17th Gyalwa Karmapa"Buddhism is a way of life through which we develop the qualities of our mind.
This way of life is very unusual, as it is a means to attain happiness without harming others.

THE 17th GYALWA KARMAPA

Teachings

 The Dharma Lineage

by HE Kunzig Shamarpa Rinpoche

Being a disciple of the Karma Kagyu Lineage is fortunate and uncommon because Karma Kagyu is one of the most precious lineages in Tibet. Initially, Marpa received this lineage from his guru, Naropa and brought it back from India to Tibet, thus laying the foundation of the Kagyupa Lineage in Tibet. Milarepa was the first master to receive its transmission in Tibet. To date, this lineage has spread to almost every corner of the world and everywhere well recognised and respected. Rinpoches are spreading its teachings to benefit beings.

It has been recorded way back to the Buddha's time in the "Samadhi Raja Sutra" that during the Dharma ending age, a mahasattva called Gampopa (a disciple of Milarepa) would be born in this world to help liberate sentient beings from their ignorance. Similarly, this sutra also clearly mentioned about Karmapa.

While still at the mahasattva stage, the Buddha Karmapa had pledged many vast and pure vows for the sake of all sentient beings. In this sutra, he is considered to have already reached the 10th bodhisattva bhumi. The purpose of his manifestation is to protect and uphold the Buddha Dharma.

This sutra also clearly mentioned that Gampopa would establish this lineage and pass to his disciple Karmapa who would then continue the lineage by his successive reincarnations. You are now a disciple of this lineage. This is indeed a very rare and precious opportunity, and you definitely do not want to waste it.

What is considered wasted then? The greatest waste is when you have a very opportunity to practice the Dharma and yet cannot obtain any progress from it. This is because the chance of coming in contact with the Dharma can be quickly destroyed by other Karma forces. We are beings afflicted by too much conflicting emotions and obscuration since our previous lives. We have feelings and the amount of karma committed by actions propelled by these feelings countless. These karma will lead to retribution millions of times. Among these countless 'Karma", the strongest one will eventually ripen, thus we will reap the results of these ripened karma one by one. For example, this life you are born as human and whatever you experience in the human realm, whether good or bad, originates from the ripening of your previous karma. The strongest karmic force which causes you to take rebirth in the human realm has ripened and that is why you are here as a human beings. But this will have an ending point. If in this life you do not aggressively accomplish your practice and accumulate merits, then the good karma of being a human will not continue and will finally end. Subsequently, another karmic cause which will normally be a negative one will ripen. This is due to the fact that you have already experienced the good karma of taking rebirth as a human being previously, and naturally what remains will most likely be bad karma.

If you reflect on this for five minutes, you will discover that we are afflicted all the time with too much emotions and desires. It is for sure that these emotions and desires will bring us bad karma which can destroy our chances of obtaining happiness. Therefore we should make use of this body to practice properly to reach a certain stage of accomplishment so that in future we can continue to be diligent in the Dharma.

The bodhisattva path is actually formed by the many opportunities available. You have many opportunities available. You have many opportunities to choose from in this life and there will to choose from in this life and there will definitely be as a result associated with the choice made. The choice and its karmic choice made. The choice and its karmic effect will form a cyclic chain of reactions. Accordingly, if you have initially chosen to develop bodhicitta, naturally you will have a breakthrough in your cultivation of bodhicitta and the bodhisattva path.

How to obtain the opportunity to help sentient beings then? This is actually determined by the bodhicitta and bodhisattva conducts of an individual. This opportunity basically arises from the generation of bodhicitta and the practice bodhisattva conducts. With these, you are able to help sentient beings spontaneously and because of helping sentient beings you will obtain even more good opportunities. This is a sort of benign cycle and interdependent development. The various merits accumulated from the bodhisattva conducts are our strongest power to destroy bad karma. Irrespective of the type of bad karma, the merit of a small bodhisattva conduct can destroy it. No matter how many bad deeds committed, the pure motivation of a bodhisattva conduct can purify them. Only with this we have the possibility of achieving realization and entering buddhafield.

Bad karma is extremely stubborn and strong. Nevertheless, it can be reduced gradually till extinction by merits accumulated from the practice of bodhicitta and bodhisattva conducts. In other words, your previous karma are samsaric karma and bodhicitta is the guide to the opposite of this, that is purified karma. Therefore, bad karma. Therefore, bad karma can be transformed and purified.

Anybody who has reached the first bhumi will mean that he or she has transcended the samsaric world and no longer be hindered by cyclic existence. Prior to this, the bodhisattva path can still be divided into five stages. In the second stage, the influence of bad karma on us become weak . At this juncture, practice will be very smooth and diligent and there will be a swift advancement in the practice of the bodhisattva path. This stage is however still very far from Buddhahood. But if we compare with ordinary beings, this is already a very high state of attainment. Therefore, it is very necessary that you should spend all your efforts to reach this stage in this very life. Only by this, the precious human body is not considered wasted. Of course, if you are very intelligent, virtuous and practice very diligently, it is very possible to complete these five stages within one lifetime. Even though you may not be so keen and skillful in your practice, you can still achieve considerable results by practicing gradually with a strong and irreversible bodhicitta mind.

The most important aspect of practice is its methods. You must practice with a correct and flawless method.

The enlightened practice of the Buddha is actually 'no Dharma to be taught' All the teachings serve merely as a guide to enlightenment and this is called the Buddha Dharma. When you have taken refuge and become a Buddhist, the Buddha is your supreme teacher, the Dharma becomes your path or guide and it will clearly show your direction. The various teachings of the Buddha are taught according to the capacities of the beings. Therefore, the so called Dharma is actually immeasurable and boundless. Each lineage holder is basically an enlightened being. They posses very profound knowledge and skillful means. For the convenience of the sentient beings, they compassionately arranged many of the profound teachings into orderly sets of graduated practices. In spite of this, whether the sentient beings themselves can get the correct practice and meet a qualified teacher or not are still the crucial factors. That is why I said that you are very lucky to become a disciple of Karma Kagyu Lineage.

Gampopa had compiled a set of teachings which is systematic and very easy to practice. Generally, there are very few people who can accept profound and complicated teachings. This is because people in general do not possess very strong virtuous roots. I am not purposely underestimating all people. This is the actual fact about all beings and this is also the reason why we become sentient beings. Anyway, you are already here to receive the correct teachings and also very fortunate that you are already here to receive the correct teachings and also very fortunate that you do not need to contemplate on some baseless philosophical matters. Please do not ever think of practicing to gain psychic power which enables oneself to fly, radiate lights or to become powerful. Many people might also wish to have the great powers of lineage masters like Tilopa, Naropa and Marpa after reading their autobiographies. In fact, these psychic powers will come naturally after you have achieved certain level of realization by following the teachings complied by the lineage masters and practice correctly based on instructions given by the masters. But you must understand this is only the secondary result of your practice.

On the path of Buddhahood, we need strong will power to achieve the first level of attainment. You must be a very determined practitioner. When you have achieved the second level of attainment, you can completely avoid from falling into the three lower realms. At this level, there will be major developments in your practice, but great determination is still needed. Perhaps somebody may say it is very difficult to attain Buddhahood like how hard you must practice …. Of course, this is correct but to you all this is too remote and difficult, isn't it? This is a different situation from what I am now saying. However, achieving a certain level of attainment this life is good enough, but I am to remind you that it is absolutely necessary to practice very hard even for this. Everybody must be brave and firm with their practice until the attainment is able to break through certain strong bondage.

The teachings of the Karma Kagyu Lineage and its clear, simple, profound and powerful practices are praised and respected by other schools.

The first stage of practice of this lineage is to take bodhicitta vows (bodhisattva vows) , next is to practice the four foundations. The four foundations are Full Prostration (refuge), Vajrasattva (confession), Mandala Offering (limitless generosity) and Guru Yoga Practice.

Guru Yoga Practice is a very important one. It enables us to obtain the supreme practice of Mahamudra directly. We can read from many Dharma texts teachings about meditation practice and these are just instructions on how to control thoughts. Through the Guru Yoga Practice, we are able to receive the powerful blessings of all the lineage masters, thus can directly lead us to the practice of Mahamudra.

Generally, the various practices of meditation are more or less quite similar to the Mahamudra meditation practice. With the Guru Yoga Practice, we do not need to rely on the traditional methods of meditation as guidance on our path. That is to say, Guru Yoga Practice is a short-cut which is simpler and more stable. You all do not need to practice the kind of hardships like Master Milarepa and also need to go through the kind of training received by Master Gampopa. Master Naropa had to spend great efforts and energy on the foundation practices. Now we do not need to tread the same path again. All these practices have already been arranged and simplified by the compassion of Master Gampopa. Why then Master Marpa did not do the same kind of simplification for Milarepa in his time ? Did he purposely try to create problems for Milarepa ? Of course not. To accomplish the practice, one has to pay great price for it. But now, we have so many simplified teachings to practice. It is all because of the strong and great vow made by Master Gampopa in the past, a great vow to benefit sentient beings. This is also the reason why Buddha Sakyamuni specially prophesied in the sutra about the coming of Gampopa.

The first lesson in Dharma practice is to have a correct understanding of the Dharma. Then, the next focal point is on how to practice successfully.

Dharma practice should emphasize on getting rid of all possible opportunities of making mistakes because you can make mistakes easily along the path without being aware of them.

For example, some meditators who have already gained considerable experience in meditation might think that they have already reached the peak and that is the end point of the practice. They might also grasp at the notion 'I have already reached the enlightened state!' These are quite common among some experienced meditators. Their pride will grow slowly such that they do not even want to follow instructions given by masters. Under this circumstance, the results from meditation will lead you away from the right path.

The focal point in the last stage is to increased the ability of oneself to avoid making mistakes, and to carry out suitable self-adjustment and corrections. These stages as mentioned by Master Gompopa are mainly involved with using our deluded thoughts as bases of practice. All deluded thoughts such as harmful desires and greed are in fact helpful factors in the process of our practice. Therefore applying methods to avoid deluded thoughts from arising as antidote may not be as suitable approach. In actual fact, the essence of these harmful desires, greed is wisdom. They can be transformed into wisdom, but it requires very advanced stage of practice to be able to achieve this. Therefore we need to practice the previous three stages continuously until we achieve certain attainment. Then only we seek further for higher states. Very good meditators can also have thoughts and desires arise and the mind immediately realizes their essences, then these thoughts and desires can be controlled. That is the reason why desires can be treated as beneficial for practice.

Ordinary beings do not have the capacity to understand the essence of desires, To them, desire is a delusion which is very real and solid. If we can really realize the nature of desires, then whether they are desires or delusions, they can be transformed into conditions which are helpful for attaining enlightenment. In Vajrayana, it is clearly stated that the nature of greed, harmful desires is Dharmakaya which is the supreme wisdom. In short, you have to understand the above fact in order to avoid making mistakes on the path of cultivation and meditation. You also need to have a correct view and attitude towards practicing the Dharma. From the above discussion, we can clearly understand why the practicing stages of the four foundation and Mahamudra as well as a correct motivation are so important in our practice.

By following these stages of practice, starting from the foundation practices, all mistakes and inappropriate conducts can be avoided. When you have obtained results from these foundation practices, it will lead you into the wisdom view of Mahamudra. Once you have the wisdom view of Mahamudra, you will be able to realizes that greed and desires are wisdom as well as Dharmakaya. At this point of time you will realizes that Mahamudra is in fact all pervading. At the present moment, Mahamudra is the teachings conferred by your masters and also a state that you hope to attain with diligent practice. Once you have reached that point, there are no more differences. The wisdom view of Mahamudra exists naturally. That is to say,

The existence of Mahamudra is the existence of nature and everything is in fact manifestation from this nature.

Therefore, there is no difference between the Bodhi nature of Mahamudra and nature of desires. At our present level, we perceive them as different such that the mind of Mahamudra is the mind of enlightenment whereas the mind of desires is the mind of samsara. But it is not like that if you view them based on their nature. For example, when you understand the nature of anger, anger itself if no more samsaric anger but wisdom. This wisdom in fact originates from the anger itself.

This is a very important teaching of the Karma Kagyu Lineage. It encompasses very profound inner meaning which cannot be represented by any language. This in fact is a special characteristic of Vajrayana. Beside this, the teachings of Vajrayana also have characteristics of simple and swift nature. It is definitely a practice which is easier and more convenient for sentient beings. It is also a complete practice without any faults. Similarly, the realization obtained from this practice is also complete Buddhahood. Therefore, when looking at the history of Tibetan Buddhism, you will discover that most of the enlightened masters are practitioners of the Karma Kagyu Lineage.

The practitioners of the Karma Kagyu Lineage emphasize the actual practice and are unwilling to spend a lot of time and energy on debates or to become professors and scholars.

Milarepa and Gampopa did not spend their energies on these things at all. All Buddhas and bodhisattvas also choose to take suitable reincarnations in order to continue this lineage. To all sentient beings and Dharma followers, this is in fact the most helpful and beneficial choice.

In fact, the tradition of reincarnation originated from the Karma Kagyu Lineage. 'Rinpoche' is just a title. All sentient beings have the experience of rebirth. Even a very tiny fly has to take rebirth from somewhere else. But it needs considerable ability to be able to have absolute power to control the process of rebirth. With this ability, one can then decide to reincarnate life according to one's choice. These beings are not ordinary beings because not everybody has the power to decide on a suitable rebirth.

Karma Kagyu Lineage has started this extraordinary tradition of reincarnation. It is because Karma Kagyu Lineage is so precious that many Buddhas and bodhisattvas, who have made great vows, take reincarnations in it in order to protect and uphold this Dharma Lineage. The first reincarnated master is Karmapa. Why does He reincarnate? It is because He wants to maintain this precious lineage so that it will not terminate due to disruption.

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