CREATING AMAZING SANDCASTLES WITH THE DIVINE EAR AND EYE: The vast activities and clairvoyances of the 8th Karmapa and the 7th autobiographical verse of ‘He Searched Thoroughly’ on wisdom and the definitive meaning (17th Karmapa, Spring 2023 teaching, Day 13, part 1)

“Usually, most people would say Mikyo Dorje was playing games like a child. All his attendants said he did things like a child, he did not seem like an adult, like a child playing a game. He would be doing things that looked like playing around but people would not actually see what he was doing. Later, when that work was done, they would say “when did he do that? How and when did he do such a huge work? We didn’t even see him engaging in it, but he finished it!” So they would be astonished and amazed and have that kind of feeling.”

—17th Karmapa (Day 13, part I)


On the last day 13 (part 1) of the Spring 2023 teaching, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa finished the teaching on the Excellent Deeds, but also taught about the 7th verse from the other autobiographical verses by 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje called He Searched Thoroughly. In this teaching, the 17th Karmapa spoke some more about the clairvoyant powers of 8th Karmapa (which he had discussed in the previous day), such as having the divine ear and divine eye and remembering previous lives, but how he never spoke himself about having these powers. For example, in one funny anecdote, the 17th Karmapa shared how the 8th Karmapa when he was only 20 years old knew when and where his next incarnation would be re-born, and wrote a song about it that he taught others to sing and perform, despite the concern and protest by one of his students, the 2nd Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa (1504-1566) that he was too young to be writing about passing away! For more on Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa and his book, Feast For Scholars, see here.

The 17th Karmapa also described how people were amazed at the 8th Karmapa’s vast and profound Dharma activities, even though he travelled extensively and had to do worldly activities as well. Seemingly he did things easily and effortlessly like a child playing, or making sandcastles, and never made a big show of what he was doing so that it was done people were amazed. He was like a ‘captain of a boat’ who did not travel the entire ocean of Dharma but took them to the places where they would get most benefit from. 

Finishing with Pawo Tsuglag’s explanation of the 7th Verse, the 17th Karmapa described how Mikyo Dorje never merely repeated the words of the great Indian masters on the Sutras and Tantras, but after studying and examining them well, brought his own independent thought to bear one them and explained them from his own analysis and thoughts. That the definitive and provisional meanings of Dharma could not be categorically be asserted independent of context, and there was a case for saying all Dharma teachings are definitive as the Buddha’s words are never deceptive. The transcript of the second half of the Day 13 teaching will be published soon.

Music? For the child-like Mikyo Dorje, How Did you Do It? Kung Fu Panda and Sand Castles by Elvis Presley, Make it Look Easy by Danger Trains, Look Easy by Robin Thicke. 

Compiled and written by Adele Tomlin, 22nd May 2023.

Transcript 17th Karmapa, Spring 2023 Teachings

Day 13 Part 1

“So this is the last day of the teaching and have to finish and conclude it. When I looked at it, I thought it really is difficult to immediately summarise everything and bring it to a close. Yet, I will try to do that.

Today, I will explain the rest of the praise He Searched Thoroughly (Namthar Dagmema). For the Excellent Deeds, I have completed the main part of the text but there is just a little bit more to do, so we will complete the main section of the 33 Excellent Deeds. Then there is the virtue in the end, the conclusion and how it was written, for whose sake and so on. So I will not speak about this today, later when there is time, I will speak about that again later.

Within the 33 Excellent Deeds, to remind you of where we are. The main practices are of the three types of individuals, and among these three we are discussing the path of the greater individual and how he trained in the precepts of the two types of bodhicitta. This one also has seven sub-topics, and the seventh is How the six clairvoyances gave him the ability to benefit others. Today, we are on the 7th of them and this is the activity/deed that it teaches. 

As I was saying the other day, we talk about ripening your own being and putting others aside.  In order to other beings, you first need to ripen your own being. Likewise, when it is ripened, you have to know what are the characteristics of someone being ripened? What does it mean to say ‘ripened’? Also, what are the stages of ripening in a being?  Likewise, you need to understand what Method and Prajna you need to ripen yourself. You need all these different methods. In order to be a teacher of beings and bring them to liberation and omniscience, you first of all have to understand what it means to ripen someone else, the stages and the methods. Thus, as I said yesterday, it is extremely important to accomplish the clairvoyances. I don’t need to say too much about this.

In general, Mikyo Dorje never showed any signs of having much clairvoyances, or said he had them, he never even tried to appear as if he had clairvoyance. However, if we think about his uncontrived, natural actions, and the way he did things normally, we could say that Mikyo Dorje must have had many of the clairvoyances described in the Sutras and treatises. As many of his students said. 

The Clairvoyance of the Divine Ear

For example, we talk about the clairvoyance of divine ear, to be able to know the languages of many beings, to be able to hear voices from many leagues away. This is the divine ear.  So Mikyo Dorje seems to have had this clairvoyance of the divine ear. Once there was a master called Nyima Tashi who went to see Mikyo Dorje and he said, “I can hear the sound of all the suffering tiny sentient beings on your body, wailing and suffering”. Lobpon Nyima Tashi was very surprised and he told someone else: “There is no-one like Gyalwang Mikyo Dorje, before I went to see him, there was some lice stuck to my clothes and I had someone take them off. When the lice were removed, I think Mikyo Dorje knew.” So when he went to see Mikyo Dorje and he said this, he thought the 8th Karmapa must have known.

Likewise, when Mikyo Dorje was reading a text, he had a lot of old texts in archaic Tibetan and also some Chinese words and Sanskrit, but he could understand perfectly these difficult terms and archaic phrases. Also, there were lots of local dialects all over Tibet, and he could understand many of these. He could hear them and immediately understand. Not only that, he could also converse in all these dialects. He was also very well-trained in Sanskrit and was able to teach Dharma in Sanskrit.

Clairvoyance of remembering his past lives
Geshe Potawa Potowa Rinchen Sal ( པོ་ཏོ་བ་རིན་ཆེན་གསལ་(1027-1105)

In terms of the clairvoyance of remembering his past lives, Mikyo Dorje remembered how he had been the great Indian master, Kamalashila. Likewise, he said he had also been the great master, Kyenag Dunpa, also the Kadampa Geshe Potowa. He remembered many lifetimes. Likewise, he also remembered how he had studied and done activities in Tsangpu in Tibet and other great Dharma mountain areas and great Tibetan monasteries. He did speak quite a lot about these, but he never said “this is my past life”. The main thing he said was that there in the life-stories of the previous incarnations of the Karmapas, they had the same mind stream as these great beings. For example, like Potowa was said to be the previous incarnation of 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. When he was talking about these topics, Mikyo Dorje never said, “this was my previous incarnation” but he speaks about them being the previous incarnations of the previous Karmapas, such as Potowa and the 1st Karmapa, but he never said “I am the incarnation of Potowa”. People take that understanding.

Generally, Mikyo Dorje himself he was not only able to speak about the previous incarnations of masters, but also of other beings’ previous lifetimes. So someone might think or have some recall that he must have been that in  a previous lifetimes and they would go and say to Mikyo Dorje, “I think you were this person in a previous life” and sometimes they would be exactly the same. That kind of situation arose a lot.

Clairvoyance of the divine eye
9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje – 8th Karmapa wrote a song in which he predicted the place where the 9th Karmapa would be born

Also, the clairvoyance of the divine eye, you can see beings in the bardo, and where they have been re-born after dying. Mikyo Dorje would say himself if a person died and they seemed to be in the bardo state, and they would often say that Mikyo Dorje saw they were in the bardo state.  For example, there was the Jamchen Tulku who it is said saw Mikyo Dorje coming to see him wearing all the same clothes as he normally wore when he had been alive. Many instances like that happened.

Mikyo Dorje himself would say ‘In my dream that happened.” He would not say “I had pure vision or clairvoyance”. But his attendants and people around him would say he saw people in the bardo and so on. So they would make a big deal about it, but Mikyo Dorje would never say that he had clairvoyances.

Not only that, when Mikyo Dorje was around 20-24 years old years old, predicted his future life, and when and where the 9th Karmapa would be born. These words have not been translated and so don’t need to recite them ourselves. [Karmapa then says the Tibetan words].

Anyway,  Mikyo Dorje said this in a song where the next incarnation would be born, and Mikyo Dorje predicted this in his 20s. The brief meaning is that these days, in the area of Treysho in Kham, these days we say Tresho, in a place called There was a self-arisen Jigten Wangchug in stone. It really is amazing figure and he said he would be reborn near that area, and said this in his 20s. Not only did he say it, when he was writing it, Pawo Tsuglag said “you are still young, so please do not make such predictions of next lifetime”. But Mikyo Dorje did not listen and so among his attendants, if there was someone who had a really good voice as a singer, he gathered many people with nice voices and taught them how to sing the song with the melody and they recited it together with the songs of other Kagyu masters. Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa again said to him: “you have written this prediction, but please do not publicise it”. But Mikyo Dorje did not listen and he had all his followers learn the song and sing it. This is another sign of him having the clairvoyance of the divine eye.”

Clairvoyance of knowing the extinction of defilements and teaching students with equanimity based on capacities and interests, not worldly power, wealth or service
8th Karmapa did not support favouritism or nepotism towards those who were in his close circle, such as his attendants, relatives and sponsors.

“There is also the clairvoyance of knowing the extinction of defilements, which is considered to be the highest kind of clairvoyance. This is mainly seeing whether students had the qualities of abandonment and realisation. even if they did not tell him they had those qualities, the Karmapa would be able to see it. He would know their level of experience, and the things to eliminate obstacles and enhance their practice. For example, when they have particular problems, he could give them pith instructions for that. So when they need to enhance their practice he was able to give them instructions at the time when they needed them. So he was able to give instructions appropriate for them. 

In brief, he was able to teach the individual followers the Dharma in accord with their interests and capacities. It was not like if someone was more powerful or richer he would give them more Dharma teachings, or wanting to mollify his sponsors and treat them well he gave them particular teachings and so on. Also, there were some people who would give a lot of service and respect, or there were people who spend a long time serving the Karmapa, and they were long time attendants and but he did not give them more instructions and so on. Instead he gave them Dharma instructions according to their individual interests and abilities.

In particular, the instructions on the secret mantra. If he knew they had the capability to learn the Vajrayana, prani, nadi and bindus, then if he was able to give them instruction he would be able to see they got the teachings and examine how well they got the teachings on them. He would know this very clearly. He would be able to give them empowerments, pith instructions and there would be no impediment to giving these teachings, always at the right time. 

In brief, as I just said, it was not a question of whether the person was wealthy, or higher or lower class, well behaved or not, or generous and offering service. The main thing he would teach them in ways to improve their intelligence, to change their minds.  He did not say things that would stir the students up more and would make them more incorrigible. But was able to calm them down and fit with their beings and help them become more pliable and gave them the instructions on ripening and liberation. There were those to whom he did not  teach much instructions at all, because it would not benefit them much. Sometimes, there are people who pretend to have great faith, or to be really learned, or to be very venerable, so this type of person comes primarily who are interested in status in this lifetime. This kind of people would go there. So he would give them whatever instructions or empowerment they wanted but he would not treat them very well, or spend a lot of time for them. 

Generally, when Mikyo Dorje was alive he himself realised the qualities of body speech and mind, but there were very few people who were able to take up and adopt those same qualities in their mind streams. Like a swan taking to water, there were few who could take his qualities of body, speech and mind like that. Generally, people would say how many empowerments, transmissions, how many instructions etc. they had, and who had the most empowerments etc. and they would say this is my root guru. Actually, there was not a huge interest in saying who was the great being, or who had the great example of being learned and good. Instead of that, really one should see the qualities in the guru’s body speech and mind as they are and try to gain the same qualities oneself. In order to develop such qualities depends mainly upon the level of how much your  intentions and actions are the same as the guru or not. So, the unmistaken way of serving the teacher if you are able to have that same mental state and intentions is dependent on the guru. If at that point, you would be able to sacrifice your own life, then what need is there to speak of possessions and you should not have any suspicions about how you should follow the guru.

8th Karmapa’s ability to do huge amounts of work with body, speech and mind with a playful child-like nature
Building sandcastles: the playful and child-like nature 8th Karmapa brought to his works and activities

In brief, Mikyo Dorje normally was always doing a lot of work. He had to give empowerments, and teachings, and sometimes go to meetings and meet great lamas, give audiences, write documents and declarations. If offerings were being made, he had to accept them. He had to engage in both Dharma and worldly activities, edit and proofread manuscripts, question and answers and do secret mantra practice, and also do ordinary things, like eat food and drink tea, sleep and so on. So he had a huge amount of activities.

If someone looked at it, he had way too much work. One would think that mentally and physically it would give him great difficulties. That he would feel a lot of pressure from it. However, Mikyo Dorje himself no matter how difficult it was, it never seemed like he was tired or exhausted. It was like his body and mind were really workable and healthy and his mind was very clear.

Usually, most people would say he was playing games like a child. All his attendants said he did things like a child, he did not seem like an adult, like a child playing a game. He would be doing things that looked like playing around but people would not actually see what he was doing. Later, when that work was done, they would say “when did he do that? How and when did he do such a huge work? We didn’t even see him engaging in it, but he finished it!” So they would be astonished and amazed and have that kind of feeling. He was always playing around like a child. Not like he was making  big show of assiduously doing huge amounts of work.  Then in a few days after it was done, everyone was totally amazed and did not see him doing it, and were very surprised and amazed when he did it. So this is how he displayed the activities of body.

In terms of his deeds of speech, he was always teaching Dharma and he really liked to teach Dharma. He spent a lot of time teaching, writing and debating the Sutras and their commentaries. If we look at what he did the feeling arises that “he must have done nothing else in his life but this.”

In particular, he liked to have conversations and was a social person. So he liked conversing with people, he liked to joke with them and pick on them and poke fun at them and their problems and was very direct in how he said it. The way it appeared, his words seemed like they were kind of strange or pointless, but actually were totally meaningful points in relation to Dharma. Whatever conversation he was having, he really hit the main critical point of what he wanted to say. He would point exactly and directly what your fault was. He would say such things whether Dharma or pith instructions, he would teach what should be done and what should be given up and excellent pith instructions; about how to uproot the eight worldly concerns and the ego-clinging and teach the virtues and peace and existence. So everything he said was like a pith and sacred instruction. That was his activity of speech.

In terms of his deeds of mind, he had great compassion for all beings, totally unbearable. Thus, he was willing to take on great sufferings and hardships and he thought about what he could do for sentient beings to benefit them,  and he would use his body, speech and mind tirelessly for the sake of other sentient beings. He never held back or hesitated to do so. As I said before, when he was teaching middle way, prajnaparamita and the secret mantra and so on, if you look at his level of knowing those subjects, you would think that he was only and always studying teachings of Sutra and Tantra.

For example, when you read his Collected Works there are a huge amount of texts. I am coming close to the age of 40, but when I look at what I’ve done, I do not think there is a single volume of works that I have written. Yet, by the time Mikyo Dorje had finished his 20s he had already written several volumes of works. It is not necessarily amazing that someone wrote volumes of works but more that what he wrote has a really essential point and meaning. Whether you think about it in terms of the language or the meaning, it is really distinctive. So we might think that Mikyo Dorje must have spent his entire life writing.

Also, when you look at 8th Karmapa’s liberation-stories, he went to Kham and Jang and other areas, sometimes Mon and Central Tibet, he went to many different places. When you look at that, he must have spent his entire lifetime just travelling the whole time. That is how it appears to us. Also, at that time, there were many great beings and important people and many came for audiences. Thus, what it shows us is that if we think about the six sessions day and night, or if we think at any time he was always without ever resting, he used his body, speech and mind for the sake of other sentient beings and sacrificed his life for them. So this is the way it seems to us.

Verse 7  – Transcendent patience toward non-arising phenomena and transcendent prajñā that distinguishes what is from what is not

Next, I will discuss Mikyo Dorje’s liberation-story Praise He Searched Thoroughly. Now in terms of this, we have spoken up to the sixth verse, so I will speak about the 7th, 8th and 9th verses now. 

According to the 5th Zhamar, Konchog Yenlag’s Annotated Commentary  on this, it teaches the transcendent patience towards non-arising phenomena and transcendent prajñā that distinguishes what is from what is not. First, to give a brief explanation of the literal meaning according to the 5th Zhamar, I will show you. When it says he meditated impartially (zuwor) that means without falling into the extreme of deceit and so on. Resting in equipoise, because of that he is able to understand what is the distinction between the expedient meaning and definitive meaning. He had the prajñā/wisdom that could distinguish what these two meanings were. Because he developed such prajñā, instead of ‘chasing other people’s nonsense’, instead of listening to what others’ say, “this lama said this and that”, instead of parroting people and repeating them, he would explain the exalted and unelaborated definitive meaning. He would explain this to others, so to him I pray. So here it is talking about transcendent patience for non-arisen phenomena.  And also the prajñā that distinguishes what is from what is not. So this is what is primarily being taught in these verses. 

The 7th Verse according to Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa – like a Captain of a boat, no need to traverse the entire ocean

Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa also spoke about the 7th stanza in his Feast for Scholars, which has a biography of Mikyo Dorje, which this is primarily combined with the liberation-story He Searched Thoroughly. When it gets to the 7th stanza, Pawo gives a commentary on the meaning of it. What he says is that the 7th verse teaches the standard of comprehending all the varieties of Dharma without relying on others That Mikyo Dorje understood all the different types of Dharma taught without depending upon others but instead through his own intelligence he had mastered them and developed full understanding of them.

For example, if you want to sail a great ocean, first of all you have to have a captain, so in English it is Captain. Basically, the main person directing the ship, then some merchants and friends who have similar wishes and intentions, and they would all travel in the ship across the ocean. Do they travel the entire ocean? They do not. They only go to some areas of the ocean, and when they get there they get the jewels they can, and in this way they are able to benefit themselves and others at that time and place. They do not need to traverse the entire ocean. Do they take all the jewels in the ocean? They are not able to take them all, nor do they need to take them all. Likewise, the scriptures of the Buddha are like an ocean, immeasurable and infinite and in that ocean of the Buddhist scriptures, masters of each Buddhist school are able to take what is appropriate to their own share and matches their own minds. They take a few scriptures and come to comprehend those and teach them.  Are they able to learn all the words and meanings of the infinite ocean? They cannot. So they take a few that match their fortune and are compatible with their intelligence and they take those and practice those.

So someone like Mikyo Dorje, he understood this important point, whether it was Indian or Tibetan Buddhism,  and there have been many great masters in India and Tibet and other places, when they have determined what the Dharma is, as I said before, they take what is appropriate according to their own capabilities. They take a little bit of that and they teach their students. And they have them do listening, contemplation and meditation.

Mikyo Dorje understood this critical point, so Mikyo Dorje never himself said, “I am following this guru and this school” and he never had any clinging of thinking that way. He didn’t think “this is my own school, my tenets, or this is someone else’s school or tenets” or felt hostility to those. Instead he remained impartial and examined them very deeply.  Because of examining it so deeply, whether we talk about the twelve types of scriptures or the word meanings of all sutras, tantras and pith instructions, he could understand all of these.

Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa on the 7th Verse and the definitive and provisional meanings
Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa the author of Feast For Scholars (Khepai Gaton) and student of 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje

Mikyo Dorje also realised that all these different Dharma teachers come from the power of samādhi, all the different teachings come from the power of samādhi equipoise. The Buddha would sit in meditation and teach the Dharma. Or he would sit in meditation and bless other sentient beings so they could teach the Dharma. So when there is listening, contemplation of the scriptures and the other aspect of resting in the samadhis, that are the causes of the blessings. Likewise, he was able to teach the transcendent perfections, the presentations of the definitive (nge don) and expedient/provisional meaning (drang don), and think about it in terms of the unexcelled yogi, the six modes and so on. In any case, he taught the Dharma in accord with each student’s fortune and merit. Not that there was a single tenet or presentation, or a single school, saying this one is important and sacred and important.

For example, what is provisional for some students, would be definitive for others. What is provisional is some contexts is definitive in others. From one perspective, since all Dharma is said to be inexpressible, then everything becomes the provisional meaning because they are spoken. Yet, if you look at it from the other angle, the Buddha’s speech is never deceptive, and so all of the Dharma  can be the definitive truth, so they are also all definitive. So there is no contradiction to saying it is all definitive meaning and the ultimate truth. One cannot say unilaterally say  the meaning is this, or at that time only this is true and only this is the ultimate view. He never really taught like that.

Likewise, when Mikyo Dorje was explaining the Buddha’s intent, he gained the ability to comment independently on all the instructions as they are taught in the two traditions of India.  Generally, he was primarily teachings the scriptures according to how they were taught in the Indian sutras. However, in Tibet, what they normally do is repeat what the Indian masters said. But Mikyo Dorje did not do that. On the one hand, he did follow the scholars of the two traditions, but he did not merely repeat these old ancient scholars, or merely use their own words but used his own intelligence to engage in analysis and they have really powerful intelligence they say. When the presentation gets very powerful, and they engage in so much detail and pointless detail and some sort of view that no one discovered before. Some people say that Mikyo Dorje was not like that.   Whenever he was teachings sutras or tantras, he would give all the analysis of the great masters of India and Tibet and describe them. So that is how Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa explained the 7th Verse in Mikyo Dorje’s He Searched Thoroughly in his Feast for Scholars.”

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