Excellent Summary’

On the last day (Day 8) of HH 17th Gyalwang Karmapa’s teaching on the four Dharmas of Gampopa, there were two sessions. This first session discusses how the Dharma goes towards the Mahayana path. Citing from Lama Zhang and Gampopa, the Karmapa explained that no matter how much meditation or rituals or vows a person has, if love and compassion for all beings has not taken real root in one’s being, then one cannot say that Dharma has gone to the Mahayana Path. He distinguished between feeling pity or sympathy for someone, and that feeling real compassion would be to actually put ourselves fully in another person’s shoes (seeing them as inseparable from us) and wish them to be genuinely happy and free from any type of suffering. Normally, we only have affection or concern for ourselves, loved ones and friends. However, that is too limited. Until we get to a point of seeing no separation at all between ourselves and others from the depths of our being, then we cannot say we that our Dharma has gone towards the Mahayana Path. Saying ‘may all beings be happy and free from suffering’ is not sufficient at all and is just mere words.

The Karmapa then went on to describe how Buddhas and Bodhisattvas ‘see’ sentient beings as a part of them; not separate in any way. That is the aspiration we should be aiming for if we want full awakening. When we have that view of appearances and beings, then we can even take on other people’s sicknesses and heal them. This was followed by an explanation on the difference between the subtle and gross bodies of a being and why the subtle body can move and act unimpeded. Most of us think Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are outside us, far away and  up on a pedestal. It is not like that at all though, they are within and with us continually, and so they will know immediately what we are thinking, even if we fool others and ourselves about it.

The Karmapa then finished with a brief explanation of the third Dharma in Gampopa’s text ‘the path clarifies confusion.’  Here is an edited transcript (based on the Tibetan and English translation) of the first session of Day 8. May it be of benefit!

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 5th January 2021.



“Yesterday, I spoke about how Dharma goes on the path. When we say Dharma goes on the path, it means if we do not have a stable intention of liberation in our mindstreams, then whether we are meditating, taking vows and so on, it does not become Dharma. However, even if you give a morsel of food to a sentient being, endowed with bodhicitta motivation, then it is Dharma practice.

Each of the three vehicles has their own way of the Dharma becoming the path. If we summarize them, in terms of the great enlightenment: there are the ways it goes on the provisional path and ultimate path to Buddhahaood. These are the two types that are taught. In this text on the four Dharmas, the way it becomes the path is primarily described in the passage on the faults of samsara.

How Dharma goes to the Mahayana Path

This passage primarily describes how Dharma goes with the Mahayana Path. In particular, Gampopa emphasizes what is taught in the White Lotus Sutra and the Mahayana Sutras, which teach there is only one path. The way we know this is because that meaning/point is explained in the Introduction to the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, and also in Lho Lhyagapa’s notes on the text on the four Dharmas, it is said: ‘that in terms of the development of an individual faculties it is taught in terms of three vehicles and that is the provisional meaning.’ However, in Lho Lhayagpa’s commentary he says that for the definitive meaning there is only one vehicle, and that phrase that should be added. This point was explained in great length in the White Lotus of True Dharma. He gives many reasons and citations about this, but I will not explain those. So in brief, the way the Dharma becomes the path as described in this passage is also taught like that in other works by Gampopa. He describes how to establish the basis of the path by imbuing it with relative bodhicitta and also how imbuing it with relative bodhicitta makes it the actual path that severs the root of clinging to the truth.

Lama Zhang

Likewise in the text by Lama Zhang, he explains that when we say ‘Dharma goes along the path’, that means even if one applies the antidotes to one’s midstream and tames the afflictions, if love and compassion do not take root in your being, then it has not become the Mahayana path. You have only achieved the path of Hearers and Self-Realisers and not that of unexcelled enlightenment. Thus, you should do whatever you can to ensure that loving-kindness and compassion for all beings take root in your being.’

As this says, fundamentally, the measure as to whether it is Mahayana or not, comes down to the same distinction between the Hinayana and Mahayana, as to whether or not one has the Mahayana bodhicitta motivation. That comes down to whether or not great compassion has taken root in your being. That great compassion must be aroused through the loving kindness of seeing all beings as attractive and lovely. So in this way, we need to train our mind in stages. Relative bodhicitta does not suddenly arrive all at once.

The importance of loving-kindness and compassion and why they are different from sympathy

I would like to elaborate on this topic on loving kindness and share some thoughts of my own. I stayed up a bit late last night and have only been getting a couple of hours sleep per night, so don’t have much energy. But as you can see behind the bamboo, you might think it’s like the movie Kung Fu Panda. Kung Fu Panda! Laughs. Sometimes people say you look like Kung Fu Panda, when they say that I think if I have the bamboo behind me you might think the real Kung Fu panda is in front of you].

Karmapa joking that some people say he is like Kung Fu Panda

Generally ,when we say loving kindness and compassion, loving-kindness means the wish for others to be genuinely happy and compassion means wishing them to be free from suffering (as most of you know). However, the understanding of this in Mahayana is not just knowing the words but a far vaster and profound understanding of the meaning and understanding of these terms, compared to the actual way we view and see other sentient beings. For example, ordinarily, we have a relatively simplistic way of having sympathy for sentient beings. We just feel sympathy for them. This is primarily looking outside at other beings’ situations and suffering, and seeing them as separate from ourselves. When our loving-kindness and compassion become much stronger, it becomes wanting to share in others joys and sorrows, and an empathy with that. That means that we bring others’ suffering into our own experience; putting ourselves in their position/shoes. However, loving kindness and compassion are not just feeling sympathy or empathy for others. There is an even more profound understanding and meaning than that. This is because, loving kindness are not just feelings or ways of thinking, nor just attitudes. They are prajna wisdom and recognition of the ultimate view, and they are the conduct and practice that arise out of those. What is the way we recognize that? By recognizing that we, self and others, are inseparable and that we are equal. Since ancient times, humans up until today, have found ways of designating or labeling things and that which is called ‘the aggregates’ that we are able to control, me. When someone else’s aggregates come before our mind that we cannot control, we call that ‘other. Is that something we naturally know? It is not, we are taught that by others. Saying I, me , yours, mine etc. is something we humans have designated for centuries. One reason why know this, is because there are some languages where there are no clear words for I and you. So normally, we think there is a difference between you, me and them but actually there is no way to really separate others.

Another way we can think about it, when we say me, you and them, is there is such a great distance between myself and others? No, there is not. Not only is there no great gap but me, you and them are all equal and all the same taste. If we think about the actual nature, then between humans and all sentient beings there is not such a division or gap as we might think there is. Just because I cannot control someone’s body does not mean we have to think them and I are different. There is no evidence or incontrovertible reasons of you and I being different, singular and independent, this is just a projection that beings are independent and singular entities. Yet, we are so habituated to seeing and projecting that way, that we think it is fitting and appropriate to think that, and never even doubt or have misgivings about it.

Borders and nations are human inventions as are the projections of ‘self ‘ and  ‘other’

On this planet Earth, there are about 400 nations. Now, when we talk about borders, they were invented by humans. People had to think and work hard to invent borders. Yet, if we look at the natural environment, there aren’t any borders. When a tree grows it doesn’t check to see if there is a national border. When birds fly in the sky, they don’t have any borders. Insects digging through earth don’t have borders. Finally, even with people, if we don’t explain to them that a border is like that and what a nation is nd so on, they won’t understand what it is. Similarly, between myself and others, there is no natural border or distinction. Yet, we make up names and project them onto things and make up the divisions. So, in actual fact, if there is no division between us and others, we then say well our bodies are distinct and our clothes are different. Our thoughts aren’t the same and the way we act are all dissimilar. So how could it be that we are not separate? This doubt happens because we have very deep imprints of dualistic perception.

Due to the way our gross, physical support of the body was formed; the way the body of blood and flesh was formed, we have the opportunity to enjoy sensory pleasures, yet it also prevents our consciousnesses from moving about without impediment. It obstructs us from accessing the full capacity of our consciousness. When we die and are in the bardo[intermediate state between birth and death, our body support is like a subtle, or mental, body.  That body does not obstruct the capacity of consciousness. Then, wherever we think to go, we can go without any obstructions. That is what it’s like in the bardo. For that reason, there is a subtle mental body that cannot be impeded. Thus, it is said to be easier to recognize our own nature in the bardo, than when we are in our gross human bodies alive.

There is no distance between ourselves and sentient beings nor Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

In brief, regarding loving kindness and compassion in Mahayana, if we talk about it in a colloquial way, it does not think there are separations, or distinctions, between ourselves and others, we see them as parts of the same whole. For example, some individuals can actually take sickness onto themselves, they have that capacity. Of course there are many reasons they are able to do that. However, the main reason is within the depth of the expanse of reality, they don’t see any division between self and others. Deep in their heart , they don’t see any separation and are entirely free of attachment and fixation, they are naturally able to act for the welfare of other sentient beings. That being the case, we often say we need to cherish others more than ourselves, that doesn’t mean we have to be a great, reckless hero who sacrifices everything and jumps recklessly into situations. It is done primarily to address and cleanse our mistaken way of thinking and know the actual nature of reality as it is. For example, if you have a picture or drawing, that you have rolled up and put away for a long time, when you unroll it then naturally it rolls back up. If you roll it the other way, then when you unroll it again it will be more flexible and next time will lay flatter.  So, as in that example, we have a strong habitual thinking that here is great distance (or gap) between ourselves and others. Due to that, it is easy to feel heartfelt affection for ourselves. As for close friends or relatives who we feel close to, it is also easy to develop love and compassion for them. Other than those, it is extremely difficult to have love and compassion for others in the way you have for yourself.

For that reason, when mind training, we first train in love for ourselves and seeking liberation. Then train in love for others, then equality of others, then exchanging self and others, then thinking of ourselves and others as inseparable. This softens our hardened characters. The ropes, or bonds, of thinking that we are singular and in control/independent, get looser and looser. In the end, just like the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we will be able to realize that we and others are all equal.

Buddhas and Bodhisattvas see sentient beings like family and parts of the same whole

I think we can do this. If we think about it from the perspective of the Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas. What is it like for them? There is probably no distinction between us and them. We become like a part of them. That is how they think. When they act for the benefit of others, they don’t have attachment to anyone, and they treat everyone totally equally. When their realizations are such a high level, they transcend the body of flesh and blood, so their consciousness dwells unimpeded and so our connection with Bodhisattvas and Buddhas comes from a connection and relation via the mind. The main thing is whatever thought or motivation we have, they immediately know it clearly the moment it arises. Normally, when we recite prayers and aspirations our minds and mouths have to be together. If we pretend, and recite only the words, we might be able to fool other people, but we cannot fool ourselves nor fool the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas because they know it all very clearly. That being so, we must have pure motivation and devotion at all times, when we supplicate and make aspirations.

Whether or not what we are thinking about is virtuous and pure, is important. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas don’t think who has the biggest incense, or offerings, or who the VIP is. Whoever is praying to them, they know the hopes and aspirations of all sentient beings immediately at the same time. There is no distinction of earlier, before, closer and distant at all. If you think about it in terms of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, not only is there no distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ but they also don’t see any distinction between ‘us’ and ‘other sentient beings’. That being so, they always look at us as if we were family. They view us as family members; they never see us as outsiders or non family. But we don’t believe strongly enough. We see them as outside and put them on a pedestal, far away and we identify them that way. Once one has done that, we get a feeling that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are apart from us. However, in actuality, they accompany us at all times, like a shadow, they are never apart from us even for an instant. It is not as if they are in a pure realm like Dewachen and you need a telescope to see them as they are very far away, that is not what they are like at all.

In brief, the loving kindness and compassion as taught in Mahayana is a presentation on that kind of deep and profound ultimate nature. If we are able to realize that by penetrating the critical points if we are able to know them. Then saying ‘may all beings be happy and free of suffering’ is not just an aspiration or a dream it is something we can actually do. For example, if we want to make ourselves happy here is something to so we would like, we think we are able to do it, we don’t think it is impossible or we are not able to do it. For that reason, on the day, we are able to see that all sentient beings are inseparable. On that day the aspiration becomes something you can do, not just hope. That is enough about Dharma going on the path for now. I did have some things to say about emptiness and nature or reality but I don’t have much time to explain them now.

The third of the Four Dharmas – ‘the path clarifies confusion’

So for the next of the four Dharmas, ‘the path clarifies confusion’. Gampopa’s text says:

“Having understood that, then the ‘path clarifies confusion’. First, meditating on impermanence, clarifies the confusion of fixating on this life. Meditating on karmic cause and effect, clarifies the confusion of wrong views. Meditating on the defects of samsara, clarifies the confusion of attachment to samsara. Meditating on loving-kindness and compassion, clarifies the confusion of the Hinayana vehicles. Meditating on phenomena being like dreams and illusions, clarifies the confusion of clinging to objects being real. In general, the higher clarifies the confusion of the lower.”

Generally, the way the path clarifies confusion can be joined to the path of the great individual, or it can be joined with the paths of the three types of individuals, or it can be joined with the path of mantra. There are three different ways, but here it talks about joining it to the method of the three types of individuals. I have already explained the main points and I don’t think there is any reason to repeat them now.”

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