HYPOCRITICAL ‘SPIRITUAL FOOLS’ AND HONEST ‘HERO YOGIS’: 8th Karmapa on pseudo-Dharma and pretender yogis, the importance of not breaching the lower vows, and of vast and enduring discipline, patience, and infinite effort (teaching by 17th Karmapa, Spring Teachings 2023, Day 3)

“Sometimes there are conflicts between the vows and have to make a choice, when that happens they say the one to choose is the higher vow [Vajrayana] and the lower one [Vinaya] is not the primary one, and this is often said. They misunderstand it and so engage in activities that ruin themselves and others.”

“If your enemies are delighted and your friends are weeping, that is a [good] sign you are being expelled from the ranks of people who work for this life. It is a sign that you have integrated Dharma into your being….Mikyo Dorje was delighted when people criticised him like that. When they said such things, for him it was a sign that one has integrated Dharma into one’s being.”

“Mikyo Dorje said, there are beginners, yogis, siddhas and Buddhas. So basically, one follows these levels gradually… It is not OK for a beginner to act like a yogi. For a yogi to do the practice one has to have the level and realisation of yoga, before that one cannot act like they are a yogi, or say: “I am a yogi”. Likewise, becoming a siddha or achieving accomplishment means when one has really achieved siddhi within one’s own being. If you don’t have such qualities of liberation and realisation, and do not have those siddhis, it is not OK to pretend to have the conduct of a siddha.”

“When they talk about practising the Dharma they think it is easy to do and to achieve a result. Some people think they need to subdue their enemies and protect their friends and then they get a bit tired doing things for this life. So they get a  tiny bit of wishing for liberation but not the actual wished for liberation from samsara. They get tired and so they go away for a few weeks staying in empty places or resorts. There are people who do that. That is not genuine renunciation seeking liberation.”

—17th Karmapa (Day3 , Spring Teachings 2023)


For April Fool’s Day today, am happy to offer an introduction and transcript of the third day of the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa’s teachings on 8th Karmapa’s Autobiographical Verses (video here). Sadly, the online teachings have been postponed for over one week now (without explanation), the latest announcement is they will commence again on 2nd April with a new schedule extending into April.

On the third day, the 17th Karmapa focused in particular, on three verses, that described the paramitas of discipline, patience and effort/diligence:

  1. Discipline

In terms of discipline, the 17th Karmapa explained how Mikyo Dorje taught that it was wrong, pointless and harmful for those with lower vows, who were unable to practice or gain realisations on that level, to then take up the conduct and practice of the higher vows of Secret Mantra Tantra. That doing so would lead to ruin to oneself and others and in the future lead to one being unable to be receptive to the Dharma teachings. That is was not alright to use as an excuse holding the higher vows to transgress the lower vows, until and unless one had higher level realisations and was able to ‘transform the perceptions/appearances of oneself and others’.

2. Patience

The 17th Karmapa, went on to explain patience, and explained how Bodhisattvas never became despondent or rejected sentient beings who were vicious or mean to them, or who didn’t show any respect or appreciation to them. That the nature of samsara is such that beings simply do not recognise if someone is helping them or not.

3. Effort/diligence

The Karmapa finished with a verse on diligence, or basically effort. Giving examples of how to attain full awakening, it is not like ordinary effort we make for worldly goals and objects. It is as if there were a library as big as the universe with billions of Buddhist texts in it. The kind of diligence that wants to read and study all those texts. Because being a Bodhisattva requires diligence that wants to benefit and liberate infinite, endless beings. That is why they are called Jangchub Sempawa, hero of awakened mind.

As most of this teaching focused on what genuine renunciation, practice, realisation and being a yogi or guru is not, as well as Mikyo Dorje’s innocent child-like and direct honesty, I have lightened it up with some funny cartoon images saying similar things.

May we all learn to maintain our ‘inner child’ and stay open and loving, despite others’ faults, and laugh at ourselves, ‘spiritual materialism’ and hypocrisy and attain an understanding of genuine Dharma, practice and full awakening!

Music? For the pseudo-yogis, ‘spiritual pretenders’ and April Fool’s, Everybody’s Fool by Evanescence, The Fool on the Hill by the Beatles,  I’m the Great Pretender by The Platters.  For never-ending great effort and enthusiasm, Hero by Mariah Carey, Maniac by Irene Cara and I was Just A Stupid Dog to Them by Nina Simone, “Just a stupid dog to them. Now, everything will change.”

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 31st March 2023.

17th Karmapa  (Day 3, Spring Teachings 2023)

“Today, I am speaking about the 23rd, 24th and 25th Excellent Deeds, according to the outline according to Sangye Peldrup’s commentary on the meaning of the text. Right now, we are discussing how Mikyo Dorje practised the path of the great individual which has three topics, and we are on the third topic: Training in the precepts has seven different sub-topics. We are on the first of those, there are six paramitas and so there are six sub-topics.  There are six sub-topics, but only five are here because the prajna is taught in the ultimate bodhicitta. Yesterday, I spoke about the first one, generosity. So, I will begin by talking about the second paramita today, which is discipline.

Discipline – 23rd Verse of Excellent Deeds

“For all actions such as offering and giving
To become causes of perfect Buddhahood
One must follow a path of excellent ways of virtue, and
Act in harmony with the discipline the Buddha taught.
I think of this as one of my excellent deeds.” 

This is the verse about training in the paramita of discipline, the 23rd of the excellent deeds. In Mikyo Dorje’s Collected Works there is a text called the Instructions in Training in Mikyo Dorje’s Liberation-Story. I thought I would first begin by speaking about the passages in that text related with that verse.

The main point here, as I said the other day, is that the basis for disputes, or the main cause for problems in the world are possessions, wealth and resources and so forth.  If you are completely free of attachment to these roots of the sensory pleasures, it is important  not to grasp them as having a self or as mine. If we are not free from seeing them as having an identity or as ‘mine’ then the fault about what happens is because of either getting, or not getting the material things we want. We have the desire of getting what we want, and if we do not get them, there is a danger that lust and hatred arise, and if they arise then all the faults come out of that. For that reason, as long as we have the wish to benefit other beings, with the intention to help other sentient beings, whenever there is the opportunity to do so, one should never in any situation seek your own physical or mental comfort and so on. Your own benefit in any way. Instead like those Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who are not under the control of others, one should never try to build oneself up and expect a response. Becoming like this is extremely important he says.

In order for this to happen, as I said before, it is important to have no attachment for sensory pleasures, and no attachment or fixation on them or consider them to be a self or be mine. If we can be free of such attachment, then whether we are practising the Bodhisattva discipline of refraining from misdeeds, or the gathering virtuous qualities, then we will be able to practice the perfect discipline of a bodhisattva. This is what it says in the Instructions in Training on the Liberation Story.”

Pseudo-generosity and making excuses for unethical conduct saying the higher vows take precedence 

“What is described in Sangye Peldrup’s commentary on the meaning of this verse, is that quite a lot of people seem to spend their time being generous and practising discipline. It seems like they spend their entire lives practising the roots of virtue. It seems like that, but when you actually look at it, is the way they are practising in accord with the Buddha Dharma? Are they able to practice without contradicting Dharma? No, they are not. They cannot practice like that. So they do not have the ability to practice the teachings without going against the Dharma.

So they make excuses and one of the excuses is that they have the three types of vows, we have vows of individual liberation, the Bodhisattva vows and the Secret Mantra vows. When we talk about how to keep them, when an individual has all three of them, how should we decide what to do and not to do, they say the qualities of the higher vows apply and they outshine any faults or offences of the lower vows. In other words, they say if you are unable to keep the lower vows but keep the higher vows, then that overwhelms the offences of the lower vows. There are many transgressions and prohibitions in the Vinaya the foundation vehicle, but if they do not turn away from them, they commit many violations and transgress their discipline.

What they say is that if there is a conflict in their three sets of vows, then the higher ones prevail. Sometimes there are conflicts between the vows and have to make a choice, when that happens they say the one to choose is the higher vow [Vajrayana] and the lower one [Vinaya] is not the primary one and this is often said. They misunderstand it and so engage in activities that ruin themselves and others.  This topic comes up in the discussion of the three vows and I do not need to say too much about it today.”

The three vows – Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana
Sakya Pandita who wrote a famous text called Explanation of the Three Vows

“In brief, the practice of the three vows, from one perspective is important for all us Buddhists and it is especially important in our Tibetan Buddhism. The reason for that is that Tibetan Buddhism is different than other lineages of Buddhism. Because we say that we practice the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana all without completely and without mistakes. When we try to practice all three without mistake, in the context of a single individual, there are some real points and issues about determining how to keep them and deciding what to do and not to do.

For that reason in Tibet, many great masters and scholars of the past, paid a lot of attention to the three vows. For example, the most well-known is the Explanation of the Three Vows by Sakya Pandita. Also, in Nyingma, there is a text on the Three Vows by Ngari Penchen. In the Gelugpa tradition, there is a text by Khedrub Je and in the Kagyu tradition we consider the three vows to be important. For example in the Taglung tradition there is the Taglung three vows considered a particular feature of the Taglung tradition. In the Kamtsang tradition, we also have texts on the three vows, such as the root texts and commentaries on the three vows.  When we read these, we can understand the masters of the past considered the three vows to be extremely important.

In particular, we need to recognise the essence of the three vows and there was a lot of discussion about what they were. There are some differences in the different traditions. We need to pay attention to this. Otherwise, we might say Tibetan Buddhism is very important and different from others. We practice the three vehicles and we speak about it very impressively but actually practising the three yanas, from the outside it looks like there are some real discordances in the practices. There are many divisions and conflicts between them. If we do not understand well the point behind this, then wrong views can develop.  and make incorrect choices about what we should do and not do. So to understand this is important.

Mikyo Dorje taught and gave vows appropriate to the level of the individual student

“If we think about Mikyo Dorje, is he had students who were able to bear the practice of the Vinaya vehicle so for them he taught them the practice of the vows of the Vinaya vehicle. There are also some students who were able to bear the burden of the Bodhisattva practice, and he taught them the Bodhisattva precepts of that vehicle. There were also some students who were very sharp and able to bear the burden of the Vajrayana teachings, he taught them the conduct of the Vajrayana that is taught in the Indian texts and the tantras and so on. In other words, he taught each individual according to the degree of their sharpness of faculties, the degree of their gathering the accumulations, the quality (good or bad) of the antidote in their beings were. So, he gave them the instructions on what to do and not to do and about the practice according to their level. He would not teach someone who was unable to keep the burden of the precepts of the Bodhisattva vow. He would not make them take the vow. If there was someone unable to keep the Vajrayana precepts, he would not say this is really important and you must practice it and give them the burden of practice to those who were unable to practice it.

The way he treated them was like a wise, loving mother raises her dear children. If you have a loving mother who has a lot of experience and intelligence, when she is raising her children, she is very gradual about it. At the beginning, the child cannot eat solid food, so she gives them milk, and then softer foods made with butter, and gradually introduces them to the foods that adults normally eat. It is not at the beginning. If you give an adult’s food to the baby at the start, the baby cannot digest it and there is a danger to that, right? Similarly, Mikyo Dorje taught according to the level  of the student.

Likewise, there were a few yogis who had the three sets of vows and could hold them all. Until they were able to transform their own or others’ perceptions, he did not allow them to have the lower vows and do the tantric conduct.  He did not allow them to engage in conduct that violates the other vows. When we taught about the highest vows, the Vajrayana, the tantric vows, until one is able to transform their and others’ perceptions, until they achieved superior realisation, he did not allow to do any conduct that permitted them to violate the lower vows. There was no question of them being able to transgress the lower vows because they have the higher vows, there was no question of that. Until they had the higher qualities and realisations, he did not allow them to engage in activities that allowed them to violate the lower vows.

So, in other words, one cannot use benefiting others as an excuse when one is unable to actually benefit others and thus prevented them from doing anything that would actually harm oneself and others. This is very clear and he speaks about it very forcefully in all the instructions he gives. When one says I am going to do something to benefit others and it is Buddha’s teachings and so on, and you use that as an excuse that then naturally harms oneself and others, or that naturally increases attachment and aversion, that is pointless and meaningless. Then to do various odd things to benefit others, to cover the earth and sky, and strong work like that, there is no point in doing that.”

Pretending or acting like a yogi or a siddha yet lacking genuine realisations and pure vows

“The 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje said, there are beginners, yogis, siddhas and Buddhas. So basically, one follows these levels gradually. If the ones at the lower stages, practice the conduct of the higher stages, there is a real danger it will become an obstacle to practice on the path. This is often said. It is not OK for a beginner to act like a yogi. For a yogi to do the practice one has to have the level and realisation of yoga, before that one cannot act like they are a yogi, or say: “I am a yogi”.

Likewise, becoming a siddha or achieving accomplishment means when one has really achieved siddhi within your own being. If you don’t have such qualities of liberation and realisation and pretend that you have those siddhis, then it is not OK to pretend to act like a siddha. If those on the lower levels before they have achieved the higher levels do the practice of the higher levels and the conduct, then it becomes an obstacle to their practice. Then they are unable to develop the qualities of higher levels in their practice but they pretend to do the conduct of the higher levels, it prevents them from progressing to the higher levels. So all those who want to practice, need to practice the view, meditation and conduct according to the level of their own being. So, Mikyo Dorje would instruct them in this way and guide them like that. He was very skilled in doing so, and took a great interest in it.

Also, there is no point trying to do things you are unable to do. Keep all the vows, and teachings and trainings and so on. When we talk about mis practice, misteaching or misunderstanding. If you pretend to practice something even when unable to do that, then you are unable to keep the vows and unable to do the practice and because of that you have many violations of the precepts and vows. If this happens then this becomes incorrigible even in this life time or in future lives. Makes you into someone who will not be able to be receptive to the Dharma. Pretending that one can practice that one cannot is pointless. One should practice what one is able to practice gradually by stages. One needs to consider one’s own level and abilities and practice in that way.”

Not ‘one size fits all’ – teaching for different levels and abilities

“So, Mikyo Dorje, always guided his students with great love down the right path and the way he taught them was unmistaken and gradually according to their own abilities. If we ask what was the main reason, he taught like that? Generally, the great beings, what they understand when they consider things is whether something can really benefit you and others, and that benefit means giving up harming others and devoting oneself to benefiting others. That is the most helpful and beneficial thing. Giving up harming others and benefiting others is what counts.  Great beings understand this by their own direct experience that if you give up harming others and benefit others then this is definitely going to help you in this lifetime to achieve lasting happiness. That is their direct and certain experience.

As they have that understanding, they direct other people in the proper way because they have certainty and conviction, that they have no choice but to tell people about it. They have that certainty there is no chance to teach the wrong path or teach it incorrectly. Likewise, because of that direct certainty in their minds, there is no opportunity to deceive or to fool others in teaching, because they know that to achieve lasting benefit for oneself and others one has to give up harming others. They are certain about it and have experience of it in their own beings. There is no chance they would ever engage in scams or deceit in order to bring others to lasting happiness.”

No hypocrisy, deceit, or lying about intentions or conduct

“Therefore, whomever Mikyo Dorje met, he was never deceptive or acted on worldly concerns, or had any ties of self-interest. He never exhibited any of these.  Generally, people have a bit of hypocrisy. We pretend to be really good in front of people when we are some other places, we do bad and wrong things. This kind of hypocritical conduct happens with a lot of people.  Mikyo Dorje had no hypocrisy. He never behaved well in front of others and then privately, acted badly. Because of that, whether Mikyo Dorje was in front of an audience of hundreds of people, or all alone, there was no difference in how he behaved with his body, speech and mind. There was no hypocrisy or corruption. So no matter what he did with his body, speech and mind it was the same.

Therefore, treating some people well and some people not so well, like with a guru or an ordinary person, a good or a bad connection or not, if they were influential or significant, intimate or distant, friends or not, or how much affection they had, or enmity or resentment, he was no different to any of them. He was totally honest and straightforward with everyone. He had nothing to hide. So there was no reason to discriminate among people.

If you have something to hide, then you are going to hide and treat those whom you know better and those you don’t know you are going to have a different expression towards them. People you trust you will talk to them and people you don’t trust you will not say much to them.  There was none of that with Mikyo Dorje. Because of this, Mikyo Dorje never changed or disguised who he was and changed the way he acted with his body, speech and mind and never hid his intentions. Whatever he said he would say directly. Therefore, when someone else came to meet Mikyo Dorje, there was no reason to be careful or apprehensive about him because he was totally straightforward. So there was no need for people to be worried about offending or disturbing him. So when they met Mikyo Dorje they said, “this guru is really different from anyone else and they immediately started to feel faith in him.”

No ‘skeletons in the closet’ – the 8th Karmapa’s honesty about who he was

“Likewise, Mikyo Dorje did not hide his faults, mistakes or secrets. Most of us have things we need to hide from other people. We have things we want to keep private. This happens, right? Mikyo Dorje had nothing like that. Mikyo Dorje himself had very few afflictions, of greed or anger and aversion. He really understood that everything that appears was like the play of illusion, he realised that no matter what happened it was illusory. So he spent his time like a small child. If we looked at him from outside, he was like a child. Because children don’t really worry about how they look or pay much attention to it, they just go with the flow of how things appear. Like a little child he didn’t have a lot of attachment or aversion, like adults do. When Mikyo Dorje did things, he did them the same way a little child would do them. He did not have a lot of afflictions in his mind and he realised that it was all illusion, and so he spent his time acting in that way. 

Likewise, whoever in his entourage would meet him, high or low, he would never think : ‘Oh this one has done this unwholesome act or done this offence’, or some kind of mental or verbal resentment or bias. No one ever heard him say anything like that. For that reason, gap 58:58 the more you knew him the greater your belief and faith became.

As people often say in Tibet,  you can tell how a person is immediately. That the first time you meet them, your first impression of them is really important, right? This kind of mistake.  That when you see them, the immediate impression you get of them, you can basically know the person from that. We have these Tibetan sayings. Like “immediately on seeing is knowing”.  Another Tibetan saying is ‘the first word, best word’   Another saying is “After three days, one knows”. The idea is that you get to know them for three days and at that point, then you can know what the person is like, right? The first impression, or after three days, you can know what someone is like.  The more you got to know Mikyo Dorje, the more you became familiar with him you could have greater belief and faith in him, and everyone could see this and it was a common perception people had.” 

“Basically, in brief, Mikyo Dorje had no mistakes or regrets about his body, speech or mind, or anything to be ashamed about. So, he had no thoughts about, “I have to be careful, I have these things to hide, or suspicions”. If one thinks one needs to hide or be cautious about it, he had none like that at all. His students would say this. There are three aspects to a Buddha’s speech and Mikyo Dorje’s speech was in accordance with that.

Another feature of Mikyo Dorje’s liberation-story was that he had nothing to hide, or be suspicious about. It was obvious who he was in front of everyone. Also, he would say to people directly “this is your fault, this is an offence”, he would point out a fault is a fault and try to eliminate the fault,  and in that place, they need to accomplish this quality and get them to do accomplish that. As he was able to directly show students what the faults and qualities are. As he had nothing reproachable or nothing to hide, he was able to do that. if you are not like that, it is difficult to say that to people. Either you have to have no faults yourself, or either you have the fault of pretending you do not have any faults and are very arrogant and boastful and teach it.

Like Drugpa Kunleg once said, some people asked him: “Please teach us Dharma”. He responded that:

“Teaching Dharma is not easy. To teach Dharma either you have no faults, or you are really arrogant and teach it. For me, I am neither of those, so I will not teach the Dharma.”

You need to have the confidence that you have freed yourself of the afflictions that cause you to do unvirtuous actions. No matter how virtuous your intentions are, you have to do the virtuous conduct yourself. You need to do that so that virtuous qualities naturally increase, and you need to associate only with people practice virtue. This will naturally occur. Otherwise, if you have many faults, but at the same time, have many afflictions, then if you teach other people the antidotes how to sever the afflictions, this is fruitless activity.”

6th Verse from the Autobiography He Searched Thoroughly  – never abandoning virtue

“At this point, I will speak about the sixth stanza from the verse He Searched Thoroughly. I taught the fifth verse last year, so now we are at the sixth stanza, which reads:

The reason it is closely related is described in the commentary on it by the 5th Zhamarpa.  It is talking about the necessity of not giving in to and suppressing the afflictions, so we are talking about its relation to the Excellent Deeds

This Verse is difficult to understand, to give a gloss of the words, he never gave afflictions of evil thoughts a moment’s chance. So if they were to arise, he had built like a dam of loving kindness. The reasons why he says a dam or dyke. We have a Tibetan saying, before the flood comes you need to build a dam. Before the flood comes because once it has come you cannot build the dyke, before it arises, in order to prevent the danger, build a wall.  Never letting go of the good ways of virtue means like having a conscience, being modest and so on. He never gave up on them. He says you have to supplicate the spiritual friend who benefits others.

In more detail, the main structure of the biography of Mikyo Dorje found  in Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa’s Feast for Scholars is based on this text He Searched Thoroughly. What it says in Pawo Trengwa’s Feast for Scholars is that any action conditioned by motivation of the three poisons, will only bring a totally negative result. It is solely non-virtuous. Like greed, hatred, aversion, lust and so on. It cannot be virtuous. Even when that greed hatred and deluson are not obvious, if you do a virtuous act motivated by this life, you might not be able to see those negative emotions, but if the motivation is for this life, this is not true Dharma, but pseudo-Dharma.”

Building a ‘dam’ of antidotes to prevent a ‘flood’ of negative thoughts

“The Dharma means, actually at the very least, something for the sake of future lifetimes, if you are not thinking about the future lifetimes, then you are not practising Dharma. The third point is if you are practising virtue for a wish for peace for one’s own sake, They cannot be causes of virtue of the lasting state of Buddhahood but only the temporary nirvana of the listener and Pratekya Buddha. They cannot be a cause for Buddhahood, so in terms of these wrong or lesser intentions are encapsulated in this phrase, afflictions or evil thoughts`. Wrong intentions include those motivated by the three poisons and this lifetime. The inferior intention means those motivated by seeking peace for oneself.

Mikyo Dorje himself never let any such wrong or inferior intentions arise for an instant. For example, when  a Bodhisattva is on the verge of awakening to Buddhahood, the evil mara will make different emanations and try to provoke thoughts of lust, anger and malice and it is possible such thoughts will occur. Similarly, even when you are a Bodhisattva it is possible that wrong or afflicted thoughts may occur, but even if they occur then you need to repudiate them and distance oneself from them and abandon them with an antidote. The moment they arise you have to whack it down, recognise it and apply the antidote. You have to build the dam before the flood occurs, to prepare for the afflictions before they happen. so that in case, Mikyo Dorje had a thought he had the antidotes prepared and ready for them.

Also, he never gave up the ways of virtue of the three vows. He became a good teacher and friend to all sentient beings even if they don’t know him. Like with the buddha, on one side is a person who anointing hm with sandalwood and massaging him and the other side someone is trying to harm him with an axe. From the Buddha’s perspective there is no difference between these two and he has great equanimity to both these people. He has no thoughts of attachment or aversion to either of them. For people like us, we could not even use this example of someone coming at us with an axe, even if someone says something a little bit bad, you immediately get angry. If someone praises you then you immediately like it. For the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas there are no such thoughts of attachment and aversion they have great equanimity to both. They don’t think “Oh one is treating me well; I will pray for him. The other is treating me bad, so I will get rid of him.” No thoughts like that for Buddhas of Bodhisattvas. So whether an individual is helping or harming you, you try to benefit them and never do anything at all to harm them. 

Basically, he was never even neutral with body, speech and mind. He spent all his time doing only virtuous things, he did not waste his time on pointless things. You never saw him do that. He was always doing the ten Dharma practices or other virtuous activities. This is what is says in the 6th Stanza of He Searched Thoroughly.”

Patience – 24th Verse of the Excellent Deeds: tolerating and maintaining love and compassion for beings who harm us

The third of the six paramitas is how he trained in patience:

“This is the 24th Verse of the Excellent Deeds. Now, in Mikyo Dorje’s Instructions on his Liberation-Story it says that generally, no matter how much a Bodhisattva has helped others, they have no hope for themselves, or expectation that others will celebrate what they have done or any wish for a response. The reason for this lack of feeling is that all sentient beings by their nature are deluded, they are naturally intoxicated by the afflictions. Therefore, they do not realise what was done and how to repay it.  Because of this it is possible they might praise or criticise you. Likewise, there are also infinite ways, sentient beings harm themselves. They harm other people but they have harmed themselves since beginningless samsara. So, the more sentient beings harm the people the people who have helped  them, the more Bodhisattvas think for the sake of sentient beings who have harmed those who have helped them, they still think they must help sentient beings.

The reason is because for Bodhisattvas understand that from beginningless time have always behaved badly and viciously and have never gained even the slightest happiness. When Bodhisattvas think about it, they feel even greater compassion. There is no opportunity for them to feel anger or hatred because sentient beings act viciously. They understand how things are. So the more vicious and more harmful they act, the more they feel compassion for them and have the pure intention and bear the great burden for them. This is what is said in Mikyo Dorje’s own Instructions on his Liberation-Story

In Sangye Peldrup’s commentary on the meaning of the text, it says that beings have been controlled by their afflictions and no control over themselves and they commit various misdeeds. Especially in degenerate ages when the five degenerations are rampant. They are habituated to behaving badly, there are a lot of coarse afflictions that arise strongly in degenerate times. Therefore, no matter what action they do, they only behave wrongly and do what they should not do, and not do what they should. What they accomplish are the pleasures of samsara, but they call it by the name of spreading the Buddha’s teachings and so they have the misconception that the pleasure of samsara is spreading the teachings and there are quite a few people who are like this. So they put up with lots of difficulties to do this. When what people say about them is “Oh what a great lama, such fortitude who is really patient, who does innumerable hardships to spread the Buddha’s teachings.”

Mikyo Dorje said about his activity:

“Not matter what worldly activity you may do; it is difficult to do at first. It is possible you might accomplish some. Even if you do accomplish some, there are not that many pleasant results or of happiness, the way you expect or want. It is by nature suffering entirely.”

He saw the pleasures of samsara are suffering and unpleasant by nature. So he never thought they were good or worthwhile. He thought the opposite that serving the Buddha’s teachings is good in the beginning, middle and end. So in order to benefit others and to spread the teachings, he was patient to the point of even sacrificing his own life for the sake of teaching and spreading the Dharma to others.

So he had no attachment or craving for results in accomplishing virtue. Because he was patient in accomplishing the root of virtue of non-aversion, he was able to take others’ suffering onto himself. This is one of his special qualities. As he was very patient in accomplishing the root virtue of non-delusion, he was able to distinguish what was and what was not the path. Whether achieving the higher states or the path of true excellence of liberation. He clearly knew what was the right and what was the wrong path, and so was able to distinguish what was not. Because he had tasted the nectar and the flavour  of the Dharma of the Buddha’s teachings, he had uncontrollable and deep faith in the Dharma and in his being. He had great faith in the Dharma. For that reason, he discarded all non-Dharmic actions and tossed them away and never thought of accomplishing them.”

Being excluded and not fitting in with worldly people is a good sign

“Mikyo Dorje’s life was like the Buddhas in their never doing any non-Dharmic action. He was very strict and careful in practising what should be done according to the Dharma. He did not mix Dharma and non-Dharma. For that reason, many people said it is not right to do that. Sometimes it is better to do some worldly things. They said this with good motivation and wanting to help. What they would say to the Karmapa are things like: 

“You don’t know how to overcome your enemies, or protect your friends, or how to accumulate wealth, to gather a retinue of students, if someone insults you, you do not care about it. He never tried to placate them by saying you served me well. So people do bad things and harm you, but you never respond to eliminate their bad behaviour or punish them. You have no plans for the future. You don’t have any ideas about what you want to do in the future. Or think about what people have done in the past, and know who is good and bad and keep that in mind, but you don’t do that at all. It is like there is nothing kept in your mind. It is like completely empty, Like essence less, nothing there. Not like someone who can really think and has some oomph to themselves. If you continue like that in the future there won’t be anyone to help or serve you and you will end up all alone.”

Some people offered their opinions like that, maybe they were pretending to be respectful. Some people from Kham or Kongpo, or may other schools would come, who didn’t like him. Outsiders one might say, or other parties in English. They would say: “Mikyo Dorje, oh you cannot rely on him for Dharma or worldly matters. He says he is doing things in accord with the Dharma, but there is nothing you can count on or actually say there.” So a lot of people criticised him. But Mikyo Dorje never got upset or offended by it. If you give water to someone who is really thirsty, they are very elated right? With Mikyo Dorje, he was like that, that’s what he wanted when they criticised him. The reason was as Mikyo Dorje said: 

 “If your enemies are delighted and your friends are weeping. That is a [good] sign you are being expelled from the ranks of people who work for this life. It is a sign that you have integrated Dharma into your being.”

For that reason, when the sun is rising and the stars don’t have any light, as the sun rises the stars brightness lessens, the Buddha’s teachings are like the stars of sky at dawn, it is like a sign that you can help beings in the Dharma.2:02:59 So, he was delighted when people criticised him like that. When they said such things, for him it was a sign of having integrated Dharma into one’s being. He was happy about it. 

So when we think about Mikyo Dorje practising the Dharma, this does not mean people standing outside the door and looking ferocious. Anything or anyone that prevents you from practising the Dharma, that is a Mara right? So, sometimes the Maras appear as enemies, and sometimes the enemies are actually one’s friends.  It is not about whether it is an actual emanation or not is not the point. Sometimes obstacles can appear in the form of enemies or friends. Those who make obstacles for this lifetime and prevent one from practising the Dharma in this lifetime are like enemies and emanations of the Maras.  No matter how they appear, Mikyo Dorje never gave up on the Dharma.

This sort of an example is really amazing. Most of us would think, when we encounter some difficulties in the lifetime would think: “Oh I cannot do this, I am not able to do it and give up.” If you give up, then the Maras/obstacles have won and accomplished what they planned to do. No matter how many difficulties or suffering we don’t give up on Dharma or trying to benefit others. It may look on the outside that you are experiencing a lot of difficulties but actually you have won, you have defeated the Maras.  This example of patience, of not thinking anything of people who harm you and tolerating suffering is a sign of integrating the Dharma into your being.”

Diligence – 25th Verse Excellent Deeds: not returning harm with harm and remembering that negative actions of sentient beings are endless in samsara

Here, at this point, what it says in Mikyo Dorje’s Instructions on his Liberation-Story is, as I said before, when we are working for our own or others’ sake, in order to achieve Buddhahood, there are many Maras that impede or harm ourselves and others. So, we Bodhisattvas need to be able to bear and accept them. In order to achieve Buddhahood, one has to accept the Dharmas that harm oneself and prevent you. The reason you must be like this is that, if someone harms you, then you return that with harm, then your behaviour has become wrong. You need to benefit all sentient beings, but instead you harm them.

The reason for that is that if you are practising the Bodhisattva way you need to benefit beings, if you harm them you have got the Bodhisattva behaviour wrong. If you have that wrong then you the discipline of gathering the virtues of a Bodhisattva, or in terms of achieving the result of a perfect Buddha, then it can become like an enemy to one’s own practice. It is contradictory of keeping your Bodhisattva vows, and  of keeping the discipline and achieving the result of Buddhahood. It is like an enemy or opposition to that. It blocks keeping the Bodhisattva vows and blocks attaining Buddhahood.

So, there is no choice for a Bodhisattva but to be forbearing and patient with those who harm them and patient with those who impede them from achieving the Dharma. So when people are irritating, or vicious and have done horrible or negative things from beginningless time and are habituated to that, then beings who have bad intentions and wrong actions, just as there is no end to space, there is no end to vicious and terrible acts of sentient beings. Just as there is no end to such beings, then in order to benefit them, there is no end to the Bodhisattvas’ activities. In order to be able to engage in limitless activities, then the Bodhisattvas must know there is such infinite vicious and savage beings.

Knowing this about sentient beings,  they must have extreme levels of passion and enthusiasm to benefit sentient beings. Great diligence is like the fire at the end of a universe. You not only need the great fire of diligence but also understanding that the trivial mundane and supramundane pleasures of samsara and nirvana will not accomplish Buddhahood. That remaining relaxed is not sufficient.  You have to burn up the thicket/wood of laziness. Otherwise, if you want to stay relaxed and remain in solitude, there is no way that you can just stay there and help infinite beings. You  should not think anything of the difficulties. That is the fearlessness of being diligent. 

Now, if we speak about this in terms of  Sangye Peldrup’s commentary on the meaning.  These days, it is taught that there are many methods to achieve Buddhahood. In particular, in the secret mantra, it is said that for students of higher faculties can achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime. So these people understand the words but have a wrong understanding of the meaning of the words. What they think is they have many methods, so they do not need to go through much hardship. If we know the main point of the secret mantra, then we do not need to be diligent for a long time and we can awaken in a transcendent state of non-action (Jadrel). They believe these really impressive words and so on.  They imagine in that state of non-action they can achieve Buddhahood. Actually, the state of perfect Buddhahood is knowing the nature of all phenomena as they are, and as they appear. Knowing their nature and appearances and having unimpeded knowledge of this.  Because of that knowledge of all phenomena, then they are able to turn the wheel of Dharma without impediment, according to the faculties and dispositions of all sentient beings throughout space. The reason they have the power to turn the wheel of Dharma without impediment is because of that knowledge of all phenomena. There is that interconnection of cause and result. To achieve that interdependence of cause and result there has to be supreme diligence.  To achieve the big result, you have to have extremely great diligence/effort. It is not just enough to have that, you have to be able to continue it until you achieve complete and perfect Buddhahood. Without that, it is not possible to achieve Buddhahood.”

Mistaking ‘retreat’ from worldly problems and people as genuine renunciation

“In brief, there are many difficulties one has to go through to achieve perfect Buddhahood and to achieve perfect wisdom, but they do not understand this.  When they talk about practising the Dharma, they think it is easy to do and easy to achieve a result. Some people think they need to subdue their enemies and protect their friends and then they get a bit tired doing things for this life. They find it annoying and irritating. So they get a  tiny bit of renunciation, wanting to emerge from samsara, but not actual renunciation needed for liberation. They get tired of worldly life, and so they go away for a few weeks staying in empty places or resorts. There are people who do that staying in retreat.

Some people think in order to get food to eat and clothes to wear, it is not always easy to do that, as you need to appease other people.  And when you are appeasing everyone, it is difficult. So even if they have barely adequate food and clothing, they are just given that, they feel content to just stay like that. They think they are undergoing austerities to achieve Buddhahood, some people praise themselves like that.

There are other people who don’t have any real wealth or prosperity in this lifetime at the beginning. As  they did not have it to begin with, they had nothing to give up, but instead they had difficulties in practising the three training and precepts. So instead, they imagine themselves to be yogis who practice non-action (Jadrel). In the beginning they don’t have the roots of wealth to give up and in worldly life, they have not given up anything either. However, as there were some complications in practising the three teachings and trainings, nothing that major but some problems, they give them up and imagine they are yogis practising non-action, and call/praise themselves Jadrel or Kusali.

There are some people who do not even understand a single point about what you should do and what you should not do in this lifetime, but they have heard that the clear, aware mind is the meaning of all the Buddhas of the three times, the ordinary mind (thamal gi shepa) , they say “that is the mind.” So they get misled by this clear, aware mind, and then they say: “I have realised the mind/intention of all the Buddhas. I have recognised the nature of mind. I have realised it. So I have nothing that I want, and I am free of any result to achieve. There is no need for me to be diligent anymore. Doing it that way, they speak impressively, arrogantly and really build themselves up.

The way Mikyo Dorje practised diligence was very different to the way these other people practised diligence. In actuality, they were not being diligent at all, in terms of practising the Buddha’s teachings, but it just seemed like it was diligence. Mikyo Dorje knew that in order to achieve Buddhahood, only having a little intention and excitement was not enough, having only a little diligence cannot achieve Buddhahood in a short time. In order to achieve Buddhahood, you need to have the vast, numerous causes, the means and the prajna. One cannot do accomplish it with just a partial manner and conditions and partial virtue. 

One has to think I wish to bring all sentient beings to the state of full awakening and unbearable love and pure intention. Not just for a few days or for a few months, it has to be until one achieves the essence of enlightenment and Buddhahood. So one needs to have great enthusiasm, excitement,  until one achieves that state. One needs the great diligence that never turns back. 

Likewise, the cause for achieving perfect Buddhahood is the vast accumulation of merit and wisdom. Also, the conditions of faith, longing and renunciation,  and these have to be infinite. Also, the virtue of non-attachment and no aversion, and no ignorance  and so on . If you do not accumulate these virtues in immeasurable amounts, then there is no way one can achieve Buddhahood. This kind of diligence is very different to how we normally are. It is vast. The great armor of diligence is unbreakable in any situation or time ever.”

Amount of time it takes to achieve Buddhahood according to Sutrayana and Vajrayana

Generally, whether we are talking about the sutras or the Secret Mantra, the methods for achieving Buddhahood, there is a duration it takes. How much effort and how long does it take to achieve full awakening?  When we speak about it, according to secret mantra, people of lesser faculties can be do it in 60 human lifetimes, if you do not breach the secret mantra vows. If you are practising, not just doing nothing, if you take that as the basis then it takes sixty lifetimes to achieve that. 

If you have slightly sharper faculties, then you can achieve it in sixteen lifetimes it is said. If you have extremely sharp faculties, you can achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime it is said, right?   This is the way it is taught in the secret mantra. 

According to prajnaparamita and the Sutras, the length it takes to achieve Buddhahood is very difficult. Three uncountable eons and that is really fast, for the Bodhisattvas of the highest faculties. That is the shortest period of time it takes for them. For the middling or least faculty Bodhisattvas, it takes them 37 or more uncountable eons to gather the two accumulations and achieve Buddhahood. Otherwise, it is not said you can achieve Buddhahood tomorrow or the next day.

In other words, in the Sutras, the quickest time you can achieve Buddhahood is three uncountable eons. In the Tantras, the quickest time, is one lifetime. However, if someone with the highest faculties thinks I must achieve Buddhahood, they have to be someone who has already gathered the accumulations. This means they already have all the causes and conditions, so the accumulations of merit and wisdom are already within their being from previous lifetimes. They must have gathered a great deal in previous lifetimes, that they do not need to work so hard in this lifetime to achieve Buddhahood. It does not mean someone who has never accumulated any of that in previous lifetimes and who has not assembled the causes and conditions to achieve Buddhahood in previous lifetimes, then they cannot just gather a few accumulations in this lifetime and achieve it. That is very difficult. One has to be of sharp faculties, and to do that then you need to have all the causes that make you have that. Without that, you will not have sharp faculties. In order to gain all the causes and conditions that produce sharp faculties. The cause for that is in previous lifetimes you must have gathered the accumulations, and have the virtue, merit and be suitable for the secret mantra. This is a very important point we need to understand. 

The necessity for vast and infinite effort and enthusiasm – like reading all the texts in an infinite library

“In brief, the main point is that achieving Buddhahood is not easy at all and you have to have a huge inconceivable merit and wisdom, so you have to have incredible diligence to do it. The diligence we normally talk about is not enough, one needs infinite diligence, huge and powerful diligence to do this. 

So what sort of diligence do you need to attain Buddhahood? To give an example or illustration, in  brief. If you have as many volumes of the Dharma that would fill the entire universe of the three realms like a library. And within this library it is filled with volumes of Dharma texts, would you be able to be diligent enough to understand the words and meanings of all these texts? If you do not, then you cannot achieve Buddhahood.

Even if you had such diligence, you should not think that is enough to achieve Buddhahood. Another example, in all the different infinite realms of the ten directions there are infinite sentient beings. From this world itself we can understand how many there are. So, not just this planet earth, but all the sentient beings in all the universes of the ten directions and think I will bring them all to happiness, and bliss and Buddhahood and make effort to bring them all the awakening,  are you able to generate that kind of diligence?  In this life, we help and benefit some people and that is difficult. For the Bodhisattvas they work to benefit beings, fulfil their desires and wherever they are and bring them to Buddhahood. In order to have that zest to do that, it is easy to say and talk about. One has to have a real enthusiasm and interest in it. Even just having that is not enough. 

Another reason why that is not enough is, as I said before, if the entire universe of the three thousand worlds was an entire library, thinking:” I am going to read every single work”, that sort of enthusiasm, that alone is not enough, you also need to have that effort until the ends of the Dharmic expanse and the ends of sentient beings. You need to be able to continue such effort without degeneration.

If we think about Mikyo Dorje, in Tibet at that time, there were hundreds of different philosophical texts and he studied them all. This would have been very difficult for most people, but Mikyo Dorje did not seem to have any difficulty studying that amount of texts. He also had tens of thousands of students, whom he led and instructed, and many of them did not have good conduct or had good intentions. However, he never seemed to be tired or fed up with them. He never let up in his diligence.

For others’ sake he also wrote many different texts and during that time he had many different obstacles and external harm-doers in doing that. No matter how many thousands of obstacles occurred, it never dampened his enthusiasm. These are just examples of Mikyo Dorje’s diligence and enthusiasm. We can take a lesson from his example, if we can train ourselves like that, then we ourselves gradually can have the necessary diligence for attaining Buddhahood. Then, we can develop it. 

The difference between an ordinary person and a hero Bodhisattva

It is difficult to develop such great diligence immediately though. In order to get such great diligence, then we need to become Bodhisattvas and that is not easy. We talk about the Bodhisattva as Jangchub Sempawa, pawo means ‘hero’ in English. Not everyone is a hero. A hero is someone very different from ordinary people, they are one in a thousand. Not everyone can be that, same with being a Bodhisattva, they have a courage and compassion and pure intention that is unlike anyone else. This is why they are called Bodhisattvas, ‘hero of the awakened mind’. That is not easy to become, and achieving Buddhahood is even less easy than that. So we need to gradually study and train in diligence. 

Even though it is difficult and not easy, we should also not become discouraged about it.  Thinking: “Oh this is too difficult, we ordinary people could not possibly do that.” If we think like that, it is laziness. That is the laziness of self-deprecation, and that is the worst of laziness. Actually, it is something you can accomplish.  We say that all sentient beings are able to achieve, or will achieve Buddhahood.  It means the same thing. All beings have the foundation for achieving Buddhahood.  We all have Buddha Nature present within the continuum of all sentient beings. The cause of Buddhahood is present in all beings. They are able to gather accumulations and purify negative actions. Thus, we all have the chance to achieve Buddhahood. Whether we are able to take that chance, depends on whether we do or not. If we don’t take the opportunity then one will not attain Buddhahood.

Whether we have Dharma or worldly plans, if you take the opportunities and you put effort into them, then whatever result you want, you can achieve it. For example, women’s rights, feminism and women’s liberation, or in particular, the situation of nuns and their ability to study the Dharma texts in the same way as monks. People need to take the opportunity, if we put effort into it, then we can achieve that chance. If we do not try or put effort into it, and wait for the opportunity to come to us. It will be difficult. So whether one is doing worldly or Dharma activity, you need to try and put effort into it and then you can accomplish it. It is important for us to know that. The state of Buddhahood is the exactly the same in that way.”











2 thoughts on “HYPOCRITICAL ‘SPIRITUAL FOOLS’ AND HONEST ‘HERO YOGIS’: 8th Karmapa on pseudo-Dharma and pretender yogis, the importance of not breaching the lower vows, and of vast and enduring discipline, patience, and infinite effort (teaching by 17th Karmapa, Spring Teachings 2023, Day 3)

  1. Just want to say thank you for your incredible tireless effort(s) to provide dharma practitioners with relevant, timely and wondrous teachings. It’s a gift. Thank you. Rhona Post

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