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

A Crossroad in Time


“He's so tall!” This is the obvious observation when looking at Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. An imposing, nearly two-meter-tall (six-foot, four-inch) monk with a steady stride and awareness of his twenty-two years of age, he is the emanation of the great Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye's mind. He arrives at Dhagpo at the surprising crossroad of several anniversaries and celebrations:

  • 40: This year marks forty years since the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa consecrated the land on the Côte de Jor with five days of intensive rituals.
  • 30: This year marks thirty years since the precedent Kongtrul Rinpoche conferred full monastic ordination upon several Western disciples of Lama Gendun.
  • 20: This year marks twenty years since Gendun Rinpoche passed away after having fully applied the instructions of the 16th Karmapa.

To continue with numbers: This is Kongtrul Rinpoche's third visit, but it's the first time he has come without his father, Beru Khyentse Rinpoche. It is his first major European tour. Those who have been around the longest and knew his previous incarnation rejoice at spending three days receiving his teaching on the Wishes of Excellent Conduct and the Manjushri Empowerment.

Choosing Our Wheel

“It's so vast!” This is the obvious observation when reading the Wishes of Excellent Conduct, which Kongtrul Rinpoche transmits with precision. He explains that due to a lack of time, he cannot give a word-by-word commentary on the text and will therefore directly explain the meaning. The advantage is that he goes to the heart of things for each stanza.

First, he categorizes: there are the wishes that are susceptible to coming true and there's the rest. Then, among the wishes that can be realized, there are the virtuous and the non-virtuous. And finally, there are vast wishes like those expressed by the bodhisattva Samantabhadra in Buddha Shakyamuni's presence, which describes the conduct of bodhisattvas with the aspiration to realize them.

Then, for each verse, for each wish, he shows the process to carry out based on discernment. For example, to pay homage to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, of course we must know their qualities, meaning the characteristics of the enlightened body, the qualities of accomplished speech, and the multiple dimensions of realized mind. Only on this basis can confidence arise. And of course confidence also means aspiration. In fact, in Tibetan, the word for wish is mönlam, which is literally translated as path (lam) of aspiration (mön). Once we set our aspiration, we must travel the path in order to bring together the causes and conditions to realize our aspiration.

Kongtrul Rinpoche sometimes presents the path before us in an unexpected way. He explains that if we consider our own minds, two wheels are possible: that of samsara or that of nirvana. If we remain in the afflictive functioning of attachment and aversion founded on mistake and lack of clarity, interdependence continues to function in spite of us and generates ever more suffering; that's the wheel of samsara. However, if we train ourselves progressively to become free from afflictions and misunderstanding, then we “roll towards enlightenment.” In order to roll, we need a path, and this is what the Dharma offers; this is the wheel of nirvana.

Ordinary Beings Then Buddhas

Speaking of Buddhas, Kongtrul Rinpoche explains that before becoming Buddhas, they were ordinary beings. They had afflictions and made mistakes. They dissipated their flaws and purified negativities; they traveled the path and accomplished the accumulations to realize a state free of any flaws. Before this, they expressed vast aspirations to accomplish the benefit of beings. We know what we have to do...

Speaking of his master, Kongtrul Rinpoche tells us that when he was teaching Rinpoche the Wishes of Excellent Conduct, he told him, “If you limit yourself to the words, you are making a mistake. You must go to the meaning, which is vast and cannot be understood solely with words. We talk about wisdom, pure motivation, etc, but, beyond this, the meaning is ineffable and indescribable. You look at the words, but to understand this text, you must go out into the world and look at what is happening.” And Rinpoche added, “It is important not to remain only with the words but to bring the meaning to our experience. This is the practice of bodhisattvas. We must go into the world and accomplish the activity of the bodhisattvas.”

And speaking of the benefits, he concludes by saying that the benefit of aspiration practice is not bestowed by something or someone external. It is a natural phenomenon, which is the result of interdependence. For example, someone who functions with ignorance naturally develops afflictions. If this person purifies his ignorance, the afflictions naturally decrease and the person obtains peace and wellbeing. It is not bestowed; rather, it is a natural process.

The explanations are not disorienting; it is indeed a question of study, meditation, and support for others. The bodhisattvas' path remains the one we are aiming for and the one that the Wishes of Excellent Conduct guide us to.


Puntso, Head of Dhagpo's Program.

 

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