‘PRACTISING WHAT YOU PREACH AND TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK’: TRANSFORMING OTHERS’ NEGATIVITY INTO VIRTUE. The 8th Karmapa’s extraordinary way of responding to ‘harm-doers’, the amazing qualities of the Karmapas and the importance of non-bias and unity (17th Karmapa, Spring Teachings Day 4)

“When others unreasonably repaid kindness with harm,
I’d think, “May the results all ripen on me,
To never be experienced by this person,”
And dedicated all the virtue to them.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.”

–8th Karmapa, 12th Verse from ‘Good Deeds’

“‘The downtrodden worry about their own suffering, but noble beings worry about the suffering of others.’ It is said.”

“Also, being non-sectarian means considering other lineages as the same as, if not better than, our own. We need to take a step back and look at the whole world. Even with the intention of preserving and spreading the Buddhist teachings throughout this world, if your thinking and outlook are old-fashioned, if you are unwilling to open your eyes and look at how the world is now, simply saying “I will spend innumerable eons achieving the state of Buddhahood” is just mere words. “

–17th Karmapa (Day 4, Spring Teachings)

On the fourth day of the Spring Teachings (video here), HH  17th Karmapa first explained the twelfth verse of the 8th Karmapa’s Good Deeds, which in terms of the commentary by the 8th Karmapa’s student, Sangye Peldrup, is in the section called ‘Taking Adversity As the Path’, and within that the sub section called  ‘Taking Harm as the Path’.

The first part of the teaching was about the extraordinary patience, love and compassion of the 8th Karmapa towards those who tried to ‘harm’ him.  Some people might think the 8th Karmapa’s text has nothing relevant to say to someone in the 21st Century and yet with a very recent public incident of a rich, famous actor reacting to someone joking about his wife with physical violence, one could say that this verse in particular still has very deep relevance. Many people felt that the man was justified in reacting violently to someone mocking his wife, yet if we are Buddhist practitioners (and even if we are not) this verse clearly explains the importance of not reacting and lashing back in retaliation. More than that though, it actually suggests taking the results of negative karmic action onto oneself and dedicating all the virtues to them!  The 17th Karmapa explained that, unlike ordinary, worldly people, this was what the 8th Karmapa did, when people both within and outside his inner circle sought to steal, attack and undermine him in many different ways.  Yet, instead of judging, blaming, punishing or seeking to retaliate towards those people, he viewed it as a result of his own previous negative karma and made aspirations that they never have to experience the result of their actions and dedicated his vritues to them.

The next section of the teachings was a consideration of four major qualities all the Karmapas had up to the 16th Karmapa:

  1. DHARMA LEADERS WHO SPREAD THE TEACHINGS FAR AND WIDE
  2. DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES AND TALENTS – CREATIVE INNOVATORS AND ARTISTS
  3. NOT INTERESTED IN WORLDLY POWER OR INFLUENCE
  4. UNBIASED AND NON-SECTARIAN TOWARDS THEIR OWN LINEAGE

Finally, the 17th Karmapa passionately spoke about how we should try and follow the Karmapas’ example of non-sectarian bias and lack of interest in power and politics, by taking our own steps and actions to bring about unity and harmony within all the different Buddhist schools.  That if we only maintain an interest in our monastery or lineage and fail to see the bigger picture, it is like putting a tasty fruit on a plate alone but never eating it, it quickly goes rotten. 

Music? Let’s Stay Together by Al Green and  Where is the Love? by Black-Eyed Peas ‘If you only have love for your own race, then you only leave space to discriminate…..can you practice what you preach and would you turn the other cheek?’

Compiled and transcribed by Adele Tomlin, 1st April 2022.

TRANSCRIPT

17th KARMAPA SPRING TEACHINGS DAY FOUR

 

TWELFTH VERSE OF ‘GOOD DEEDS’  – NEVER RETALIATING TO HARM-DOERS AND DEDICATING ONE’S MERITS

The 17th Karmapa first presented the twelfth verse and then explained the many difficulties the 8th Karmapa faced and how he dealt with them without retaliating or blaming those who harmed him:

“The way many of us think that the era in which the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje lived was a very fortunate time, so they wonder how is it possible that he would have so many difficulties, as then people had such respect and devotion for their gurus, unlike nowadays. They think it is impossible that people could have done those things towards him.

However, if we look at how it actually was, it is different from how we think it was. The reason is because at the early part of his life, there was a dispute about his recognition and so on. From then on, until he passed away there were a lot of difficulties and controversies. There were conflicts within the Kamtsang, within Kagyu, between other Tibetan Buddhist schools, among politicians and those with power, even though he had no wish to do so, he had no choice but to intervene, even though it was not easy to know what to say or how to act.

Not only that, Karmapa himself had taken care of many different people and had given them many things, like food, supplies, wealth and so on. These are people that really should have been grateful and should have thought that Mikyo Dorje was kind to them but many of the people he had aced for repaid his kindness with hostility or untrue accusations. Likewise, there were many people who had the ill intentions to do whatever they could to harm the Karmapa’s monasteries or even his own personal retinue.

The way the 8th Karmapa thought about such harmful and negative people, as is also explained in a text by Mikyo Dorje himself called Instructions on the Liberation Story of 8th Karmapa[i]. This text was written for his disciples in the future who may want to follow his example. There were many people within and outside his retinue who tried to create obstacles and harm, we can call them Maras. Mikyo Dorje’s way of thinking was that from beginningless samsara, due to karma, cause and effect, he had probably caused harm to them due to his own afflictions and so they were repaying that. So it was due to karma, cause and effect. Otherwise, if you were not harming anyone, then there is no way anyone would harm you in this lifetime. If there is no basis for harming, then it will not happen. So he thought,

‘I must have done something to them in the past, and therefore, they are now harming me.’

For that reason when others cause harm to us, what do we need to pay attention to?  We need to pay attention the need to purify our own being and turn our attentions inwards. We have a lot of bad karma from previous lives that will ripen on re-birth and they will obscure attaining the higher states of true excellence and liberation. So we need to purify these obscurations and negative actions, we need to strive to do that.  The best way to do that is that due to the previous karma we have accumulated, the compatible result of them now causing harm to us ripens, we need to make sure we do not react back again and cause them harm and then they harm us, then we harm then and so on. If we continue the cycle of harm like that it will be endless and the wheel of suffering will continue to spin. So even when they are harming us, we need to make sure the ripening of it does not fall back on the harm-doer again. What is the greatest method to do that? 

No matter how much harm this other person causes harm and obstacles  to us on the path, or to bring benefit to others, we need to see this as a way of accumulating merit both for the bodhisattva and for the mara/harm-doer. The more obstacles one has, the power of our merit becomes greater. If one does that, what is the benefit? The other being may cause harm because of their actions, however, there is also hope that this person may be able to achieve enlightenment quicker and that we can change the bad condition into a good cause. Then in actuality we will not be harmed, and for the other person there will not be such a bad ripening for them in the next life. That is the benefit.

In the scriptures taught by the Buddha, when Maras/demons make obstacles for the bodhisattvas, that is negative for those people. However, for the Bodhisattva, the situation is one in which the merit increases for both the bodhisattva and the mara/harm-doer. So, we need to see how much we can do this training in the vast Bodhisattva way. That is important.

That is the main point of what is said in these Instructions on Training in the Liberation Story of 8th Karmapa. So within his own life, he also put it into practice. Whether it was because he felt he needed to engage in pure conduct or something in his own character as to why he thought that way, some people have it in their basic character to be like that.  So those who harmed him or treated his kindness without gratitude and so on, he never gave up on them.

He never thought ‘I treated them well and they have done all these bad things, so therefore I will not treat them even as humans. If they die or get sick, so what? I do not care’. It is possible that people would give up on people like that. We give up on them right? However, Mikyo Dorje never gave up even on the people who treated them badly. In fact he had particular affection for them. He never thought ‘why are you treating me like this? I have done all this for you?’ We give people a hard time like that and blame and complain about people. He never said ‘I am right, and they are wrong.’ He never said that. He never did anything to make himself look good or how they were bad. Even if they were bad, he never told people they were bad and so on.  He not only did not do that, he also made aspirations that the person may not experience a ripening of that negative karma. So he made the aspiration that the negative karma not ripen on them but on him.  

To give an example, at the time of Mikyo Dorje there was a person called Lhatsa who Mikyo Dorje had made great aspirations for and treated very well and sent a lot of gifts too. He sent a large shipment of things to him and sent him many of the offerings he had got and sent him from Kham to Tsurphu monastery. He then caused a lot of problems, I do not know what he did, but he did lots of things that caused problems there. In the end, he died in a terrible way and a horrible death. When he heard he had such an awful death. When Mikyo Dorje was told this, he said ‘that poor guy, he had a hard time, he was controlled by his afflictions and it is understandable. That poor guy.’ He never said ‘served him right, he deserved it.’ He never derived any pleasure or joy from it, or was satisfied about it. He never said such insulting words at all. 

Not only that, when he heard of this person’s death, he thought that some people are so wrapped up in darkness of delusion and burning in fires of hatred and that they were like slaves to their afflictions and accumulated lots of bad karma, and expelled from the earth and in the future they would experience bad karma. He really suffered for them and worried about them, as if his heart was being pierced by a needle.  He worried about such people, thinking ‘what can I do to help them?’ He was always talking about it. He made aspirations to the gurus and the three jewels and he cried a lot. His attendant Sangye Peldrup probably saw it with his own eyes and recorded it. So even this example, we can see he did not just say these things but actually tried to do it in his own life. He was really an authentic teacher.”

8TH KARMAPA NEVER USED HIS WORLDLY AND POLITICAL POWER TO JUDGE AND PUNISH HARM-DOERS
8th Karmapa statue at a stupa

“If we think about the 8th Karmapa, he was not only a qualified well-known lama, we don’t need to talk too much about that, but in worldly terms he also had the authority to act as the leader and judge of the Karma Kagyu Great Encampment. At that time, the influence of the great encampment was not small, it was very influential.  It was an organization or community that had influence all over Tibet. So he had power and legal authority to act as a judge. When people didn’t listen to him, or when they became proud and arrogant or acted wrongly, he could have made an order and had them punished. There were physical punishments, like executing them or putting them in prison, he had that ability and power. Unlike these days, great lamas have no real secular authority.  We need to understand it was very different then. He could have punished those people and been really strict and had strict rules and laws and if he wanted to be really fierce in doing that, he could have been.  People might have then thought, ‘wow what a great lama’ and he could have become popular with the people.

But he did not act like that, he only thought about the people who had harmed him and how he could help them. If they made confession with the four powers and so on, that would be great. If he had a chance to say that to him, he would say that. He never tried to punish them or make problems for them. When you punish someone it causes suffering to that other person right? This shows that he was only thinking about others feelings and their happiness. This shows he was a teacher with a great mind, who was never biased or sectarian or had hatred for another being. He only thought about the needs of other sentient beings and had affection for them. Even though he did not do that, his fame and merit spread widely.”

‘STOPPED FROM VISITING THE JOWO STATUE IN TIBET’: HOW OTHER SCHOOLS AND PEOPLE TRIED TO BLOCK THE 8TH KARMAPA FROM MEETING PEOPLE AND PREVENT HIS ACTIVITIES
The Jowo Rinpoche statue in Jokhang, Lhasa Tibet

“People from the other Tibetan Buddhist schools became worried and could not understand why his activities and renown were spreading so widely. They felt he was a danger to them and got jealous and resentful about it. They didn’t like him because of that. For that reason, people from different lineages and schools would accuse him of things he had not done and so on, they would try and prevent people from going to see him when they went to see him. So when people came to see him, those from other schools would try to stop people having audiences with them. They would say the public cannot meet him and so on. This has happened to me in my own lifetime, so I know what it feels like. They did whatever they could to harm him.

He spent a lot of time in Kham and it was not until he was 33 years old that he went to central Tibet. I do not know for sure. At that time, he wanted to see the Jowo Shakyamuni statue. It is one of the most famous for the Tibetans, right? We all want to go and see that statue at least once, we all have that wish. Mikyo Dorje was unable to see the statue, even if he wanted to because if he went to Lhasa, the other schools and people would make problems for him if he did and wanted to stop him.  So he was unable to see the statue that everyone else in Tibet could see. At that time, people thought that if he went to see the Jowo and make prayers there would be no invasions, or famine or war, that it would be very beneficial for Tibet. However, at that time, Mikyo Dorje was unable to go there and see the Jowo statue. Whether he was unable to see it in his whole life, is not certain, but at that time he was unable to see the statue. “

THE GIFT OF SULPU MONASTERY FROM JE PHAGMODRUPA THAT HE WAS STOPPED HIM FROM VISITING

“When the 8th Karmapa reached the age of 40, he lived until he was 48 years old, there was someone called the Lord of Phagdru, he was like a King of Tibet. He may not have been the King at the time, but may have been the King later.  He went to Sulpu place and created a monastery there and planned to give it to the Karmapa and invited him there. The 8th Karmapa told him ‘I cannot administer this monastery’, and he insisted he could not do that. Yet the Lord of Phagdru was the highest Lord in Tibet at that time, he insisted and the 8th Karmapa was unable to say no and so he went there.

Image and words from Day 4, Spring Teachings by 17th Karmapa

This is a photo of the ruins left there. At the time of Je Tsongkhapa, there were six great monasteries in central Tibet, that were places for the study of Buddhism, Ganden, Chomolung and Sulpu was one of the six great monasteries at that time. Later, it came under the control of the Je Phagdrug and he made a monastery and offered it to Mikyo Dorje. So now all you can see are these ruins.

In any case when he went to Sulpu Monastery, there were all the sangha members of all the different schools and they were really unhappy. They thought if he comes here, he will take away our places and followers, they said ‘he is really an emanation of the Maras, he might be called Karmapa but he is really an emanation of a Mara.’ So they told people not to meet him and tried to stop him and carried weapons to do so. That was another problematic event that happened.  ‘The downtrodden worry about their own suffering, but noble beings worry about the suffering of others.’ It is said.”

8TH KARMAPA RETURNING HARM WITH LOVE AND COMPASSION AND DEDICATING HIS VIRTUES TO THEM

“This is how the 8th Karmapa thought, he never lost his loving attitude to hostile people who caused him harm. No matter what unreasonable things they did, he never gave up on them and considered them with love. He also considered them to be suitable people others should make offerings to and give sustenance. He wondered how people could act in such ways, it is so terrible. Perhaps they cannot see the pure conduct of the masters, but it is understandable too.

In the degenerate age, the maras, ghosts and spirits who do not like the good or the Dharma can have a great influence on others. They can possess people and see who is the most powerful or influential and they see if they can find an opportunity to change their way of thinking into evil and bad. We cannot see it with our eyes, but actually, these spirits and demons go to such people and see how they can use them. So because of that, as well as the fact that they have been accumulating negative karma since beginningless time, this mass of conditions all come together like that and these beings cause harm to beings and teachings. Yet they have no choice. They cannot be blamed. They are controlled by negative karma and afflictions. He never thought, ‘they are treating me badly’. He never thought that.

In order to prevent that sequence of negative acts, the 8th Karmapa did whatever he could to stop it and eliminate their afflictions. He didn’t go to places where there was conflict and tried his best to stop such actions. He didn’t go to places where there were lots of his students and activities because if he stayed there he would get lots of offerings and respect and he felt this was not good. So he went off to isolated places, as I said before. He prayed that all the ripening of their actions would ripen on him and all the virtues he accumulated himself to all the evil, threatening beings. So he never thought I am good and have great intentions and they are bad and blame them and so on. He would instead dedicate all his virtues to them.

In his lifetime, the 8th Karmapa had done many good deeds and one of these was that when others harmed him he would pray that their negative result would ripen on himself and dedicate his merits to them.  As I mentioned earlier, during the 8th Karmapa’s lifetime  there were many conflicts and difficult situations between the different schools but also within the Karma Kamtsang and Kagyu lineages, the lamas, sponsors and followers and so on. If we look into what sparked these conflicts, the reasons are not recorded clearly in the histories. Even when they are referred to slightly, they do not give the whole picture, so it is difficult to understand. However, if we extrapolate from this, many of the situations were initially very minor and then many people exaggerated it and blamed each other, until it became a huge problem. That is how they arose. In any case, I am not going to say much about those disputes, even if I were going to say something, I think there is not much reason to speak about them.”

‘I AM JUST AN ORDINARY BEING AND DO NOT SEE MYSELF LIKE THE PREVIOUS KARMAPAS’ – 17th KARMAPA

“Generally, if I think about it as a teacher, it is a little bit different to how those of you listening might think about it. When I think about explaining the liberation story of 8th Karmapa, since I have the blessing of the title of Karmapa, I am not teaching proudly  thinking ‘I am one of the Karmapas’ and so on. I even have a doubt that I am the Karmapa, because when I think about the Gyalwang Karmapa, they have all that wisdom and power, yet I am just an ordinary being controlled by karma and the afflictions. That is how I am. For such a person to think they are the incarnation of one of the Buddhas, and I do not even have any suspicion that I might be so.

So when I teach about these stories, I see it more as me being a follower or student of the Karmapa. Some might think I might be teaching about the life of the 8th Karmapa to make myself look good and so on. If you think that way, then there is no point to me teaching this at all.  I think that if we follow the path of the body, speech and mind of the Gyalwang Karmapas and so we need to study as much as possible the liberation stories of the past Karmapas, and after having studied, then do as much as we can to practice that way. That is how I think about it. Perhaps you might be thinking incorrectly about that.”

COMMON (YET EXTRAORDINARY) CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GYALWANG KARMAPAS

“In any case, one good piece of fortune I have had is the opportunity to read the liberation stories of several Karmapas. If we think about the some of the common qualities of the Karmapas from the 1st until the 16th Karmapa there are several, but I would like to speak about three of these in particular today: 

  • DHARMA LEADERS WHO SPREAD THE TEACHINGS FAR AND WIDE

They worked really hard to spread the Dharma and teach it. This is very clear. For example, when the Karmapas was spreading the teachings, it was very skilful and they used many different methods to do so.  For example, on of their unique deeds was they never stayed in one place, they always travelled  in encampments and went all over Tibet and went to faraway places like China and Mongolia and India. They went to remote valleys and gave the faithful opportunities to see them and teach.

These days, even though in some places there is not even a single Kagyu monk or lama or even a monastery, but within some households, due to a long tradition, they recite the ‘Karmapa Khyenno’ mantra. The reason is because the Karmapa had gone to that place in the past and made a connection with people in that area. Because of that deep imprint he left there, even though there are no Kagyu monks and monasteries, naturally due to the history there is that influence and imprint that has still not disappeared. This shows that the Gyalwang Karmapas in terms of the Dharma spread it throughout many different regions and remote places and worked hard to do so and brought benefit to many areas.

  • DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES AND TALENTS – CREATIVE INNOVATORS AND ARTISTS

They all had the title Karmapa, but they had individual characters, some were peaceful and some more wrathful. They had their own preferences and things they liked. This shows that the tradition is not some unalive, old nepotistic tradition, where the ‘fathers cup is considered to be most precious’.  They were innovative and creative and did new things.

For example, the 8th Karmapa loved to study and read texts, he enjoyed discussing Dharma texts with others. He also liked sacred statues and other representations of body, speech and mind. Similarly,  if we look at his texts, his style of teaching and writing compared to that of others is different. It is unique.

Gendun Chophel’s Last Picture (1903-1951), from https://www.tibetanjournal.com/tibetan-scholar-gendun-chophel/

Some scholars say these days, that within Gendun Chophel’s commentary on Nagarjuna’s thought, there are many features of 8th Karmapa’s writing and teaching style.  We think that Gendun Chophel is a modern scholar from Tibet who had a highly developed intelligence, as someone who is inventive and innovative His most important and well-known work is the An Ornament to Nagarjuna’s Intent (klu grub dgongs rgyan)[ii]. In that text, his writing is very similar in style to the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje’s Chariot of the Dagpo Kagyu Siddhas[iii]. That is just one example.

Image: ‘An Ornament of the Thought of Nagarjuna Clarifying the Core of Madhyamaka’, by Gendun Chophel, Shang Shung Edition, 2006.

Another clear illustration is the 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje. He was very interested in art and writing poetry. In terms of art, he had a great interest in that. If we look at the style of his artworks, it was very unique and different . In any case, the different Karmapas were interested in many areas of knowledge and creation. They had broad-minded individuals. As a result, the Karmapas were not only able to spread Dharma throughout Tibet they were also able to bring development into the different areas.

  • NOT SEEKING WORLDLY POWER OR INFLUENCE UNBIASED AND NO SECTARIAN BIAS TOWARDS OTHER SCHOOLS AND LINEAGES

Another common characteristic was that they did not like having power or political influence. When I talk about power here, they did not even enjoy the administration of monasteries, such as Tsurphu. Forget about political power. The status of the Karmapa brought lots of power and influence, but they didn’t care for that much either. How do we know this? If we look at the liberation stories of the 8th and 9th Karmapa’s they didn’t really do much to maintain political power or influence, instead they went to remote places. So  what this shows us is that the various incarnations of the Karmapa had very little interest in power, not just politically but in temrs of monasteries or in the status of the Karmapa.

“Generally, when thinking about the incarnations of the Karmapas, they naturally became Kagyu gurus and their main activity  and responsibility was to uphold teach and spread the Kagyu lineage. But their activity was not a biased school and only about the Kagyu lineage.  in the Bright Lamp of the Teachings by the Fourteenth Ganden Tripa Rinchen Öser, it is said that’ the Karmapas were revered everywhere throughtout China and Tibet.’ This is what he said. In actuality, up until theb10th karmapa if you look at their activity and power, they were like a guru for all of Tibet. They also had a broad-minded view about the Kagyu lineage and were no boased to their own school. They did not dislike the other schools and they saw there were reasons to have the different schools and even were favourable to the Bon tradition. This was the kind of gurus they were.  The Karmapas always unilaterally rejected sectarianism and bias towards the various schools and lineages.  This is not mere words, there are many reasons for saying this.”

EXAMPLES OF NON-SECTARIANISM OF THE KARMAPAS
  1. FIRST KARMAPA – TWO SACRED OBJECTS FROM INDIA GIVEN TO FIRST KARMAPA BY PATSAB LOTSAWA

One reason is this:  Patsab Lotsawa Nyima Drak (pa tshab nyi ma grags pa) (1055-1145?) [iv] went to India and then came back to Tibet. He brought some objects back with him. One of these objects was a painting showing all of the upholders of the Buddha’s teachings from the Buddha Shakyamuni to Bhikshu Simha, in Tibet we call it a thangka painting. The second object was a white conch said to be blown in Bodhgaya at the  time of Nagarjuna during the pujas. Giving these sacred objects to the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, Patsab Lotsawa told him, “Just as I am transmitting the Buddha’s teachings to you, so you must take the responsibility for teaching the entire teachings of the Buddha.” For this reason, the responsibility of Dusum Khyenpa was he should propagate and teach the Buddha’s teachings in general and not just from one lineage.

  • SECOND KARMAPA, KARMA PAKSHI

Similarly the Second Karmapa Mahasiddha Karma Pakshi had no sectarianism or bias for any sentient being or school. He compared his inclusive view to the sun shining in the sky.

“Like the sun in the sky,
May the being Rangjung Dorje 
Have nonsectarian auspiciousness.”
Through the activity of a bodhisattva, 
May the light of his compassion shine
In all directions like the full moon.
May there be the auspiciousness 
Of happiness in the world.”

Bodhicitta is having no bias toward any sentient being, whether they are close or far, like the light of the moon shines on all sentient beings without dividing them into factions or sects. It has not thought of shining on some and not others. The activity of the bodhisattva is like the light of compassion, shining in all directions, and all beings without any bias, and their wish is that there may be “the auspiciousness of happiness in the world”.

  • THIRD KARMAPA, RANGJUNG DORJE
3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje

In the documents of the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje and the Fifth Karmapa Dezhin Shekpa say that:

‘It is not a lineage of Indian Kings nor of Chinese emperors. In brief, it is a lineage that upholds the Buddha’s teachings.’

That shows it is not sectarian.  It is the Dagpo Kagyu lineage but it upholds the Buddha’s teachings. If we give too many names to things it can cause attachment and aversion to them.”

  • SEVENTH KARMAPA, CHODRAG GYATSO

The Seventh Karmapa Chodrak Gyatso wrote:

‘Here in Tibet, there are many different lineages, but generally they are the same in being Buddhist, Mahayana, and in particular Secret Mantra teachings.”

The main point is that we are all the same in being practitioners of the Buddha’s teachings. So whether one is Sakya, Jonang, Shaluwa, Bodongpa, Gelukpa, Radreng or Kadampa, Sangpuwa, Gampopa, Tsurphupa, Drikung, Taklung, Drukpa, and so forth, all of these are divided into different lineages but in actuality, they are merely different names.  However, if we think about them in terms of practicing the Dharma, we are the same. The reason they have different names is because there were different monasteries being founded. They are a little bit different in terms of daily prayers and hats in different regions and different ways of ringing the bells and so on. There are some minor differences in the external form. That does not mean they are different in terms of being the pure teachings of the Buddha, they are all the same in that respect.  So all of them are objects and authentic recipients of offerings for gathering the accumulation of merit.  

In his Letter to be Announced in all Kingdoms [v] the Seventh Karmapa also wrote,

“As the Karmapa, I do not distinguish between any factions in places, communities, students, teachings, dharma traditions, and so on.  I do not hold there to be a separate Karmapa’s tradition” or “teaching.”  The teachings of the Buddha are my teachings, they are the teachings of the Karmapa. There is no difference between the Buddha’s teachings and the teachings of the Karmapa. I take care of the teachings of the Buddha. All those who enter them enter the teachings of the Karmapa.”

Also, Mikyo Dorje gave detailed reasons why having sectarian views about the Buddha’s teachings is not appropriate in Instructions for the Lord of Kurapa and his Nephews. If you have the opportunity you can read these texts. He thought about these topics and gave many reasons for being non-sectarian in relation to the teachings.”

‘EXPANDING OUR NARROW OUTLOOK’ AND GOING BEYOND OUR OWN DHARMA CENTRES AND LINEAGES

“The main point of this day’s teachings is this: normally, we stay in our own monasteries that exist within specific dharma lineages. The influence and imprint of staying there has a strong effect on how we see things with our eyes and how we think about things with our mind.  We only really see our own monasteries and labrangs and don’t think too much about others at all.  When we talk about spreading the teachings, We really only consider how our own monasteries and our own labrangs will flourish and are unable to think about anything greater than that.  We think our own monasteries need to remain forever. We don’t see that things are changing and nor think about what we will do if they change.

Thus, we need to begin thinking more profoundly than we normally do. As it is said, if one needs eyes to look at others, then we need a mirror to look at ourselves. We have eyes to look at others with. but our eyes cannot look at ourselves, right? So if we want to look at ourselves we need to carry a mirror and look at ourselves in that. Likewise, if we want to see ourselves (if we don’t then it doesn’t matter) but if we want to do that, then if we look at people as an insider within our monastery and so on, then we cannot see the actual situation. We need to look at the situation as if we were people on the outside, not on the inside, and a look at our lineage, our monasteries, and our labrang. We need to expand the range of where we’re looking so that gradually we can expand our viewpoints, so we can see the entire picture.

We are now in the 21st century, we can no longer continue as we did before with our hands covering our eyes. Looking at the world, we see there are many different religions, and many genuine religions among them. There are also many pseudo religions that do all sorts of things. Christianity and Islam are among the largest religions in the world and many countries identify as being Christian or Muslim. However, there are now only a few countries that identify themselves as Buddhist.  Although Buddhism is one of the world’s major religions, if you compare its spread to other religions, there is a huge difference. Previously, there were more Buddhist countries than nowadays, and many of these countries are no longer Buddhist. This shows there has been a real decline in the Buddhist teachings.

There are many reasons why this has happened, if we consider some external factors, other religions use peaceful and violent ways to spread their religion throughout the world and strive hard to do that. So previously Buddhist countries have been converted to other religions.

Yet, the most significant factor contributing to Buddhism’s decline is an internal condition, specifically that there very few good connections between Buddhists. This is something we need to think about seriously. We continue to make many different distinctions such as Foundational and Mahayana, or Sutrayana and Vajrayana and say one is superior to the other. Likewise, we say Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Theravada Buddhism and make different divisions. Even within Tibet, there are five great lineages, and now it has become six. Then, within the Kagyu there are dozens of traditions, with its four elder and eight younger lineages and so on, there are many different divisions.  Even among those divisions people try to split off and say ‘I am that Kagyu’ and so on.

Originally, however, there were very few Buddhist lineages, but over time, they split into many smaller factions and became weaker and weaker. There is the danger that one day there won’t be anything left for anyone to see. For that reason, among Buddhists, in Tibetan Buddhism, and among the Kagyu lineages, we shouldn’t have this sectarianism of saying “us” and “them”.  

DON’T BE LIKE A TASTY FRUIT LEFT ON A SEPARATE PLATE TO ROT – INCREASE CONNECTION AND UNITY

“Even making a distinction is not good because when you make distinctions, naturally you start to have bias. We must take the first step ourselves; we cannot wait and never make any movement. Otherwise it’s like having a nice piece of fruit. You put it on a plate and leave it. What happens? It rots.  Once it is rotten then you cannot eat it. It is the same.  We have to start with our own monasteries and lineages. We have to increase our ideas of creating connections and unity, and expanding our idea of belonging, until we reach the belief that we’re the same inside and out. To understand the unity of Buddhism, it needs to come down to the idea that if one declines, we all decline; if one spreads, we all spread. Whether Buddhism declines or spreads therefore depends on this.

For example the USA is a powerful country, its citizens can hold their heads high and be confident anywhere. The reason is because it is powerful.  If an entire country is generally not doing so well, and people look down upon it, its citizens will be weaker and have less confidence. It is difficult for us to develop that kind of feeling when we stay within the environment of our own specific lineages.  We don’t develop that feeling.

However, one day when you go to a European country, or where Buddhism has not spread at all, forget about  Mahayana, Secret Mantrayana or disputes between Tibetan traditions, you may not even find a statue of the Buddha!  If you were to see a statue of the Buddha in such a place, you would be delighted! In Buddhist monasteries in the presence of the sangha it is very sacred and difficult to find. We take such things for granted, and then you will understand this.  In many countries around the world, there aren’t even any Buddhists, much less Kagyupas or Karma Kagyupas. Kagyupas are like rabbits with horns — they don’t exist!  And yet many people sit in their monasteries thinking, “The sky is Kagyu, the earth is Kagyu, everything is Kagyu.” Thinking this way is no better than being the frog in the well, unable to see the external world or the overall situation.

We think ‘we are great and ‘unrivalled’ and so on.  Some monastics sit there thinking that nothing will change, but there has been a lot of change in the world already. We are becoming like a global village, and a single, global, human community with increasingly greater connections than before. In a time of such development, if we stay there covering our eyes with our hands, we’re just deceiving ourselves. We have to face up to the situation and look at it with our eyes.

In terms of being Buddhist and bringing benefit to the Buddhist teachings, is our responsibility. Regardless of our lineage, we should see there is no difference, and we need to all respect one another and serve all in the same way. This is the foundation of our being Buddhist. It is our responsibility to take care of this great basis and capital that we have. This means we can be a follower of the Buddha and practice the Dharma as it’s taught. The Dharma means not having any bias in the teachings or towards people, or having any notion of greater or lesser. Forget about all sentient beings, we are not even able to give up our bias to individual people.

We should not let the kindness of the great masters of the past, who upheld and spread the teachings with such great effort, go to waste.  So it is important not to be biased.  Some think that being non-sectarian means not having our own standpoint or basis. That is not the meaning here. We each have our particular karmic connections and the lineage we have entered because of our karma, so it is our particular responsibility to serve our own particular lineage. It is extremely important to respect that.

Also, being non-sectarian means considering other lineages as the same as, if not better than, our own. We need to take a step back and look at the whole world. Even with the intention of preserving and spreading the Buddhist teachings throughout this world, if your thinking and outlook are old-fashioned, if you are unwilling to open your eyes and look at how the world is now, simply saying “I will spend innumerable eons achieving the state of Buddhahood” is just mere words. Forget about that, you are not even thinking about preserving the teaching and there is nothing that you will be able to accomplish. For these reasons, we need to train in the Liberation Stories of Mikyo Dorje and think about the faults that come from factionalism and bias.  There is no benefit to being biased, never mind the harm of being so.”


ENDNOTES

[i] Karma pa 08 mi bskyod rdo rje. “Karma pa mi bskyod rdo rjeʼi rnam thar la bslab paʼi khrid.” gSung ʼbum mi bskyod rdo rje, vol. 1, 2004, pp. 117–52. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW8039_212D03. In the colophon he says: zhes bya ba ‘di ni/ bdag nyid kyi sgo gsum gyi legs byas la rjes su dpags nas/ gzhan la phan par ‘gyur ba che long tsam rang dang rjes su mthun pa’i slob ma la sems rtse gcig tu dge ba’i rtsa ba la dmigs pa gtod pa’i ched du/ yid la sems shing nyams su len pa’i ched du brjod pa ‘di ni/ rang lo sum cu pa la sbyar ba/ phyis rang lo zhe gnyis pa’i dus dag par bcos nas bris pa’i dge ba’i rtsa ba ma rgan sems can thams cad rdzogs pa’i byang chub chen po thob par bya ba’i rgyur bsngo’o

[ii] This text by Gendun Chopel, was compiled from instructions he gave on Madhyamika shortly before he was imprisoned, and published after his death through the sponsorship of Dudjom Rinpoche. The text was compiled by the Nyingma lama Dawa Zangpo, who is therefore sometimes mentioned as the actual author. For a translation of the text, see Gendun Chophel, An Ornament of the Thought of Nāgārjuna Clarifying the Core of Madhyamaka, translated by Pema Wangjié and Jean Mulligan, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005, second revised edition 2006.

[iii] The English translation of this commentary on Chandrakirtis’ Entering the Middle Way has been translated and published in 2006 by Shambhala Publications, see here: https://www.shambhala.com/the-moon-of-wisdom-2384.html

[iv] Patsab Nyima Drak (pa tshab nyi ma grags pa) (1055-1145?) was an  important scholar and translator of the New Translation period, who is best known for the key role he played in establishing the Madhyamika Prasangika teachings in Tibet. He translated the most important texts of this tradition, including Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamaka-karika, Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Verses, and Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara.  Three commentary works are attributed to him, and they have recently been published in the “Selected Works of the Kadampas, volume II”. Patsab’s commentary on Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika seems to be the first Tibetan commentary on this work.

[v] Karma pa 07 chos grags rgya mtsho. “bKaʼ yig chen mo zhes pa rgyal khams kun tu sgrags rgyuʼi ʼjaʼ sa.” Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ʼbum phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 29, dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ʼjug khang, 2013, pp. 426–43. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), purl.bdrc.io/resource/MW3PD1288_42B3DD. [BDRC bdr:MW3PD1288_42B3DD]

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