DON’T BE LIKE A PARROT RECITING ‘MANI’ MANTRAS. The most valuable investment in the universe, dealing with demons/obstacle-makersand the importance of motivation and discipline when accepting ‘food of faith’ offerings and reciting rituals and texts (17th Karmapa Spring 2022 teachings, Day 3)

“By thinking of all sentient beings
As more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel
For accomplishing the highest aim,
I will always hold them dear.”

—Geshe Langri Thangpa

“In this world there are many valuable things than cannot be bought by money and require merit. In any case, whether we have money or not depends on whether you have merit. As human beings, we think money is very important, but if we think about the whole universe and all the different realms, money has no value at all. Yet the power of gathering accumulations fills the entire realm of space and the Dharmadhatu and thus brings immeasurable benefits and happiness and can eliminate all the difficulties we have. So why are we not gathering the accumulations?”

“There is an ancient proverb that says: ‘It is better to sing a sweet little song with good intentions than to recite Mani mantras while harboring bad intentions.’”

—17th Karmapa (Day 3, Spring Teachings 2022)

Here is a summary and transcript (based on the English translation and Tibetan original ) of Day 3 of the 17th Karmapa’s Spring Teachings.

In the first half of the teaching, the 17th Karmapa continued where he left off with Verse Ten of the 8th Karmapa’s ‘Good Deeds’ and exchanging oneself for others, focusing on

  • the reasons why we should see sentient beings are ‘so precious and valuable’ even if they are unknown to us, or our enemies: as they are the most precious source of accumulating merit and wisdom.
  • the similarities and differences between a worldly person earning and accumulating external money and wealth for this life and a Dharma practitioner earning and saving and investing in  the inner ‘wealth’ of merit and wisdom. Giving powerful metaphors and examples of the instability (and even harmful) methods people use to trade, sell and earn money and the infinite benefit and inexhaustible ‘earnings’ of merit and wisdom.
  • the importance of accumulating infinite merit and wisdom compared to the limited and unstable external wealth and resources.

In the second half of the teaching, the Karmapa spoke about:

  • how to deal most effectively with demons/maras who cause hindrances to Dharma practice and activities
  • the five-fold way of viewing and accepting offerings in the Vinaya and ‘food for faith’ taken by those who are seeking liberation
  • the importance of reciting pujas and rituals with a focused, genuine mind, free from mindless, worldly distractions and chatter; not like a parrot reciting mani mantras.

To illustrate these points, the Karmapa shared two stories, one from the Buddha’s time in relation to accepting offerings and the other, more recently, about a miraculous Phowa ritual by Tsurphu monks at the time of the 15th Karmapa.

Music?  Can’t Buy Me Love by the Beatles, The Best Things in Life are Free by Sam Cooke, or a parrot reciting Mani mantra? 🙂

May we all focus on accumulating merit and wisdom of a billion-fold universes and thus attain the full awakening!

Transcribed and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 29th March 2022.




“Some might think this practice of exchanging self for others is only for those on the Mahayana path, or that it has no relevance or connection to our everyday lives. However, if we think about it, when our parents, loved ones and friends experience difficulties we do sometimes think ‘how wonderful it would be if I could take on their difficulties and sacrifice ourselves for them?’ Actually, that is really exchanging oneself for others.’

However, the scope of the intention and object of such sacrifice in our daily lives, compared to that taught in the Lojong practice, it is completely different. We do not even need to speak too much about it, we can think about it. One is vast, the other narrow.

If we ask ourselves this question, if the person who is most dear to your heart got in a lot of difficulty and had a lot of suffering, you would empathise with them and also suffer with them. We might even be unable to bear it. And think ‘if I could take their place, I would be happy. ‘ That feeling is something we have all felt.  Even if you have not felt it, it is possible you will. So this wish to exchange for others is not that distant from ourselves. It is not something we cannot imagine or think about, it is something all us human beings can naturally feel and give rise to. But that wish in mind-training does not come right away or as naturally.

So what is the difference between the two of them? The difference is in the intention and the aim and the ultimate purpose. When we think about our dearest friend or the person we love most, the reason why we feel that is because our purpose and intention is because we want them to be happy. Because we have that wish we think we would like to make them happy and so on.

However, when speaking about lojong (mind-training), we have to hold the aspiration we can bring all beings away from suffering. Not just our loved ones and those close to us. We need to think and hope that all beings have happiness and good fortune. In order to fulfill that, we need to take that loving thought, and exchanging ourselves for others notion in relation to our dear friends and expand it to include all sentient beings. We need to expand and increase that thought and have that thought and love for all sentient beings.

However, that is not at all easy and we understand that it is not easy.  The question as to whether we are exchanging ourselves for others is whether we are able to do that or not. Are we able to develop that same level of affection for all sentient beings? How can we accomplish that? This is a huge question. In particular, the people we have no connection with, don’t even recognize, how can we feel love for them? Even worse than that, are the people you do not like, or hate or have grudges. You can call them your enemies or adversaries. When you see them suffering and having difficulties, are you willing to experience suffering for them? That is difficult.

It is easy for us to have loving thoughts to those close to us but it is even more difficult for our enemies. Why is that? There are many reasons we can say about this. The main reason and way of thinking is that they are not really connected to us. ‘I don’t have any connection to them at all, they are not my relative or friend, so why should I try and sacrifice myself to help them?’ In the same way, if the other person is your enemy, we often might think why would I feel love for them? If we think about donkeys and animals or our enemies, it is difficult to think why I should sacrifice myself for them. If we think about our mother or children, we consider those to be very important and even more important ourselves. However, with those we do not know, or our enemies, we think ‘why should I help them of feel for them?’  This inability to feel the same love and concern for those we do not know, or enemies, is why we cannot complete the perfections or practice exchanging self for others. We think there is nothing more important about them than me.”


The Karmapa then went on to explain the reasons why sentient beings are so precious as a source of merit, and the important differences between accumulating external wealth and money and accumulating merit and wisdom:

“Developing the courage to exchange and sacrifice ourselves for sentient beings, depends on the reasons we have to cherish all sentient beings. This is why Geshe Langri Tangpa, said in his Eight Verses of Training the Mind:

By thinking of all sentient beings
As more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel
For accomplishing the highest aim,
I will always hold them dear.

༡༽ བདག་ནི་སེམས་ཅན་ཐམས་ཅད་ལ། །
ཡིད་བཞིན་ནོར་བུ་ལས་ལྷག་པའི། །
དོན་མཆོག་སྒྲུབ་པའི་བསམ་པ་ཡིས། །
རྟག་ཏུ་གཅེས་པར་འཛིན་པར་ཤོག །

What is the meaning of this? All sentient beings are not only as important as we are, but we have to see them as a source or basis for being even more significant.  However, saying this is easy but thinking it is not easy. There are many reasons to think that sentient beings are more precious than us. The main one is that without the support of and serving sentient beings there is no way to accumulate merit or to purify the obscurations or to attain Buddhahood. For example, in a building, without stairs to go to the upper floors, one cannot go upstairs. Similarly, all sentient beings are the source of gathering the two accumulations, so they are extremely important and precious.

The rat-race – working hard to make more money

“There are many methods for accumulating merit in relation to sentient beings, so what is the reason for saying exchanging oneself for others is considered one of the most important? For example, normally, the way we accumulate merit is similar to the way we accumulate and save money. In the world, there are many people who go through many difficulties to get and accumulate money. The reason for saving money is for food and drink and to live life. If one does not have money, then one cannot pay for things. Therefore, most humans love earning and saving money. They do not have any choice to but to like it, if they don’t have money then they cannot accomplish their aims. This example is talking about a good life for ordinary, worldly beings though.”

A mandala offering plate, used to accumulate the merit of generosity

“When we speak about a Dharma practitioner though, they need abundant good fortune and conditions in order to practice Dharma. If they do not have those good conditions, then it is difficult to practice Dharma. How do they get those good conditions? Accumulating merit and primordial awareness[i]. For example, if they have not accumulated merit and primordial awareness, then getting instructions and meeting an authentic lama and so on will not arise.  Therefore, for a Dharma practitioner gathering the two accumulations is like earning money to them.

So how do we earn and save a lot of money? We don’t need to explain too much as we can see it.  We have to sell and exchange objects and services for money. Most of the money has the nature of trade and business. You give something to someone and because of that you get something back. Money is the main capital or foundation for having a good life.

However, for a Dharma practitioner, gathering the accumulations is similar, but different in that the main basis or capital is the two accumulations of merit and primordial awareness. How do they gather the accumulations? Dharma practitioners accumulate merit in a similar way to those who make and accumulate money, but instead of trading things for money, they trade themselves for others. They take on/buy the suffering of sentient beings themselves to accumulate merit and give away their happiness to others. So earning money and gathering accumulations is the same. What is the best method to accumulate merit in this way? Exchanging self for others.  How is it similar to people who sell and buy things for money? Practitioners ‘purchase’ and take away others suffering and sell/give away their happiness to others.”

“What are the main differences? Gathering money is based on money and external things whereas accumulating merit is based on one’s inner mind. Another difference is that gathering money is based on this life only but for future lifetimes it does not really help at all. Gathering accumulations is done for all the future lifetimes.

Another big difference is when we are earning money, normally, we often have to give some of it away to others and do not get all we deserve. The office, boss or company keeps some of it. Or things do not go as they should and you lose the capital. Or the savings decrease in value and you also experience a big loss. Also, when there is an economic decline in the world, you also experience financial loss.

However, if we think about the ‘trade’ and ‘savings’ of the internal mind, it is not like one only gets a portion of it or that the value ever decreases and so on. One gets all of it. Similarly, the value of that merit never declines or is lost. What is the reason? Accumulating merit is more stable than accumulating money.  External objects and money earnings are also dependent on causing others loss. So if one person is very rich, they often have to make other many other people poor and take away their time, money and services to become rich. However, gathering accumulations there is no risk of that happening at all. It will not decrease or cause others loss. There is no need to worry about any of that, and think ‘oh I need to be careful and do that’ and so on.  There is no need to be fearful.  One needs to gather as many accumulations as much and as hard as one can.”



“Another example on accumulating merit is, in the US, the dollar is a currency that is used there and globally. Similarly, the two accumulations are the CURRENCY that can be used in any country, realm and any lifetime. For that reason, why are we not accumulating that type of money/currency that we need for this and future lives?

One thing we need to think is right now, we want to enjoy ourselves now, but what we enjoy and use now is due to merit we have accumulated in previous lifetimes. So we are always using that up and taking expenses out of our accumulated merit. However, are we continuing to accumulate and earn merit too? Not really, if we speak frankly. If you are always spending your previously gathered merit, then one day it will just run out, as money runs out.

Therefore, if we have a little bit of good merit and fortune now, we need to grow that exponentially. If we go bankrupt it is then difficult. We need to invest it, like businessmen invest capital to make it grow. We need to do as much as possible to make this precious merit increase in value. If we talk about investments, people get very interested and think ‘oh if I put this money immediately into that, then I will become rich by doing this’. They think hard about getting an idea that will quickly get them a few million dollars, and so they work really hard and do whatever they can to earn a lot of money now. Yet, no matter how many difficulties we go through, we may become richer than some people around us. But if we compare ourselves to the richest people in the world. This is like millions of times difference. We cannot compare to them.

The best way to become rich is to take a good birth in a rich family. If you want to become like Elon Musk in the future.  These days people talk about whether there is a method or not of getting a good or bad birth is like a technical matter.  There are ways to make a good birth, and the one method to do that is to accumulate merit.  If one gathers the accumulations, one can accomplish anything. There is nothing one cannot accomplish with merit in a worldly realm.”

“However, many people think that accumulations are done to gather more money right?  The think ‘oh if I gather accumulations, I will get more money.’ This is not the right way to think about it. We can get things that are far better than money with merit. In this world there are many valuable things than cannot be bought by money and require merit. In any case, whether we have money or not depends on whether you have merit. As human beings, we think money is very important, but if we think about the whole universe and all the different realms, money has no value at all. Yet the power of gathering accumulations fills the entire realm of space and the Dharmadhatu and thus brings immeasurable benefits and happiness. It can eliminate all the obstacles and difficulties we have. So why are we not gathering the accumulations?  Because the reason and benefit of gathering accumulations is something we do not really understand. However, we should not then disregard it and see it as unimportant.

In brief, the main meaning is even if we cannot actually exchange ourselves for others, we need to see if we can do that with our minds and imagination. Not just thinking about it any way whatsoever but from the depths of the mind and with a pure motivation.  Otherwise there will not be as much benefit. If we think about the aim of gathering accumulations, it does not matter who the beings are, rich, poor, human or animal and so on. They are all sources of accumulation. We can think about beings we can see or think about in the six realms of samsara. We can think about them as our donors, sponsors and the source of accumulations, like a bank, of saving the accumulations. So we have to think about beings as that kind of precious source of merit and benefit. This is very important.


In the second half of the teaching, the Karmapa first gave the outline of the next part of the ‘Good Deeds’ text before talking about the eleventh verse:

 The Karmapa had reached the section on ‘taking adversity as the path in post-meditation’, of which there are ten sub-topics:

The topic the Karmapa discussed is 1) Running out of supplies  as the path. The eleventh verse reads:


“Among the thirty-three good deeds, this is the eleventh deed.  As I described yesterday and today, if we think about how the 8th Karmapa strived to attain the roots of virtue to benefit all beings, but also how there are people with rough and negative minds who will create obstacles for people and try to corrupt their thoughts, practice and actions. They would say, “generosity and discipline such as this will never become the path to great enlightenment. This is not the Mahayana path’.  Basically, they try to do all they can in various different ways to make obstacles.  Sometimes they seem to be trying to help you and say ‘This is not work that will help you or others. This is harmful. ‘ Externally, it might seem as if they are trying to be nice, helpful and compassionate towards you, many such people who give advice like this.

Cartoon demon

When we talk about maras/demons, we think about demons with angry, red faces and horns coming out of their heads but that is not necessarily what they are. Really they are beings, humans or spirits, who try and prevent us from practicing the Dharma.  What we need to do use our reasoning and  really focus our minds and think ‘They are pretending to be nice to me and to give me good advice. They are teaching the wrong path and so on’. We need to develop certainty in that.  Yet, we must not think they are trying fool us and we then get angry and have a grudge against them.   Because they have accumulated negative karma since beginning less time, the result is they will create obstacles for us. We have to think this is a result of karma, cause and effect.

Also,  we need to think that, ‘if they do stop our plans and Dharma practice, it is not just negative for me, but for them as well’. So instead of getting angry, we need to develop the antidotes and more diligence with what we are doing. If we think, ‘Oh am having lots of obstacles and it is not going to work out’ we cannot give up like that.  The more obstacles, if one can become more diligent in applying the antidotes, it is more beneficial for you. In the future it will be more beneficial to the other being as well, so that they don’t have a negative result from it in the future.  In brief, we need to be victorious over the demons and obstacle-makers. It is important to develop courage to do that.

How can we overcome the maras/demons? The best method is not letting any obstacles of difficult conditions affect you.  No matter who they are, whatever method they use be it peaceful, or violent, one should have that confidence and courage that cannot be changed by any condition, internal or external; like depths of a great ocean, unmoving and stable. If you have that kind of mental stability, then you will be able to be victorious over the maras/demons. If you do not have that stability, even when some small obstacle happens, one’s mind will change.

Many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have come to the world to accomplish benefit for sentient beings, yet because of the negative karma and afflictions of beings, it is very difficult for their activities to go the way they want. There may be some great beings who faced great obstacles in accomplishing activities, but due to their pure intention, they were uncorrupted in the end.”


The Karmapa then referred to the rift in the Great Encampment before Mikyo Dorje was correctly identified and enthroned as the 8th Karmapa. [For more on the 17th Karmapa’s previous teachings on that, see here.  For the role of the 8th Karmapa’s first main teacher, 2nd Goshri Gyeltsab Rinpoche in that recognition, and his life story see here.]

“ At the time that the 8th Karmapa appeared, his followers were often unruly and uncouth.  However, no matter how badly behaved they were, he was able to engage with the same amount of compassion for them.

There were a lot of people around him, good and bad, and many bad people. For all of them, he was very generous with material objects. For others, when they experienced a threat to their lives or loss, he was able to give them protection from loss and danger. So he benefited them from both material and Dharma generosity. However, due to the karma of previous lifetimes, of people having grudges against him. Instead of thinking about offering to him they would try and steal things from him, with thieving, robbery and banditry etc.

Before he was identified as the 8th Karmapa, there was that dispute I mentioned before. Most of the Great Encampment did not support Mikyo Dorje, yet he was still victorious and enthroned.  After he was enthroned, he had a good connection with the Ming dynasty. He received a mountain of jewels wealth from the Ming Emperor of China.  At that time, the Great Encampment was very wealthy and people would make huge offerings.

He had not the least attachment to any of it and would give it away to his students and people around him. For example, he had ordinary students and he gave away a thousand bricks of tea; countless bolts of silk; or four or five mule loads of gold and silver; or bolts of silk or innumerable pack animals to his students and entourage, without any discrimination.  Even an ordinary person in the retinue would receive wealth fit for a great lord. Yet he never even referred to it and said, “I gave you a really big gift.”

However, those people had neither gratitude nor respect. They saw it like repayment of a loan. As if the 8th Karmapa had a debt to them.  They would try and get more and more. They were insatiable and would ask for more. They would also even try and cause harm to him. They would say, ‘Remember when you could not recognized? Your activity is because of our kindness. You do not know how to do anything. We are the kind ones. By yourself you aren’t capable. We are kinder than you. Without us, who knows where you would be now.” They even threatened him saying he should treat them well, or he would regret it. Others said they would destroy all the monks. ??

So they would say we won’t let anyone send these taxes of offering to the monks. So they had zero gratitude. If we think about it, we might get angry about it.  He understood that this was because in the past, I have wasted the provisions that Bodhisattvas have gathered for the sake of beings and teachings. That is why others are now using all these things. Even if I chased after them to try and stop them, the Great Encampment was very powerful and he could have chased it all up that they took. However, he felt it would be more beneficial not to do that.  He never said, ‘I gave you all these things’ etc.

When people repaid his help with harm, he saw that if he continued to help them, the result would be more meaningful and beneficial.  There were many people who stole and took all they could. He cared for them as lovingly as before. He always spoke about them in a nice way.

In brief, all their negative actions were because they were beings who had not tamed their minds. So he put the blame on the afflictions but never on the person. He also saw it as a good way to purify past karma and that they were giving him lessons on how material things were not important.  He saw them as a teacher who shows how wealth and possessions have no point. They were no different from a Buddha.

Nowadays, if we do not accumulate the karma of greed and hatred when having things stolen from us, and take it on the path of full awakening.

He said:

When others have robbed the sensory pleasures, we have been given, debts from beginning-less samsara are being purified, so we must accept them. If instead we accumulate the karma of greed and hatred, we and all other sentient beings will be born in the great hells. If without accumulating karma we take it as an aid on the path to great enlightenment, there is no better method for swiftly awakening to buddhahood.

A few bodhisattvas may have vast activity, the Karmapa reflected, but the results of their students’ bad karma are so powerful that their activity cannot flourish.


In the Vinaya it is said that the proper livelihood of a monk is to live off alms. In the alms round they should hold out their bowls like beggars. The difference between a monk and a beggar is that the donors make offerings to monks out of faith. The food and clothing that lay people offer to monastics is called the “food of faith.” So it comes from people who have faith in you. People have worked hard to obtain these material benefits and offered them because they have faith in the monastics. Thus, the monastics also need to consider these offerings as very important.

The Vinaya scriptures teach five ways of viewing offerings from the faithful:

  • Using them like an owner. This applies to non-learner Arhats.
  • Using what is given, which applies to stream-enterers.
  • Using them in the allowed manner, as is permitted, which applies to ordinary individuals who have discipline and strive on the path of virtue by practicing meditation or recitations.
  • using them like red-hot iron and
  • Using them like a loan.
Monastics at Jetavana Grove

To illustrate this, there was a great sponsor Anatapindata who was extremely rich and the most important donor at that time. He lived in Jetavana Grove, Sravasti. One time, he invited the Buddha and his entire retinue to come and he had many expensive silks and fabrics to make robes from and wanted to give them to the monastics.  So he went to Jetavana Grove and he invited the Buddha and all his relatives and friends and offered a sumptuous meal for them all.

Once there, Anatapindata asked the Buddha: “In this world, who is the best recipient of an offering?” “The Sangha,” replied the Buddha. At that time, he meant to solely the noble ones, the learners who had eliminated some of the afflictions, or entirely eliminated them. So then he got very excited because he knew now who he had to give to. So he started to make offerings to the sangha present there. He said to them’ ‘You are the best recipients, and for joining my hands, and the unexcelled merit field, so I will make this offerings to you.’  When he said this, not everyone present in that retinue was in this category; some were Arhats, some had partially eliminated them and some were just ordinary people.  The Buddha always gave the advice that we always need to practice virtue and hide our qualities and show our faults. So if I take something like that, I am saying I have qualities worthy of taking these.

So, the Arhats wouldn’t take the offerings because they were taught not to boast about themselves but they didn’t say why not.  So he went to people who had abandoned some of the afflictions, but they said they were not suitable either, so they did not take them. The ordinary ones there refused to take them because they had not abandoned any of the afflictions.  In the end, not a single bhikshu would accept the offerings.

Anatapindata became very sad about it and wondered why they had turned over their alms bowls. So I have no merit, because they will not accept them and he turned a whiter shade of pale.  So he asked the Buddha why they had not accepted his offerings.  The Buddha understood why the monks had not taken the offerings. So Ananda told the Buddha the reasons why they had not accepted and he told Ananda to gather all the sangha together.

When they were gathered, the Buddha asked the sangha why they had not taken the cloth offerings, but they remained silent. Buddha then asked, “Why did you go forth as monastics? Was it to achieve liberation or food and clothing?’’ There were people who became monastics to get food and offerings. They said yes of course to attain liberation. So the Buddha said then if the cloth or the food is very expensive and excellent then it is OK to take them. The main point is you have not become monastics for food and clothing but for liberation.  S then you must take it. It is merit for you and for the donor. Just keeping the rules and precepts is not enough. One has to think about why are one is keeping their discipline.

In brief,  individuals who have discipline or who has realizations they  may accept and enjoy the food of faith. Keeping discipline alone is not sufficient though. One also has to strive at the activities of reading and meditation.  You cannot just sit around  lazily. If you take it without that, then it is like you are accepting a loan. So it you do not strive at such activities it is like a loan.  It is like taking a red-hot iron ball and that would burn your entire stomach. So if you are someone without any qualities and you accept the food of faith, there is a danger of being reborn in the hells afterwards. This is really important to understand.”


In the final part of the teaching, the Karmapa recalled the teachings of Patrul Rinpoche and how it was important to perform rituals and pujas with a focused mind and sincere intentions.

“Whether you are a monk or nun, we live on offerings from the faithful of the living and deceased. When sitting in the rows, we need to recite the texts and  focus our minds, stop speaking about other things, and recite. If we mix the recitation and mantra repetition with ordinary and  idle chatter, there is no point at all.

In particular, when reciting rituals for the deceased in during the name-card rituals, the sponsors think that someone they loved died and they are now in the bardo who are stricken with fear and suffering, and so they sponsor us to do the pujas. If we are sitting there  having negative thoughts, we must stop that. Also we must not sit there chatting, especially out of attachment and aversion.  Bardo beings are not like ordinary people, what other people think or know we do not know, however bardo beings will know because they are clairvoyant. When the bardo beings hear or see that, they will know this and they may get wrong views or aversion towards that lama or the ritual, and they may go to the lower realms. That kind of bardo ritual is not helpful; it is better not to have it at all.

There are many kinds of Vajrayana rituals, at the end are the words for doing creation and completion and if you do not think about the meaning and  just recite empty words in loud voices, you are like a parrot reciting MANI mantras. Parrots can do that, but do they understand the meaning. No, they don’t.

When we get to the mantra recitation, we relax, and get bored and our bodies become like sleeping corpses, and we cannot even sit up straight. We look around distractedly, prick our ears up at any noise or say many meaningless things and pointless idle chatter, about what was on Facebook or a movie we saw. The mala mantra recitation and our thoughts are all mixed up. There is the façade of Dharma but no essence to it. This is reducing dharma to the flimsiest of facades.

An ancient proverb says:

 “It is better to sing a sweet little song with good intentions than to recite Manis while harboring negative intentions.”

We lamas, monks, and nuns, no matter who we are, should not think, “How many offerings did I get today? How much did they get?’ Then we think about the tea. In India not so much, but in Tibet we say: ‘How rich was the tea? How good was the bread?’ If we only think about that there is no point to it.  We are doing these pujas to try and bring some benefit to another person.

The donor, whether living or deceased, has come to a critical point and facing misfortune. They have put their hopes in us. We have become their source of refuge. If we shatter their hopes that is not good in terms of karmic, cause and effect. Motivated by love and compassion and their suffering, we should try and practice the two stages as well as we can.  If you don’t have any qualities of creation or completion at all and become discouraged and lazy and think, I cannot do that, instead of increasing our qualities and confidence it decreases them. We can still think about the meaning of the words in relation to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. At the very least we can pray from the heart that the gurus and Three Jewels will care for these desperate sentient beings. The compassion of the Three Jewels, the unfailing power of karma, and the limitless benefit of bodhichitta, will help the sick or the deceased person in the bardo.”

Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet

The Karmapa then shared another story about the unfailing power of faith to help bardo beings.:

“Probably during the time of the Fifteenth Karmapa, there was a monk at Tsurphu Monastery who wasn’t very bright and very lazy .There are many texts to memorise, the Vajravarahi and Chakrasmavata text and he was unable to memorize these prayers and texts. The custom was to make the uneducated monks into the senior tea servers, and that is what he became. However, one day he made a mistake and did not perform his job properly, and he was afraid the discipline master would beat him. So, he and a friend ran away from the monastery. They had no plan where to go, but they arrived in  Tö Ngari.  One day they went to a nomad family to beg for food, and at the same time, a family member had just died. The family, knowing they were monks from Tsurphu, invited them in, and asked them, “Please do a phowa for the deceased.”

Forget about knowing how to do phowa, they didn’t even know what the texts for phowa were! But lamas and monks from other lineages had also been invited by the family so they were embarrassed to admit they couldn’t do it—they thought it would be a disgrace to Tsurphu Monastery. So, instead they gathered up some courage and went in and took their seats.

They sat there for a while, looking at each other and thinking, “How are we supposed to do phowa?” The senior tea server could stumble his way through the Four Sessions Guru Yoga, so he thought that it might be good to recite that. He said to his friend, “If we don’t recite anything, we’re finished. I’m going to recite the Four Sessions Guru Yoga, and you can help me out and recite it too.” They got ready to recite the Four Session, but so many people were sitting there staring at them and waiting to see what they were going to do, that they panicked. Their faces began to burn, and they weren’t able to even begin reciting the Four Sessions.

They had no choice, so they covered their heads and faces with their robes and began to recite the Four Sessions: “My mothers, all sentient beings throughout space…” When they got to the Karmapa Khyenno mantra, embodiment of the Buddhas, they prayed fervently, “Karmapa! Please look at us with compassion now!” Then they recited the Karmapa Khyenno mantra so loudly.

At that point, the senior tea server suddenly heard a voice in his ear, “Now do it!” Without thinking, he cried “HIK!” in a crackling voice, and then “PHAT!” When he said, PHAT, there was a cracking sound from the corpse lying there. A piece of skull the size of a palm popped off the top of the corpse’s head. Everyone there was amazed and said, “Wow, they have such powers! There are no monks like Tsurphu’s! Look at these signs of phowa!” They felt great faith in the two monks and  the family gave  them a lot of offerings of butter, meat, and cheese.

The two monks then decided it would be better to return to Tsurphu. We now have something to offer everyone there. So they went back and they distributed offerings to the sangha, confessed remorse for running away, and were allowed back into the monastery.

At that time, it was said that the 15th Gyalwang Karmapa. Khakyab Dorje (or maybe one of the others ones, I do not know) had heard their prayers when they were reciting the Karmapa Khyenno, and it was he who said, “Now do it.”

So even if we don’t have any qualities or abilities, when we pray to the gurus and Three Jewels with pure motivation, there is benefit. That is why doing that is very important. Some people worry about taking offerings for doing rituals for the deceased  and do not take them at all. That is too extreme, if we know how to think about things, even if we have no real power, with the blessings of the lineage and gurus and have that faith in them, then it brings benefit. If we refuse to take any offerings, that is too extreme.”


[i] The way to gather the two accumulations in Buddhist practice are several, in terms of preliminaries in retreat, there is the mandala offering and the guru yoga. For more on that see Jamgon Kongtrul’s text ‘Torch of True Meaning’, which the 17th Karmapa gave teachings on in 2012, see video here. In the Kalacakra preliminaries, as I wrote about here, Taranatha states that there are three accumulations.

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