.On the fifth day of the ‘Good Deeds’ teaching, HH 17th Karmapa gave an extensive explanation of the difficulties and challenges faced by Mikyo Dorje and the negative acts of people around him. Comparing it to his own challenges in both Tibet and India, the Karmapa advised us all to understand that even though the 8th Karmapa was considered to be one of the greatest Karmapas in the lineage, this was not because he had been helped and made easy for him by others. It was due to the challenges and the result of him persisting despite them with good intentions and vast vision that he was able to do that. This is something we can all get inspiration from and apply to our own lives.
In addition, the 17th Karmapa gave a teaching on Song of Praise that the 8th Karmapa had written about Je Tsongkhapa and other great lineage masters. Even though, Mikyo Dorje refuted some of the assertions of other masters, including some in Karma Kagyu, it was not out of disrespect but to serve the Dharma teaching. This teaching and the Song itself will be published in a separate post.
Here is a full transcript of the teachings. May it be of benefit!
Transcribed, translated and edited by Adele Tomlin, 21st February 2021.
‘Good Deeds’ Teaching by 17th Karmapa – Day 5
“So I was going to teach today about 8th Karmapa’s birthplace and so on but I didn’t really have time to prepare it. It is not certain there will be time or not to give such a long teaching like this in the future, so need to try and do as much as possible. At first, I thought I would make a schedule for each day and ‘push’ and insist that today is this topic and then tomorrow is this topic, but actually doing that it doesn’t really work. So I will just try and say as much as I can. So please excuse me for this. So what I would like to speak about today is the second verse of the ‘Good Deeds’ (see photo)
Abandoning the impediment to dharma, negative friends
(2) Without disdaining inauthentic gurus and companions
Or following them along the paths they taught,
I did all I could to overcome the thoughts of the three poisons —
Impediments to reaching the dharma’s culmination.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.
The main point here is the first of the good deeds was how Mikyo Dorje entered the teaching and began to practice the Dharma. The second deed is about when we practice Dharma there are many obstacles and harmful conditions. One of which is following negative friends. This verse speaks about how Mikyo Dorje overcame this issue.
As I mentioned yesterday, Mikyo Dorje from the time he was born and after birth he did so many amazing things that people could immediately see and have great faith in him as the Karmapa. Also Situ Rinpoche looked at the letter left by the previous 7th Karmapa and to a great degree accepted he was the Karmapa and instructed people to respect him as the tulku. But then one disappointing thing happened, he passed away soon after Karmapa was born and for that reason Situ Rinpoche was not able to continue helping towards the recognition of him. After that they went to Riwoche and the master Jigten Wangchug showed him great respect and there was no mistake in his recognition. There was a Florang monastery and he told them he is the incarnate and you should take good care of him. The community accepted this and agreed that they would provide well for him but in actuality, they treated him more like a boy that herds animals.
Suspected poisoning of 2nd Gyaltsab Rinpoche
There was an autobiography the 8th Karmapa wrote at Nangcho mountain, which says that they were just about to recognize him as the tulku as Chodrag Gyatso had passed away, and the 7th Karmapa’s regent was the 2nd Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Tashi Namgyal but he was officially not recognized as regent, so the encampment did not agree he was the highest lama and had to act as the regent of the 7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyatso. For that reason, the people in the encampment did not listen to Gyaltsab Rinpoche.
Also during the time of 7th Karmapa, the encampment had a very strict regime where beer and meat were not allowed inside, and if a woman came inside she could only spend the daytime there. All these rules were lost after he passed away. In addition, they criticized Gyaltsab Rinpoche quite a lot and in the end, there was someone from Karma Gon monastery, Tashi Dondup, who passed away suddenly and they accused Gyaltsab Rinpoche of having poisoned him. So it was difficult for Gyaltsab Rinpoche and he had to leave and go to Jiang.
The 7th Karmapa Chodrag Gyatso had many great students but the monks in the encampment did not respect them. For example, they said the 1st Sangye Nyenpa, who later became an important teacher for the 8th Karmapa, is a bad person and a charlatan. Then, there was another of 8th Karmapa’s future teachers, Je Karma Trinlepa, they had a little bit of faith in him and said he was well-versed and so on, but they didn’t give him any power to do anything. They did not give him the chance to come to the encampment to give them his advice or guidance.
Why was the 4th Zhamarpa not appointed Mikyo Dorje’s tutor?
Also, when they were appointing a tutor to Mikyo Dorje, the one who was worthy of being that, and should have been appointed his tutor, was Chodag Yeshe Palzang, the 4th Zhamar Rinpoche (1453-1554). However, the encampment said he had broken his samaya with the previous Karmapa, and warned that if his shadow were to fall on anyone, they would go to hell. They would not even allow the 4th Zharmapa and the Karmapa to meet. Why did they think so badly about him? There are many reasons, but the main one was that Zhamarpa had gone to Pagmodrupa and had become very powerful spiritually and politically and so they envied him[i].
So when Zhamar was not allowed to meet him, they thought who would be the best tutor and most important would be Tashi Dondrub. Then they brought him to the encampment. Just before he arrived he vomited blood and died. So that didn’t work out as they wished. All the things that had been planned turned out like that. Also, the wife of Tashi Dondrub had taken all the sacred objects of the 7th Karmapa and taken control of them. So all these sacred objects had been taken by this woman. Instead of keeping Dharma rules, they did not even wear monastic robes. Wherever the encampment went they took 20 tents of beggars with them. All the animals that had been offered them were all killed and they feasted on the meat. They should have built a stupa for the 7th Karmapa’s relics but what happened when his remains were cremated, in each of his spinal vertebrae was an image of Chenrezig and these should have been preserved and well looked after. Later they were put in a stupa. Later, Mikyo Dorje said they should be put in a place where people could see them, but there were not. So all these sacred objects and relics were not preserved correctly and no one was really looking after them.
Later, when Gyaltsab Rinpoche returned from the region of Jang, he built reliquaries for the remains of Chodrag Gyatso and he recognized Mikyo Dorje as the Karmapa and it turned out well. However, then he suddenly fell ill and passed away. Not only did he pass away, but no one took care of his remains and they buried them in sand. Within the sand later, there were many precious relics (ringsel) like mustard seeds. So when Gyaltsab Rinpoche suddenly died, people said someone had given him poison and that was why they buried him in sand to hide that.
So these very depressing and disgusting situations that happened are not written in the older or newer liberation stories. Later, Mikyo Dorje himself wrote a letter scolding the encampment and wrote about these things. The letter is no longer available. However, during the time of the 13th Karmapa, a student of his called Ngegowa Shenphen Gyatso (?) wrote liberation stories of six of the Kamtsang gurus and students and because of that, we know these events occurred.
Likewise, in the autobiography of the 5th Dalai Lama, it is mentioned in brief that such events happened. However, we might think the Dalai Lama just made this up and that it couldn’t have happened so badly. Later, when I saw the liberations stories by Ngegowa I thought ‘oh what the great 5th Dalai Lama said is probably true!’ Likewise in the commentary on the Good Deeds by Sanyge Paldrub, he describes many such events that are similar.
Why am I explaining this? This commentary as I mentioned before, was published by Vajra Vidya Institute Library and this edition was based on the Drepung Library one. When we were translating the Good Deeds into English and translating and proofreading it, I found another manuscript for the Good Deeds. Prior to that we didn’t have one. Sometimes they just arrive like that. So I received another one and when we compare the two editions, the new one and the prior one, even a couple of lines or pages are different. It would be good if we put the two together in terms of what is lacking and fill it in with the new edition. It was written by Sangye Paldrub and he offered it to Mikyo Dorje to see it, then Mikyo Dorje instructed him what to delete and what to add. So the liberation story we just found, is an important textual source for us. What it says in that one, is when Mikyo Dorje was young, most of the attendants in his retinue would say we are doing a Ganachakra and eating an entire sheep and then Mikyo Dorje said calling the flesh and blood of these powerless animals and calling it a Ganachakra, has no benefit and is very dangerous, and told them not to do it.
Then, one day in the encampment, there were five or 6 bricks of tea in a package of bamboo, and one became lost. They said someone had stolen it and put them in the encampment prison. The attendants said to Mikyo Dorje, you need to say he is a thief as if it is your clairvoyancy and if you don’t do that, they threatened him and people will punish you. Mikyo Dorje knew the person was not the thief and so said ’I don’t know whether he is or not, but I am not going to lie. You do what you want’. Later, it became very clear that person was not the thief.
So he had many negative friends, but he never came under their influence and always spoke true words and the truth. Later, his attendants told him to try and get objects from people. Mikyo Dorje said if they give it out of faith that is fine, but if I am deceptive to get such things, that is taking without giving and that is not OK. In brief, the people urged him to ‘butter them up’ and flatter them and do things to get offerings and wealth, but he didn’t come under their influence and stood on his own two feet.
Dharma Protectors will not help you with negative actions
Also, people would come to him and tell him, that monastery and region are harming our teachings and Karma Kagyu, so please wage war and cast a spell on them. Yet, Mikyo Dorje said ‘I don’t know how to do that’ and had no intention to do it. Likewise, when he was doing Mahakala practice. People would say we are offering this to Mikyo Dorje and the Protectors and bring a lot of beer and meat as offerings, while doing the Ganachakra. Mikyo Dorje scolded them and said; ‘basically we need to have faith and samaya. If you do it in a way that is accordance with that then the Dharma protectors will come and protect you. If you do negative actions and call on the Dharma Protectors, it is not a Dharma protector that will come but a protector of evil actions! When you do non-virtuous and negative actions like sorcery and casting spells on others, if you ask the Dharma protectors to help and protect you with that, in the end the ruin will fall on you. So if your mind and intention is negative, but your mouth is saying that you are making ablations and offerings for the monastery, it is better to put an end to that completely. To encourage the Dharma protectors to help you with negative actions, they will not protect you at all’ and he would not allow it.
Also, some people said to him, this is the old customary way, and they pretend to have pure intention and affection, saying you should be like previous Karmapas and that he should try to do things to make his name well-known. At that time, he was one of the most well-known lamas in Tibet. Yet,they told the most well-known Lama in Tibet how he should act and speak like a big lama in pompous ways and to make plans for the future in certain ways and how to support our own Kagyu tradition and so on. Many people advised him to do this.
Mikyo Dorje said about this later that:
‘from the time I was a little child until now, many people have asked me to do non dharmic things and there are many eight worldly Dharmas teachers (lobpon). Yet, if I had done as they said, I could have. However, this human life is very short, so if I did those things, then there would be no time to practice the Dharma. So I forgot about that and chose to do Dharma instead’.
So the 8th Karmapa gave up non Dharmic acts and he encouraged others to do so. Towards other bad people and evil people who would insist he should do such things, he would be equanimous. He would feel unbearable compassion for these people who did such things. When he saw them doing negative actions or suffering, or hear about such situations and so on, merely hearing about it would be unbearable for him. So how was the personality of Mikyo Dorje? Whenever he heard about or saw the suffering of others or those close to him, or from other places, unbearable compassion would arise.
Not only could he not bear it, but it also made him sick to think about it. Also, the attendants in his retinue would criticize each other. The Dharma practitioners would try to point out each others’ faults and people would criticise the great masters. People came to tell Mikyo Dorje about them, some people came to say these things to him, and he laughed at them. If he hadn’t done that and told them directly, ‘don’t say that! If you say that it is not OK’, they would have become embarrassed and humiliated. So he wouldn’t immediately say that to them. In the end, if he could not get them to look inside themselves and see that looking only at the faults of great masters and practitioners and doing what they can to proclaim these things in front of people, is really crazy way of acting and he could not bear it and so he often wrote about it. Here is an example about that.
Refutations and Praises of other lineage masters
So there are 21 volumes in the Collected Works in Mikyo Dorje and sometimes he does refute scholars of other lineages, but also within Karma Kagyu too. Not only that, he also refutes his own tutor Karma Trinlepa and Dondrup Tashi Ozer, saying this is right, this is not. He used his own intelligence to get to the heart of the matter and if it was logical and improved another’s position he would say so, if not he would refute it. Some people did not understand this and they said Mikyo Dorje has made a great refutation from someone in our lineage and that is not right. In particular, Mikyo Dorje refuted the secret mantra Nyingma tradition and many people criticized him for that. I will discuss later whether he refuted the Secret Mantra Nyingma tradition. If it was logical even if it was from another tradition he would accept it, even if it was his own tradition he would refute it.
In his heart, I don’t think he lacked faith in the other great masters. He wrote Praises of Sakya Pandita, Jonang Kunkhyen [Dolpopa], Bodong and Je Tsongkhapa. One time, when I went to see the Dalai Lama we spoke about the praise by Mikyo Dorje for Tsongkhapa, he says that it is well known and undisputed that Mikyo Dorje spread the teachings of the Vinaya throughout Tibet. So, even though the 8th Karmapa made refutations of Tsongkhapa, he also wrote a praise of Tsongkhapa, but I will not share that with you today.
The Song of 8th Karmapa
The Praise I am going to share with you today, is the one that gives me the most feeling and emotion. This song is in the Collected Songs of Mikyo Dorje[i]. When we talk about a song, it’s different from a normal composition. We talk about a song it’s like an experience and a feeling of realization. It’s that kind of creation. The words of songs are not like other types of works. [this song with explanation is here].
8th Karmapa’s physical appearance and personality
As the 8th Karmapa was always thinking about the teachings and beings, he was very thin and gaunt. When we see the paintings and statues of him, he’s very thin and his cheeks are hollow and sunken. So in brief, all of the attendants and his retinue would advise him to do negative things and yet he would not criticize them or disregard them but would try indirectly to get them to give up and turn away from such actions. He said: ‘I don’t have much in my life to feel important or conceited about like that, but in this degenerate time there a lot of people who pretend to be monastics but in terms of their conduct it is worse than a lay person and I had to spend a lot of time with them and live with them. However, I didn’t take up their conduct, nor did I cut them off, but remained in equanimity towards all of them. Thus I was able to spend all day and night never apart from enjoying the true dharma.’ This was one of the best things he felt he had done and put that into practice.
There was a Lama Shakya Jampa and he said to Mikyo Dorje ’if I were in your position and took your place, it would be easy for me to gather 5000 bikshus who wore the outer robes, ‘ Mikyo Dorje replied to him that ‘if you were in my position you would not last a single day! All the people in my retinue have different opinions and ways, and to stay within such a group of people you need to be able to remain in a state of equanimity towards them all. If you don’t have that then there is no way you would be able stay in my position even for one day.’ So he was very firm in his own convictions. When it came to the important points in the worldly and Dharma, he knew what to do.
Mikyo Dorje himself, even when they did non-Dharmic things, did not automatically criticize them but would try to work even harder for their sake. The way we know that, is that no matter when he studied he never got lazy about studying the great texts. Mikyo Dorje said I have thoughts of the eight worldly dharmas and when they occur I think ‘you bad thoughts have been coming since beginningless samsara, you can come but I am not going to take care of you!’ When he thought like that is was very beneficial. When he went to bed at night, he would count on his mala how many good or bad thoughts he had had and even the words he had spoken would be counted too. If it was good he would rejoice and if non-virtuous he would confess and regret and promise not to let it happen again. He was always very assiduous in the way he worked and what he did and said. Thus, there were many people around him he didn’t criticize or scold them. For that reason many people would come and say Mikyo Dorje keeps company with lots of bad people and he should be around Geshe Lharampas and great meditators. If he had those people around him, he would get more offerings and have more followers.
Wolves in monk’s robes – the inner is what counts
Lama Shabchen Jampa, said to Mikyo Dorje, ‘among all the incarnations of the Karmapas, you are the one who has done the worst and most harm to the teachings, if I were to take your place I would gather 5000 bikshus in a minute. When I was in Kham, I had 500 monks wearing robes. Now look at you, there are all these people drinking beer and so on’. So Mikyo Dorje replied to him, ‘I prostate to those who have three robes and trainings and the vows and have as many retinue as Je Tsongkhapa’. However, it is like in the story about the Buddha taking birth as a lion, many people thought at that time they had to kill him and skin him. Yet, when they looked at the lion he never did anything to harm those who wore the Dharma robes. So they donned robes so that they were able to get close to the lion to harm him. Even though they had monastic robes on, their inner mind was not pure or good, and so that must be the kind of monk Lama Shabchen likes, they said.
Never turning anyone away
In addition, Mikyo Dorje would never say ‘I am sitting in meditation so don’t disturb me’ and refuse audiences for a few hours while he is in deep meditation. He would also be reading every day, and making tsa tsa and torma offerings and doing meditation every day. He would also practice yogic breathing and tsalung very well. He had a very authentic practice and was qualified as a vajra master. Mainly, he never tried to pretend to his students to look like he was doing a lot. What he did predominantly was teach the Dharma, give teachings, and explain philosophy to them. Many people said ‘Oh Mikyo Dorje is really lazy because it would be good for him to recite mandala rituals of some deity. That would be great. If he could do the full approach of even a minor deity that would be good. But he isn’t and because he is not giving many empowerments and so on, he is greatly harming the Buddha Dharma.’
One time, a Lama called Trinla came to meet him, and Mikyo Dorje asked him: ‘who is more diligent between us, the student or the master? Trinla said ‘I am more diligent because the vajra mantras I recite in a single day, of the Hevajra, if you would recite them like I do, then your mouth would be burning like fire’. Mikyo Dorje said: ‘Oh I think you are mistaken. I am more diligent than you, because I never do any sessions in my whole life, and you cannot do that or your mind will be blazing like fire.’
Never showing off
The meaning of that is when the 8th Karmapa would practice diligence, patience, and so on, he didn’t do it in ways that others would see and notice it. He wouldn’t say ‘look I’m practicing generosity, diligence and patience!’ He didn’t show off about it. If they said they hadn’t memorized the mandala texts then Mikyo Dorje would tell them the exact appearance of all the deities and the visualizations. Just because he couldn’t remember the words, you can’t say he hadn’t retained the practice of the deities. Likewise, you can’ say he hadn’t recited the mantras of some of the minor deities as evidence of anything either, because he gave initiations, from which afterwards, people achieved signs of accomplishments. So you cannot definitely say the empowerments were not in accordance with the Dharma, it is not necessarily so. Whereas, some people pretended they knew these things well, and say ‘oh it is like this and like that’.
In any case, Mikyo Dorje faced many difficulties in his life, particularly when he was young. As I said before, Gyaltsab Rinpoche and Situ Rinpoche passed away and he was not allowed to meet the lamas he wanted to meet. So he was left all alone and had great difficulties because of this. For people like us, it would be difficult to bear such challenges and sufferings, yet he did. However, he had a high and pure vision, and because of his efforts, among all the incarnations of the karmapas, he is one of the greatest who stands out the most. It is not because everything was arranged and prepared for him that he was able to do that, it is the result of his efforts despite the many difficulties he faced. We need to understand this for ourselves.
Similar difficulties in the 17th Karmapa’s life
“I also had many difficulties in my life. I will explain these roughly. When I was in Tibet, until the age of seven, these were the happiest day of my life with my parents, in my homeland, in a very beautiful place. So internally and externally the happiest time was until the age of seven. Then, I was recognized as the Karmapa and some people think that in some respects it’s a high and powerful position, and so you get all the food and clothing and resources you want. People think that. They also think that as soon as I tell someone or attendants and so on to do something they will do it, but it is not like that at all.
For example, before it was decided I was the Karmapa, there was a steward at Tsurphu monastery, and he said to other people’ whether they are the Karmapa or not, whoever he is it doesn’t matter. He will do as I say and I will keep him beneath me. I won’t let him get above my neck’. So he was like that when I was young too. When someone made an offering they give it because it’s the Karmapa and they think I get it. Yet, the person who takes it is someone else behind me. There were some foreign people I knew from Taiwan who knew me, when they were sitting in front of me, they would put an envelope under my carpet seat and told me ‘to give to my parents’, because they understood that no matter how many offerings were given, the steward would take it all. So they did it secretly. Sometimes, however, the steward would even take those too knowing they were there. So afterwards when I had to go to the puja, they would look under the table, carpet and seat and then would say to them, we are taking them to see if there is any poison on them. Once they took them, they never brought them back.
Another time, Pawo Rinpoche said please recognize an incarnation. There was a lama who the Udzin of Nenang monastery who gave me a golden Buddha with a necklace. Then later, the lama went to the monastery and returned and he told me that ‘the steward is wearing the statue I gave you yesterday, and even worse the steward said ‘isn’t it lovely, doesn’t it look good?’’ The lama said ‘I was burning inside with fury, because I was thinking ‘I gave that to the Karmapa and now you are wearing it’.
Not only that, the custom before that had been when parents had raised them from being a child when I was taken from them, the tradition was to build them a house near Tsurphu monastery. Forget about that, my parents wouldn’t even dare come for one day! They thought the stewards would be annoyed if they did that. Also, as I have come from Kham I have many relative and sisters, I have many sisters but from among them one of the two were in retreat at Tsurphu and they would come to meet me, but they would say you cannot meet them and you cannot meet your parents. In the end, finally, they had to insist. My parents were very modest and didn’t feel proud about being the Karmapa’s parents. Yet, they had got to the end of their tether. My father’s friend said you have to speak to the Tsuprhu labrang and said, ‘if we weren’t right in front of the Karmapa I would take care of them straight away.’ So my father went there and said ‘we are the parents, we are not saying we need a lot of offerings or presents but we would like to see our child when we want to and let him meet our siblings. If you don’t allow that then I will take our child with me and leave!’. Hearingwhich the officials became worried. They agreed to family visits and gave my parents lots of new clothes. There are many of those kinds of situations from the time I was young. Then I was 7 years old, so I didn’t dare say anything to this steward. One time, I did say a few things, and the steward took my two hands. As he was very strong, he squeezed them hard and I started to cry. That was in the homeland, Tibet.
When I got to India it was even worse than that. When people think, the Karmapa must have a good, happy life with lots of freedom and everyone will listen to him and do what he says. It is not like that now, nor in the past either.
When Mikyo Dorje was young, first there was the dispute about whether he was the Karmapa or not and the people supported the western tulku. Then after he was recognised, he had to do the work of the Karmapa. This is not easy at all. What we need to think is that Mikyo Dorje is probably an emanation of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, who has attained great power and knowledge, but as a human being he had a lot of difficulties. But what did he do for the teachings and beings? We need to think about that. Only if we see that, will we get some confidence in this lifetime and think ourselves of doing something for the teachings and beings whatever challenges there may be.”
Transcription based on the original Tibetan and English simultaneous oral translation . Adele Tomlin, 21st February 2021.
[i] Rheingans (2017: 76): “As the Fourth Zhwa dmar pa had relations with both the conflicting Phag mo gru and Rin spungs pa parties, it is important to briefly survey his role in the process of determining the Karmapa. A passage in the mKhas pa’i dga’ ston indicates the Fourth Zhwa dmar pa, when asked whether he would invite the boy from Kong po brag gsum for tea, declined and mentioned to those in the encampment that the incarnation from the east would be undisputed. Still, it appears he assumed a relatively low-key role in the recognition process: he had not met the young Karmapa, and consequently did not act as his principal tutor. This is surprising, as the Zhwa dmar pa had been the main lineage holder after the passing of the Seventh Karmapa, and was a respected spiritual teacher with significant political influence. Yet it might have been precisely this that hindered him in fulfilling his role as the Karmapa’s instructor. Examining how the sources explain this fact, one uncovers the intricate religio-political situation the hierarchs were engulfed in. dPa’ bo Rin po che explains: the Fourth Zhwa dmar pa would have been a suitable teacher for the Karmapa, but first he could not go to mDo kham, and later the conditions (rten ‘brel) of his meeting the Karmapa did not materialise. Sangs rgyas dpal grub adds that mDo khams and dBus gtsang were separated by a great distance. And it is said the Karmapa received various letters from the Zhwa dmar pa. However, usually distances did not matter to Tibetans, not to mention great hierarchs such as the Fourth Zhwa dmar pa, who commonly spent their entire lives travelling in Tibet, China, and Mongolia.26 Thus, one may wish to speculate as to another possibility. The Zhwa dmar pa’s (and the Karma bKa’ brgyud’s) main patron, and most powerful figure in Tibet at the time, Don yod rdo rje, supported the western candidate. Given this fact, it would not have been wise to publicly oppose him. Was it mere coincidence that the Eighth Karmapa was only enthroned in 1513 (see note 28, he arrived in 1513), after Don yod rdo rje passed away?”
[ii]Some songs by Mikyo Dorje were published in a volume in Sikkim in 1978 (rdo rje’i mgur dang zhal gdams tshigs bcad kyi skor). Songs of realization and instructions by Karmapa 08 Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554). mi bskyod rdo rje; 1 volume; 649 p.. W23656. gonpo tseten, gangtok. 1978.