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.



An Interview with Khenpo Chodrak Rinpoche.


This is a concise and edited version of the original interview with the Ven. Khenpo Chodrak Rinpoche during his visit to Karma Kagyu Dharma Society, Kuala Lumpur.

Q : Could you explain when and how the Tulku system originated ?

KR : It originated in the 12th century in Tibet. This system is particular to Tibetan Buddhism. The line of Karmapas, is the line with which this system originated. The second line with which this system originated. The second line of reincarnared masters in Tibet is the line of the Sharmapas. So, it originates with the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Q : Is this system still suitable for our modern society ?

KR : It depends on the Tulkud as an individuak. All Tulkus are not the same. If a Tulku is authentic,that is to say, acts and works in accordance with the Buddhist principles, then that system is adaptable and suitable in today's world. However, it has become a problematic issue because many Tulkus act on the basis of political motivation and again other Tulkus act on the basis of amassing wealth, gaining personal benefits and so on.

Q : Why is the Kagyu Lineage considered unbroken ?

KR : The lineage originates from the Indian master Tilopa who was referred to as a person of very profound esoteric knowledge and capacity. The teachings of the Karma Kagyu lineage from then onwards were passed on from master to disciple in an unbroken line up to today. This is the reason why there was never any period of interruption in the lineage and it is considered unbroken.

Q : How can we know if someone is Enlightened ?

KR : An ordinary samsaric person entertains obscuring states of mind that produce sufferings whereas an Enlightened individual has done away with the obscuring states of mind that produce sufferings. If someone looks at a Bodhisattva , one knows that a Bodhisattva is on his way to Buddha the Enlightened state. So one should not equate a Buddha to a Bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas do have certain obscuring states of mind, however not at all to the extent as ordinary samsaric beings.

Q : What is the origination of the 4 foundations and the importance of it ?

KR : The 4 foundations are important because they prepare the practitioner for the practice of Mahamudra. So it is a preparatory state. However, the practice is important but not the number of times that one does those practice. It is not impossible to attain Buddha the Enlightened state without the practice of the 4 foundations.
In order to attain Buddha the Enlightened state, the individuals must attain realization of emptiness. In order to attain the first Bhumi, the individual must also attain the realization of emptiness, there are 3 principal causes, without which it is not possible to realize emptiness.
The first is that the practitioner has been able to turn his back on the samsaric way of life and that he has unshakebale trust and confidence in the triple gems. Also, the individual must have brought about a change of state in his mind in order to be able to realize emptiness. That is to say he would have to be a person who on the basis of his practice has done away with a great deal of karmic consequences as well as obscuring has created good of positive potentials to a very great extent because without having brought about positive potentials, there is no possibility of being able to preceive emptiness. It is for the sake of developing these three, that the four foundation were created.
However, it is not the case that one cannot attain the state of Mahamudra without having practiced the four foundations. If one develops these three on the basis of other methods, the result would be the same. At the time of, for example, Marpa the translator, the practice of the 4 foundation didn't seem to have existed. In spite of that, Marpa attained realizations. So, he must have done it on the basis of other practices.

Q: The practitioners are normally asked to do the 4 foundations for a certain number of times. So one can hear practitioners claiming the number of times they have done a certain foundation. Some say, for example, one prostration in Bodhgaya is equivalent to 10,000 times in other places. What is the view of KR on this kind of perception ?

KR: The number of times one does the practice is not important. It is the quality of the practice. If one does millions of prostrations while distracted that won't produce an effect. Whereas if a person does this practices on the basis of genuine trust and confidence, even though he might not do the practices many times, it will bring about an effect.
The Prajna paramita made mention of that, a Bodhisattva on the 2nd bhumi and onwards has the capacity to imbue an area with his spiritual influence. Thus, places where great beings had spent time at, will have effect on one's practice because the places, so to speak, are influenced by the spirtuality of that Bodhisattva or that Buddha.

Q: Should there be a certain mode of behaviour when one is attending a puja or Dharma session ?

KR: When attending various events one should regard oneself as a person afflicted by illness. The illness of obscuring states of mind and the Dharma as the medical treatment and the teacher as the physician. Also one should resolve to attend the ceremony and listen to the teachings for the sake of becoming able to benefit beings in numbers as vast as the sky. For the sake of becoming able to lead them to Buddha the Enlightened State. Also, one should be respectful and act in a respectful way while attending these ceremonies.

Q: When a person prostrates in the beginning of a puja or a Dharma session, what should his state of mind be ?

KR: You should contemplate bodhicitta.

Q: Before a master starts a puja or Dharma session, the practitioners will normally prostrate. Are we prostrating to the master, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas or the Dharma that he teaches ? What should be our frame of mind ?

KR: One should prostrate to the Dharma. Of course one should be respectful to the teacher. However, the main aspect is the teaching. Today it is quite difficult to tell if the teacher is authentic or not. So why prostrate to the teacher. It is better to prostrate to the teaching.

Q: So if we are not sure if the teacher is authentic, we are also not sure if his teachings are authentic. Can we just not prostrate until we are sure ?

KR: Yes. It is okay if we do not prostrate. No point in forcing oneself. Buddha Sakyamuni said that the teaching he made, available were for the purpose of giving an opportunity for the beings to tame their minds. That is the purpose of giving his teachings. So if a teacher's teaching have an effect that one's state of mind improves, it probably means that the teachings are authentic.
If the teacher appears to be interested in amassing wealth, money and so on, or appears to be a person of that calibre, it means he is not authentic. There are many variations here. The teachings may be authentic even though the teacher is not. You may have a situation where both teacher and teachings are authentic. You may have a situation where the teacher and teachings are both not authentic.

Q: At the end of a Dharma session, should we prostrate ?

KR: Some do and some don't. At the end of a course of teachings, it's a tradition to do that. Some do it after every teaching and some don't. There are no fixed rules.

Q: There is a saying that when Milarepa left Marpa, he prostrated, after which he did not have the chance to meet Marpa again.

KR: He probably did not, not meet him again not just because he prostrated to Marpa in their lat meeting . That wasn't the cause for them not meeting again. If so, that might have been some special kind of prostration !

Q: In the Vajrayana practice, we speak of this Guru-disciple relationship. Can Rinpoche elaborate on this relationship ?

KR: For there to be a relationship, the lama must be authentic to begin with. Both the teacher and the student, for them to have a proper relationship should have appreciation of one another. The student should regard as his child. The teacher should be concerned with making efforts for the sake of making it possible for the student to free himself of samsara.
And the student should regard the teacher as somneone who acts for the sake of freeing him from samsara. It's important to remember, be mindful of and practice the instruction s that give you the possibilities to attain freedom from samsara. Nowadays, it's very often the case that a teacher establishes connections with people whom he calls his students, for the sake of obtaining influence, wealth and so on and there are many Buddhists students who refer themselves as the disciples of a certain lama but who in fact use the lama for their personal purposes.

Q: Is a Root Guru necessarily an ordained person? Can a layperson become one's Root Guru ?

KR: Why not. Marpa and Milarepa are not ordained.

Q: What is the quality of a Root Guru that the disciple should look for and what is the quality of a disciple the Guru should look for ?

KR: It's difficult to make a general statement because it depends on what type of guru you're talking about. Whether it's Guru in the Theravada tradition, the Mahayana or the Tantra tradition. Thus also if one looks at the characteristics of a student, then it depends on what practice the student is doing. There is nothing general. There are different types of spiritual friends. There are teachers and spiritual friends who are quite ordinary, then there are teachers and spiritual friends who are bodhisattvas on any of the bhumis. In brief, the Guru must have a profound knowledge and understanding of the teachings he expounds.
The Guru's behaviour must accord with the teaching he gives. His conduct should be in accordance with the advice he gives to students. Also he must teach because he wants to free the students from samsara. There should be no other motives to his teachings. In The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, we find a chapter devoted to explaining the qualities of a spiritual friend. In that text one can find a more extensive explanation. And the student must have trust and confidence and who is capable of making efforts in his practice.

Q: What are Samaya vows ?

KR: Samaya, to begin with, is a particular feature of the Buddhist tantras. It is not applicable to all Buddhist schools of thoughts. If a practitioner is capable of upholding his samaya being the various commitments he has made in relation to a particular tantra that he practices, the effect would be that he accomplishes and masters those teachings and he attains realizations. On the other hand if he is not able to maintain the commitments, he has committed himself to maintain he will not obtain any result. When one looks at the Buddhist tantras, in relation to each tantra there is a great number of different commitments. For there to be samaya, in terms of a guru and disciple, the guru must be an authentic guru of the Tantrayana and the disciple must be a disciple capable of practicing whatever tantras at hand. Otherwise samaya doesn't happen.
Reciving empowerment is said to be the gateway to the Buddhist tantrayana and most empowerments are made up of 4 stages. There are four empowerments that make up an empowerment. Now each empowerment is associated with a particular perspective of the true nature of reality. That empowerment is meant to have the effect that the student, when in the process of receiving empowerment, has a glimpse of that particular aspect of the true nature of reality. If that doesn't happen. Each of the 4 empowerments that make up an empowerments has samayas or a set of commitments. It's a code of ethics associated with viewpoint, conduct and meditation. So, it's quite a few commitments associated with each empowerment.
The student has to be introduced to each and everyone of these commitments, otherwise how can there be samaya? How can someone uphold a set of commitments that he doesn't know? Furthermore, as have been mentioned earlier, for someone to qualify as a Root Guru, the case must be that as a consequence of the Guru introducing the student to the true nature of reality, the student has a short insight or glimpse of Mahamudra. If that happens, then the lama becomes a Root Guru. Otherwise not. Also for anyone to be associated with samaya, relating to a particular aspect of a tantric practice, there are certain conditions and circumstances that must be fulfilled, otherwise it doesn't happen.
There is often frequent mentioning of transgressing samayas. One should be aware of transgressing samayas. One should be aware of that here as well, it's not as simple it is often made up to be. Because again, there are certain circumstance that must come together for that to happen. It doesn't happen easily.
Receiving teachings and taking refuge and so on make the person who gives the teaching or the refuge, a teacher, a lama, a spiritual friend and by no means a Root Guru. And by no means a guru of the Buddhist tantras. If one asks the question of whether one should accomplish whatever one is told to do by this person , the answer is, well, if what you are asked to do is in accordance with the Buddhist principles, yes, otherwise, no.
Today we have quite a few lamas who very often tell people that they have received some samayas ot some sort. If they don't follow whatever he says, they will end up in Vajra hell and what nots, this is not true. As was explained, samaya is not easily obtained and furthermore if one doesn't know what the commitments are, how can one break them. It's also not the case that just the student is having samayas. The Gurus also have samayas to uphold. It's not a one-way street. Through their combined efforts samaya may be upheld.

Q: When we receive empowerments, we may be asked to follow the recitation of certain prayers. And at the end of the empowerments, there are some commitments. When some lamas give initiations, we are just asked to chant and we will follow like parrots. Does this pertain to samaya ?

KR: It's not authentic. No. It could be that some lama gives this advice in the hope that it will have a positive effect on this person to do this recitation. It is a virtuous action and this would help the person to develop on the basis that this person has received some spiritual influence to practice. But it is not samaya.

Q: How many Root Guru can one have ?

KR: How could there be more than one because you do not need more than one to recognize the true nature of mind. Once you've recognized, you'd know it. So, there couldn't be more than one. However one can have many gurus in general. The great Khyentse Wangpo has 150 gurus.
However, for a beginner, it is not very constructive to take teachings from a lot of different teachers. It's a matter of not ending up with too many teachings and too much confusion. This was said by the Indian Buddhist master, Atisha. On a more advanced level, it's alright to have a lot of teachers because one has stabilized on oneself in the practice of the Dharma. He is no longer subjected to confusion in the same way as a beginner.

Q: Does it mean that even if a Guru who is not specifically giving instruction but the student perceives his own true nature of mind, that this guru is considered his Root Guru ?

KR: No. It would happen on the basis of the guru giving the instructions and the instructions having the effect on the student having a glimpse of the true nature of mind. It won't happen in the absence of instructions.

Q: Is this nature of mind that Rinpoche mentioned a state of Mahamudra ?

KR: No. It's different. That's why it's called a 'glimpse' of the true nature of mind because it's not a realization. It means that for a few moment, you catch a glimpse of mind's true nature but that vanishes. That's why you have to continue your practice. It meant that while receiving such instuction you may have become matured enough to, for a few moments, see the true nature of reality. However, that's not final realization. It's just the beginning stage. So the point is, once you have a preception of mind's true nature, then you know what it is. Then you can cultivate it. And to cultivate that perception so that it becomes a continuous perception, what people call meditation. But the word actually means to cultivate. So you familiarize yourself more and more with the nature of reality.

Q: If one is practicing Mahamudra in the Kagyu lineage, can we say that ultimately our Root Guru would definitely be Kamarpa being the head of the Karma Kagyu Lineage ?

KR: There has been a great Tibetan master, Karma Charme who went off to the land of Sukhavati. He didn't even leave his body behind. He seems to have said, that the Karmapa would not become each and every Karma Kagyu practitioner's Root Guru even though he is the main figure of the lineage. However, the Karmapa, was throughout Tibet's Buddhist history, referred to as Buddha Karmapa. So, he had been regarded as fully enlightened. Now, even if you have received instructions as to the true nature of mind from anyone else, it is according to Karma Charme, advisable to regard this teacher to be inseparable from the Karmapa himself. If one looks at the teacher in this way, it means one has the possibility of receiving the spiritual influence of the Karmapa. In these times, regarded as very degenerated, it's good to cultivate this kind of preception, says Karma Chame, because otherwise one will probably find faults with the Guru. But if you look at him as inseparable from the Karmapa, this will prevent you from finding faults with the teacher as well as being possible to receive the Karmapa's spiritual influence.

Q: Can the Root Guru and Disciple disown each other? Initally perceiving a person as our Root Guru and later finding his faults, can we disassociate ourselves from this person and on perceive him as Root Guru anymore ? Can we take his picture down from the shrine, etc ?

KR: You can't really eliminate a connection you have already established. Because, even if you don't meet the person in this life, you may meet him in another life. you can't really terminate a connection you have established with somebody. It is not within your power to do so.
To begin with, you have to make sure whether he is your Root Guru as described. Of course you can avoid him. But most importantly, you should neither bad-mouthing him within breath. You don't have to go to places where he is. But to terminate the relationship, from the perspective of karma, that would be rather difficult.
The Indian Buddhist master Santideva said, it's good to approach receiving instructions in the same way that honeybees collect pollen from flowers which they manufacture into honey. A bee flies from flower to flower to collect the pollens, then it brings back to beehive and makes honey out of it. In doing so, it is not at all attaching itself to the flowers. He just collects what good the flowers have, what it can use and flies off. It's good to have a relationship like that. Having receive the instructions you don't need to hang around your lama. You will find faults with him.

Q: Can Rinpoche explain a little on Guru devotion ?

KR: It means that one finds out about the good qualities of the Guru and on the basis of one's knowledge of the Guru's exceptional qualities, develops trust and confidence in him.

Q: If the transmission or empowerment have not been received for a certain practice, can one go ahead to practice them ?

KR: No. One should not practices in the absence of receiving instructions, empowerments and so on. It's not a good idea. Especially not on the Buddhist tantras. The practice won't be authentic of course.

Q: Chinese Mahayanists do chant some mantras without instructions and transmissions. How do we view this ?

KR: That's okay because Chinese Buddhism has a different approach. Simply because its not Tantric.
However on general, it is always preferable to receive teachings on the basis of there being the background of a lineage of transmissions because if one tries to become a physician by just reading theories from medical books and no practical practices, it would not be advisable that one practices medicine. This would not make one a physician.

Q: Why is visualization so important in Vajrayana ?

KR: In order to tame the mind, one needs to practice shamata and vipasyana. Visualization is a form of shamata practice to which you obtain the capacity to rest in a calm state.

Q: If during the completion stage of visualization of a Yidam, one does not dissolve the visual and contemplate emptiness, is there any effects on practitioner ?

KR: It means your tendency to see things as real is strong.
Special thanks to Ms Kiki for acting as translator for this interview.
Biography of Khenpo Chodrak Rinpoche

Khenpo Chodrak Rinpoche received his education under the direct guidance of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. He taught 10 years as one of the main teachers at the Nalanda Institute in Rumtek, Sikkim.
Presently he (and, previously, the late Topga Rinpoche) are mainly responsible for the curriculum at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi as well as for the education of the 17th Karmapa Thaye Dorje.

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