“CALLING A BEGGAR A KING, DOES NOT MAKE THEM A KING”: 8th Karmapa on the fifth pāramitā of Dhyana and why he did not teach Mahāmudrā, or secret instructions to those who have not even entered the Dhyana meditation  (17th Karmapa Spring Teachings Day 4)

“There are many such teachers like that who say they have high level realisations, that they are a refuge and can protect many people, but the root of what produces suffering for ourselves and others, are the minds of attachment or aversion, and whether the afflictions have been pacified or not. If we want to pacify the afflictions, we must attain the mundane and supramundane Dhyanas/Samten. There is no choice but to achieve these meditations, and we need to recognise them.”

“For example, one can call a beggar by the name of a King, but they are still beggars. Whether they have that name or not, who will actually think they are a King? Merely having the name of a King, other than everyone finding it ridiculous and strange,  no one will think that beggar is a King. So there is no point in naming a beggar a King, there is no point in doing that. And  those who do not have the fortune to be able to develop Mahamudra, he did not teach them Mahamudra. Even if he taught them, it would be pointless. Because they do not have the fortune, capacity or preparations they need to develop Mahāmudrā meditation, and so it is too early to teach them Mahāmudrā.”

—17th Karmapa (Spring Teaching 2023, Day 3)


Here is the transcript of the Day Four teaching by HH 17th Karmapa, on the 8th Karmapa’s Excellent Deeds. Sadly, the 17th Karmapa cancelled the teachings for over one week, and he explained that he had been sick with some kind of flu. He did not seem very well in this teaching either, teaching the first session only (45 minutes). Yesterday, the Karmapa also again cancelled the teaching scheduled citing ill health.

This teaching considered the two paramitas of Meditative Absorption (Samten/Dhyana) and how he purified his own continuum. The 17th Karmapa discussed how Mikyo Dorje never showed great miracles or powers, and never even gave secret, special instructions on Mahamudra and Dzogchen and Secret Mantra, seemingly teaching on more general meditation practices. The reason for this was because if people have not even entered the Dhyana absorptions, it is totally pointless teaching such things. Comparing it to like calling a beggar a King, if someone does not have those realisations, no matter what they teach or call it, it is not Mahamudra.

The 17th Karmapa finished on the 27th Verse of the Excellent Deeds, stating that again if someone does not have the inner realisations, it is like a leper practising and showing others how to practice the antidote to that disease, the Garuda.  One cannot tame other people’s minds, or claim to tame others’ minds and lead them towards virtuous conduct and what is beneficial, if oneself has not correctly recognised what non-virtuous conduct is, and thus leads others unknowingly (and knowingly) towards virtuous conduct.

I sincerely request that we all make aspirations and recite White Tara for the health, and other obstacles the 17th Karmapa is facing to be eliminated speedily as possible. It is still beyond belief that the supreme head of the Karma Kagyu is still unable to return to India, and to visit and teach at the 16th Karmapa’s seat Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. 

Music? Don’t Leave Me High by Radiohead, He’s Mistra Know It All by Stevie Wonder, and Hypocrites by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 5th April 2022

Liberation-Story Verses written by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje
Transcript Spring Teachings 2023 by 17th Karmapa (Day Four)

“For a few days we were unable to have the teachings. I had some kind of flu, and if I hadn’t recovered from it well. So before the flu got bad, I thought it was better to rest before it got worse and worse. So I spent a little while resting. Also, there was the text for the five-deity Tara practice and it took a good amount of time to write that. So I was unable to give the teachings. I still do not feel 100 percent recovered, I feel a little strange. However, from today onwards we will continue with the teachings. As I said before, I have the strong intention to finish the discussion of Mikyo Dorje’s Autobiographical Verses by Mikyo Dorje.

The Spring teachings end on 8th April but we will continue with the teachings, and we have announced the new schedule for that. We will continue until the life-story is completed. We may change the times, now it is at 6.30pm Indian time, but we might change it to 6pm IST until we are finished with teachings, we will continue with it at 6.30 now because dinner is served at 5.30pm and otherwise they will not have enough time to eat.

5th Paramita – How he Trained in Dhyana (Verse 26 of the Excellent Deeds)

“Today, within the verses Excellent Deeds, I will speak about the 26th, 27th and 28th Excellent Deeds. If we discuss this according to Sangye Peldrup’s outline. We are in the section on the Greater Individual, and training in the two types of bodhicitta, which has seven sub-divisions, we are in the third, how he trained in the six paramitas. We have already discussed the 1st to the 4th. Now we will discuss the 5th one, How He Trained in Dhyana:

Among the thirty-three Deeds described, this is the 26th. Among Mikyo Dorje’s works there is a text called the Instructions on Training in his Liberation-Story. As I said before, in order to abandon what needs to be discarded and to develop the antidotes and completely discard the negativities of the obscurations, one has to meditate on patience, and arouse diligence. Arousing patience and diligence alone are not enough. One also needs the samadhis, dharanis and great gates of liberation and so on that the great Buddhas and bodhisattvas have in their beings. And be able to be absorbed in the Dhyanas and to have the wisdom/jñāna that knows all phenomena as they are, and as many as there are.

What impedes us from developing such qualities or what are obstacles to achieving those dhyanas, there are many different obscurations that prevent it. In order to eliminate all of them, it is important to be able to rest in the equipoise in the luminosity (osel) free of thoughts (namdag osel zhagpa).  In order to rest in that equipoise, since beginningless samsara there are many adverse factors that prevent us from achieving the workability of mind and body. To eliminate all these obscurations, we need to apply mindfulness, awareness and carefulness. We need to be able to increase the ones we have. We need to be diligent about our practice of the yoga of samadhi.

So, if we discuss this according to Sangye Peldrup’s commentary on the meaning. There are many people like this today, and during the time of Mikyo Dorje, and all the different countries including Tibet. A lot of people claim they have  a high level of realisation in their mind streams. Many people claim this. They say they are enlightened and extraordinary, and many people began to think of them as a real source of refuge, and they grant people refuge and protection. There are many such teachers like that. However, they say they have realisations, they pretend to have a high level, that they are a refuge and can protect many people, but the root of what produces suffering for ourselves and others, are the minds of attachment or aversion, and whether the afflictions have been pacified or not. If we want to pacify the afflictions, we must attain the mundane and supramundane Dhyanas/Samten. There is no choice but to achieve these meditations. We need to recognise them.”

Arrogant and proud teachers who say they have great realisations
Dhyana mudra

“In order to achieve those Dhyanas, we need to have the lesser, middling and greater antidotes to the afflictions of the lower realms and entities. This depends upon on the workability of mind, or Shamata. So, this is something those people who say they have higher realisation do not understand this very crucial point.  Not even knowing that point, they arrogantly say they have attained the Shamata of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Saying they have greater realisations than the gods, and they have the same realisations as Buddhas.

So they say such things as this, and they also say “I am completely free of the obscurations that impede that.” So a lot of people make a lot of noise saying things like this. There are many people boasting about it and being deceitful. The way Mikyo Dorje thought about people like these, that pretended they had realised a higher level, for him, this was really very painful to see this. For people to be charlatans to pretend they were something they were not, was painful. he did not like it at all. The reason why he didn’t like it, why he was so unhappy about it, is something we need to understand, right? The reason he was so unhappy about that, was not a question of him not liking the people. It was a question of the fact that they acted in such deceptive and harmful ways. The reason for that was

The worldly dhyanas cannot completely eliminate the afflictions but they can at least pacify the manifest afflictions. As long as one has the realisation of Dhyana then the manifest afflictions of attachment and aversion won’t arise, so it is helpful to that extent. But these many people who say they have higher realisation, forget about even supramundane dhyanas, they have not even developed the worldly dhyanas. They cannot even pacify the manifest afflictions but they are audacious enough to say they have the same realisation of absorption that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have.

For them to pretend they have that, it is impossible they could. If one is unable to block even the manifest afflictions, because of this, you will accumulate non-virtuous actions. The afflictions will happen and if you are unable to suppress them, then naturally you will accumulate non-virtuous actions. That makes it difficult to attain the states of gods and humans in the higher realms.

And if one is not able to do that, then where would one possibly attain the Dhyanas? To achieve those one must have the support for doing that, which is a god or human in the higher realms. It will be extremely difficult to attain those Dhyanas without that support. Mikyo Dorje  understood this crucial point. In order, to pacify the afflictions, even at the very least, the manifest afflictions, if you had the worldly Shamata/dhyana is very important. To develop that kind of samadhi, one needs to eliminate the adverse factors to it and achieve the harmonious factors for it, to have all the various causes complete. So one has to work very hard at this.”

Main adverse factor not seeing sensory pleasures as faults
Three poisons/main afflictions of samsara represented by a pig, hen and snake: Attachment, aversion and ignorance about nature of reality and self.

“When we look at adverse factors, it mainly comes from not seeing the sensory pleasures as faults or problems. That is the main impediment to achieving Shamatha. In order to abandon faults of attachment and aversion, one needs to look at the faults of the sensory pleasures being like poison, like an enemy. You need to be very assiduous with the practice of being free of desire and aversion.  You need to work very hard and be persistent at that. So, Mikyo Dorje himself, saw that the afflictions of attachment and aversion prevented him, and torpor and excitement, laziness and so on. He applied the antidotes of mindfulness, awareness, carefulness, conscience and so on, in order to purify all the contaminants that made his mind intractable. So he worked hard at that.

So at all times, Mikyo Dorje whomever he met or saw, he always had a sense of conscience and propriety, and he always put a stop to thoughts of the eight concerns and self-interest. He had a border and never allowed any thoughts of eight worldly concerns inside. He had a border between himself and such thoughts and self-interest,

He also had the intention to never fall away from Mahayana thoughts and actions. Mikyo Dorje himself, never had any thought of pride or showing off, saying “I am a great being and teacher.  I am the Karmapa.” He never acted like he was some great or impressive person. Instead he always associated with people who had little greed or hatred. These were the people he spent his time with.  He also didn’t like ignoring people. No matter what he did, he never had any pretence. Some people perform when they are in front of people, but there was none of that with Mikyo Dorje.

Likewise, in his own mind, he remained mindful and aware. He was always clear about what he was doing, he always embraced it with mindfulness and awareness. He was always able to accomplish what he was working on. When he turned his attention to something and performed an action, he never had any regret about it. Because if he put his attention to a task, then later whether it was finished or not, he never had any regret about it. No matter what he was doing he acted with mindfulness and awareness.  At all times, he spoke to his students in ways that inspired renunciation and the problems of samsara,  the suffering that beings’ experiences, the qualities of the three jewels. No matter what he did, he did what he could to make it a path of liberation. This is the example he showed and the instructions he gave.”

 Amazing Bodhicitta presence of 8th Karmapa
8th Karmapa with two of his main teachers

“One of the great distinguishing features of  Mikyo Dorje was he had very strong bodhicitta, whether it was the power of that or his strong loving compassion, any time, no matter how long he spent with someone, he was never annoyed by it. For use, when someone who comes and spends a few hours, people get bored or annoyed, we have that thought. When people would see MD, because of his power of love and compassion, no matter how long you spent in his presence, he never was displeased or annoyed. He was able to stop all afflictive thoughts, at that time he just stopped them. So people had that feeling too. Faith and enthusiasm for virtuous phenomena really increased greatly when you were with him. One was always feeling enthusiasm for Dharma and it occurred naturally. So that when he saw or spoke to other people, they never felt satisfied, they still wanted to see and hear him and be near him.

Therefore, whenever people went to see Mikyo Dorje, they became really delighted and excited about it. Then when they left his presence, they think I didn’t spend enough time and it went so quickly. And people felt like they missed him already.That was one of his special features.

As the great beings of the past have said, the focus of Mahayana is bodhicitta, so you focus when you are practising Dhyana, is bodhicitta. As they have said, when you met Mikyo Dorje you feel like he was always completely within, and never apart from bodhicitta, unwavering from it. That was the feeling you would get when you were with him. However, it is said in the many of the Buddha’s words and treatises, when you achieve the Dhyanas, you can achieve miraculous powers and clairvoyance and so on. But Mikyo Dorje never displayed such miraculous powers and clairvoyance. His students, Sangy Peldrup and others would say that, Mikyo Dorje never showed any miracles that anyone else couldn’t do. When people saw him from the outside, he looked the same as everyone else. He just seemed like a person on the lesser path of accumulation. One could tell he had bodhicitta, he had that well, but not any other great qualities such as, doing miraculous powers and clairvoyance. He never showed anything that would astound or amaze anyone else. People talk about the human qualities, the things that transcend worldly things, he did not show any of that. He was like an ordinary sentient being the way he appeared and acted. He did not fly in the sky or burrowing into the earth. He did not even pretend to have anything like that.

Many people came looking for Mikyo Dorje from different places and most were seeking the Dharma. So sometimes when they came to see him, they would ask him for teachings on the Prajnaparamita, on secret mantra or Mahamudra, there were a lot of people seeking the Dhyanas and so on. The Sutra practices, or the practices of the Sutra tradition, please give me those meditation instructions on Mahamudra. So, these people would ask please teach me Mahamudra, secret mantra and so on, but he would first teach everyone who came the pith instructions for a beginner to enter the Dhyanas, and he would teach these as the general teachings. He wouldn’t give them meditation instructions that no one else had. Such as on mahamudra, amazing instructions on secret mantra that no one else could teach.  He taught general meditation instructions based on his experiences. So some people would say, he teaches what is generally in the Sutras. He would teach in a way that mixed it with his own experience. He would not talk about the great Mahamudra and so on and because of that, some people criticised Mikyo Dorje for this. 

They would say that when you go to Mikyo Dorje and ask him to teach Mahamudra but he does not know how to teach Mahamudra meditation, he does not know how to show people how to meditate. And the reason he does not know how to teach meditation is because Mikyo Dorje never went to a guru who had realised Mahamudra and had never practised the meditation that determines or established the view. In brief, he did not go to a lama who practises Mahamudra and therefore, he does not know how to teach it.

Likewise, his experience and realisations, if there is someone who has realised Mahamudra then, they can talk about it very precisely in terms of experience and can give direct instructions. But Mikyo Dorje does not have experience so he did not teach precise meditation instructions. Because he did not teach these instructions, there were not many of his students who could touch rocks and break them in half, who can split the earth by just touching it. The reason there were not many because Mikyo Dorje himself does not have much of any practice of Mahamudra and so cannot teach it to anyone else, and his students do not have much realisation of Mahamudra.Many people who criticised him in such a way.”

No point calling a beggar a King, it is just a name – why Mikyo Dorje did not teach meditation on Mahamudra and Dzogchen
The Beggar King in the Danish game of Brus

“But Sangye Peldrup, author of the commentary, he says from one perspective what they are saying was true. You think Mikyo Dorje should do what other lamas do. Actually, forget about the actual31:38 ? so there are people who do not have the capacity even for the preparations of Dhyana, but there are people who many gurus still teach them Mahamudra, Dzogchen and other great practices and you think Mikyo Dorje should do the same thing? But he does not do as you wish? He does not teach the people who lack the capacity to practice the Dhyanas, the instructions on Mahamudra, or the view, or the instructions to such people. If he had taught it, it would be pointless and unnecessary.

For example, one can call a beggar by the name of a King, but they are still beggars. Whether they have that name or not, who will actually think they are a King. Merely having the name of a King, other than everyone finding it ridiculous and think strange,  no one will think that beggar is a King. So there is no point in naming a beggar a King, there is no point in doing that. So  those who do not have the fortune to be able to develop Mahamudra, he does not teach them Mahamudra. Even if he taught them, it would be pointless. Because they do not have the fortune or capacity or preparations they need, they don’t have all they need to develop Mahamudra meditation, and so it is too early to teach them Mahamudra. 

Like Sangye Peldrup himself, what he says is , I cannot say if Mikyo Dorje has achieved the higher realisations or not. Because I have no way of knowing if he has achieved the practice of Dhyana, because I do not have the experience, I do not know what it is like. So I cannot say whether he has or not. Some people say that if one has achieved the actual practices of the Dhyanas, then one would be able to produce miracles and clairvoyance, but I have never seen any signs of Mikyo Dorje having such miracles or clairvoyance.

But, for those who desire liberation and omniscience, I know he is someone who is able to teach the methods for developing them, the methods of Dhyana (Samten) and Prajna (sherab) for developing that. I am certain of this because no matter what method of the Mahayana he teaches, all the methods of the Mahayana are taught for the sake of achieving Buddhahood. The main aim is to bring all sentient beings to the state of Buddhahood, so he only teaches the focus on that. So, in order to achieve Buddhahood there has to be that focus on it, on all Mahayana Dharma. So whatever he taught, he only taught in order to bring all beings to Buddhahood. It is very clear that is all he did. Likewise, Mikyo Dorje was very well-versed in the stages of the path to achieve Buddhahood and omniscience, and he was always thinking about this. Therefore, it was definitely so, that Mikyo Dorje could teach the stages of the path to liberation and omniscience.” That is the discussion of Dhyana. 

After Dhyana is Prajna, which is the 6th Paramita. But it was already taught on the verse on ultimate bodhicitta, so it is not specifically taught here. So prajna, is not mentioned here.” 

27th Verse – How he trained in purifying his own continuum

“After that, the second point in how he trained in the precepts, there is the second sub-topic. The first was training in the six paramitas. We have finished that. How Mikyo Dorje trained in purifying his own continuum.  The root text for this, is:

This is the 27th of the 33 deeds. Now, if we discuss it according to how it is taught in Mikyo Dorje’s Instructions in Training on the Liberation-Story.

The practice of Dhyana, or the meditative yoga practice, for it to progress on the path to greater enlightenment depends mainly on seeing one’s own and other’s faults as being faults. Once one has recognised that a fault is a fault, then you need to uproot, or eradicate it completely. You need to strive hard at that. You should also then seek to see if the gurus you follow have the ability to protect you. If they have the qualities to protect you, if they do have the qualities, what are they that make them able to do so? If they lack them, why are they unable to protect you? What are the faults they have?

When you recognise what a fault is, then you recognise one’s own faults and qualities, then you if you need to benefit other beings, then you need to see what faults must be eliminated and the qualities one needs to develop. One needs to understand this. In order that the virtues that you and others have accumulated, in the interim, so they do not become wasted, one needs to dedicate them and rejoice in them. Also, purify oneself. One should also pay attention to this. One needs to be on the lookout to see if one is doing this or not.

So as I described above, merely having Dhyana is not enough, in order for it to become a cause of enlightenment, you need to ask is it going to benefit oneself, and decrease the faults you already had and increase the qualities you did not have. With the roots of  virtue one has, one needs to try and make them more powerful and stronger. So that the results of that can ripen visibly, in this very lifetime. So one has to have the thoughts and actions to accomplish this and be diligent about them. If one is going to engage in such thoughts and actions, one should not get too proud about it.  If one has just a few qualities and gets proud about them, or conceited, then what happens if the great Mara of satisfaction. If one is seized by this Mara of satisfaction, then that will block you from developing the qualities of the higher paths and levels. For that reason, one needs to always be examining the faults in one’s being and evaluating whether one has them or not. This is important.”

The importance of recognising non-virtue  – like a leper doing Garuda practice – without knowing non-virtue one cannot lead others to virtuous conduct
The Garuda known for being an antidote to Naga sicknesses

“If we discuss how this verse is spoken about in Sangye Peldrup’s commentary, these days, like our current days but also during time of Mikyo Dorje it was the same, whether we are talking about those who are serving the three jewels, or trying to bring defenceless mother sentient beings to protect them and bring them to happiness. There are many people who say they are unrivalled and great. So whether they are a guru or an ordinary being, there are quite a lot people like this. Actually, what such gurus do, in order to bring people to virtue, you first need to recognise its opposite, which is non-virtue. But they are unable to do that. They say they get a lot of people to accumulate the virtues, they say I am getting people to practice and accumulate merit and virtue. However, what these gurus actually do, because they do not recognise the opposite of virtue, they are not able to identify it clearly. 

The sign or reason of their not being able to do this, is that they say they are getting other people to be virtuous, and they say verbally, but when people have faith in them, or pay them respects they get them to do unvirtuous things. They encourage them to do unvirtuous actions because they themselves are unable to recognise that unvirtuous conduct is unvirtuous  As they are unable to recognise that, they have their students, the people who have faith in them. accumulate negative actions. This is because they do not see themselves what non-virtue is.

Someone like Mikyo Dorje, for example, if one has not tamed one’s own mind, but says they want to tame the minds of others, is someone who speaks arrogantly. For example, one is unable to think about anything than in the very shortest of terms, if one cannot even think about the sake of future lives, and only thinking about the pleasures of this lifetime. There are many who think like this and they seem to benefit others but the way they are acting is like teaching a leper to do a Garuda practice. There is the disease leprosy right? This is a Naga disease actually, the antidote for a Naga is a Garuda (Khyung). So we have many Garuda practices right? These are said to be antidotes to Naga illnesses but for someone who has leprosy practising Garuda practice, this is rather laughable. Because if you actually know the Garuda practice then how is it then one would have caught leprosy? First before one does the Garuda practice, one should cure oneself, and you cannot teach other people, if you teach other people to do Garuda practice, then you cannot do that if you cannot do it yourself, it is ridiculous. It is the same.

So these are just ways to exhaust oneself and are pointless things to do. If one is saying one is working to tame others’ minds, when one has not even tamed one’s own,  this is not only being overly bold but also, in actuality, it is a laughable way of speaking. 

I will leave it there today, as I am not feeling well and a little bit strange.”

Further reading/sources

Kagyu Mahāmudrā : origin of the term, distinction between Sūtra and Secret Mantra Mahāmudrā , and pith advice from Je Gampopa by 17th Karmapa

UNSUNG HEROINES, MOTHERS OF MAHĀMUDRĀ AND SOURCE OF SARAHA’S SONGS : Re-telling the (her)stories of the symbolic ‘arrow-maker’ Dakhenma, and the ‘radish-curry’ cook gurus of siddha, Saraha

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