Last Day of The Karma Gunchoe Teachings

Saturday 20th & Sunday 21st December, 2008

Gyalwang Karmapa completed the reading transmission of the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje’s The Lion’s Roar which Destroys Confusion. He described the Four Yogas of Mahamudra, one-pointed, simplicity, one-taste, and no-meditation, and the three stages within each yoga – lower, middle, greater – and mapped each one onto the five paths and ten levels of the Bodhisattva. His Holiness went on to explain the phrase “appearances are mind”, and to speak more on the controversies between the rangtong and shentong viewpoints.

Finally His Holiness addressed the foreigners present – thanking them for attending the teaching and wishing them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – first in Chinese and then in English.

Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teachings on the Lion’s Roar that Destroys Confusion

Saturday 20th December, 2008

Displaying both erudition and a sense of humour, Gyalwang Karmapa continued his transmission and exposition of the text. He dealt with two new issues. The first was whether or not it was valid to rank the Consequentialist Middle Way School and the Autonomous Middle Way School, holding one as a higher view than the other. The second was with regard to rangtong (self-empty) and shentong (other-empty). His Holiness explored the historical context of the debate between the proponents of rangtong and shentong, the acceptance of the shentong view in the Khamtsang Kagyu, and the role of the Jonang School.

Gyalwang Karmapa then moved on to highlight the interrelationship between study and practice. He stressed that all the texts, both sutra and tantra, were written or taught for the purpose of practice and there was not one single word in the canon that was not a quintessential instruction to bring us to awakening. Even the commentarial treatises were written for this purpose.

Practice without the study which brings understanding and study without the intention of informing practice would not bring us to awakening. Faith was necessary – this was true of all religions – however we needed intelligence and wisdom too. His Holiness joked that a popular way to develop intelligence and wisdom was to recite Manjushri’s mantra, but the really effective method was debating, analyzing, and carefully examining in order to thoroughly establish the meaning.

Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching on Madhyamika : Fourth Session

Thursday 18th December, 2008

Gyalwang Karmapa gave a scholarly overview of some of the issues in the Tibetan canon, with particular reference to differences between Tibetan and Chinese texts. He focused on the Tibetan and Chinese versions of the Five Works of Maitreya, using internal evidence from the texts themselves to argue a logical order.

He also began the transmission of the main text for the teaching : The Lion’s Roar that Destroys Confusion by 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje.

Third Session of Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching on Madhyamika

Wednesday 17th December, 2008

Madhyamika is noted as being a very difficult area of study, yet, each day, the number of people attending the teaching has grown, and this prompted His Holiness to tell a funny story. Looking around the large assembly hall at Tergar, he told how a Geshe had gone abroad to deliver a teaching on the Middle Way approach. The first day there was a good number of people present. The following day there were fewer, and this continued until the final day, when the Geshe found himself addressing an empty room. His Holiness concluded that this was definitely not the case at Tergar.

Gyalwang Karmapa began by relating the life of Aryadeva, comparing the Chinese and Tibetan versions of his life story. Aryadeva is famous for his “400 Verses”, and for his skills in debating with non-Buddhists. According to some sources, he came from a royal family in Sri Lanka, studied with Nagarjuna in South India, and became his direct disciple.

His Holiness then returned to the previous day’s discussion of what it means when the Middle Way school says it does not make any assertions of its own while making assertions in others’ frames of reference . He emphasized again that it does not mean the Middle Way school adopts the view of the other school. It was important to recognize that accepting others’ assertions for the sake of argument did not mean accepting their views per se. As to the question of what is meant by ‘self’ and ‘other’, the ‘other’ referred to was not as we normally understand ‘other,’ but referred to one who is not in the state of meditative equipoise i.e. someone in the post meditative state. There were three phases of others’ frame of reference: no analysis, partial analysis, complete analysis.

He explained how he had found it useful in his own life to remember “I have no assertions”, because, not only did this lead to a decrease in pride, it also reduced clinging to one’s own religion or sect. Such clinging was dangerous because it could lead to prejudice and many problems, as witnessed by events in the 21st century. In the end, it was not being a Buddhist which was so important, but what we do. There were people from many different religious traditions who were doing good in the world, and it was not good to criticize people for not being Buddhist.

With reference to Tibetan Buddhism, it had developed into four schools, but the important thing to remember was their commonality not their differences: all studied the Middle Way approach, all practised the Vinaya, and all followed a Vajrayana practice.

Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching on Madhyamika Continues

Tuesday 16th December, 2008

The assembly hall of Tergar Monastery was packed with monks and laypeople to listen to the second part of Gyalwang Karmapa’s teachings which continued this afternoon. This is only a brief report on the session. It may be possible later to provide a fuller report from the transcription of the Tibetan.

Because of Nagarjuna’s importance in establishing the Middle Way school of Buddhist philosophy Gyalwang Karmapa began with an overview of Nagarjuna’s life. Accounts of his life exist in both Chinese and Tibetan sources. The earliest Chinese source, written approximately one hundred years after Nagarjuna’s death, predates Tibetan sources. It seems he was born in South India into a Brahmin family, and studied Buddhism in South India. After many years of practice he reached an understanding of emptiness. There are also references to prophecies about Nagarjuna, but there is a need to exercise caution when citing prophecies, because the true intention and meaning of a prophetic text can only be disclosed by its author.

Gyalwang Karmapa then gave the transmission of the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje’s “Concise Summary of the Middle Way”.

In a detailed analysis of what the Middle Way school means when it describes its position as not having any assertions of its own while making assertions only in others’ frames of reference, Gyalwang Karmapa said that this often caused confusion so it was important to clarify its meaning.

In an important aside with reference to study and practice, His Holiness pointed out the serendipitous nature of sectarian affiliations, since most people practice within a particular tradition either because of a past life karmic connection or an accident of birth. Neither of these could be the basis for asserting the superiority of one’s own tradition!