Studying Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation and the Karmapa’s Closing Talk

February 4, 2017 – Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India

In the main shrine hall, behind the Karmapa’s brocade-covered chair is an elegant folding screen, with scrolling leafy branches and luxurious flowers in muted golds, greens, and subtle orange playing over a resonant black background. Between the screen and the Karmapa is an altar holding statues of Marpa and Milarepa on the right and left with Gampopa in the middle. His text, the Ornament of Precious Liberation, is the focus of the discussions. A butter lamp is lit before him, its light illuminating the gold in the statues and highlighting the screen behind. Set wide to the right and left are two screens, which display quotations from the monks’ reports and the charts they have made to unpack the text and make relationships clear.

This has been the setting for the study of the Ornament of Precious Liberation, Lord Gampopa’s stages on the path (lam rim), which appears to be the only text of this kind in the Kagyu tradition. Seven sessions of papers and discussion covered chapter nine through chapter sixteen with their respective topics of the proper adoption of bodhichitta, the precepts for generating aspiring bodhichitta, and under the rubric of engaged bodhichitta, the five perfections of generosity, moral discipline, patience, diligence, and meditative concentration. During two evenings, discussions took place on additional topics: Is it proper for the ordained Sangha to eat meat? Is it proper for tantric practitioners to drink alcohol?

During these five days the Karmapa often came to be present for the papers and discussions that followed. He responded to questions, pointed out problems, told stories from his own experience to illustrate a point, and also made sure that people on the outside of the inner circle of khenpos and teachers were able to ask questions. One day during a tea break, he brought his cup and came to sit on a cushion next to the khenpos, and engaged them in a discussion that transformed into a lively debate with quick repartee and a traditional slapping of hands as other monks gathered around to listen.

Khenpo Karten from Rumtek Monastery’s monastic college was at the mike skillfully guiding the general discussions, summarizing question and answers, and making his own comments. For over five months at the Karmapa’s temporary residence (Gyuto Tantric University), he had guided the monks from nine different Karma Kamtsang monastic colleges while they studied and researched their papers. They learned to source quotes and compare the originals with those in the Ornament of Precious Liberation and to bring in citations from other texts to support or refute a point made in the text. In this way, they amplified their traditional training in reasoning. The goal of these seminars is to create an extensive commentary on the Ornament of Precious Liberation by combining the best of eastern and western scholarship.

During the session on generosity, to encourage reflection, the Karmapa posed questions to the monks about this perfection, which often revolved around a discussion of what makes for a good teacher since the highest form of generosity is the gift of Dharma. Does the giver need to be free of seeing what is being given as truly existent? If the generosity of bestowing Dharma is the highest gift, does the teacher need to be free of all afflictions? Does the student need to have gathered all causes and conditions the texts mention? The Karmapa noted the necessity of the motivation to benefit others and the need to teach what accords with their interests and appeals to their minds. To this end, a teacher should know the customs and way of thinking in the country where they are giving instruction. What is more important, he queried, to give the Dharma or simply to benefit people? A bodhisattva gives whatever benefits, not just the Dharma, he remarked. One contemporary question the Karmapa had been considering is whether or not it is possible to give an empowerment via the web.

The following day the focus of a long discussion related to moral discipline was the interrelationship of the pratimoksha vows (the vows of individual liberation) and the bodhisattva vows. The Karmapa mentioned three traditions, one that requires the pratimoksha vows, one that doesn’t and one that requires both. The Karmapa remarked that in the understanding of the Kadampa tradition, the essence of the pratimoksha vows is not to harm others, and so they are necessary as a basis for the bodhisattva vows. If this is the case then the question follows, since the pratimoksha vows are just for this lifetime, if we take them and then bodhichitta vows, what happens to these when a person passes away?

The next topic was the perfection of patience, which functions as an antidote to hatred.
One monk asked, “What gets conquered by patience? The ability of anger to arise or the anger itself?” The ability of anger to destroy virtue also brought up the question of dedicating merit. If a dedication is made without realizing the emptiness of the one dedicating, what is dedicated, and the object dedicated to, can this dedication be considered perfect? The Karmapa responded that one has to directly realize emptiness, and therefore have reached the first bodhisattva level, in order to make this type of dedication. One monk succinctly stated patience’s function: “Meditate on patience and conquer negativity.”

In passing the Karmapa noted that in the Tibetan tradition, the explanation of the vows comes after one has taken them and sometimes people are hesitant because they do not know enough about what they will be accepting. In the Chinese tradition, the explanation comes a week beforehand so one knows what the vows are and what one has to keep. He suggested that it would be good to look into this.

The discussion circled around again to the pratimoksha vows as the Karmapa stated that we have to know why they are only held for this lifetime. He answered that since they are considered to be part of the aggregate of form (like our physical body), they will pass away when we lose our body at death. Then the question arises: If this continuity of form is lost, what is it then that goes from this life to the next? How does this relate to having taken bodhisattva vows until we realize full awakening?

The last day of the discussions saw an early ceremony for the Sixteen Arhats who are responsible for holding the Dharma teachings. The monks chanted the text from the new chant book and focused at the end on prayers for the Karmapa’s and the lamas’ long life. After a break the monks returned to begin their investigation of the chapter on meditative concentration, the essence of which was described as resting in one-pointed concentration. This allows one to overcome what is not conducive to practice, especially a busy mind. The presenting monk described the three isolations: of body (staying in an isolated place), speech (resting in silence), and mind (being free of conceptualizing or mental constructs).

The second presentation focused on how to train our minds and on working with the afflictions, for example ignorance and hatred. The antidote for hatred is meditating on love for those close to us and then gradually expanding this so that our love fills up the whole universe. The remedy for ignorance was meditating on interdependent arising. The core of the discussion was the famous quote from Nagarjuna, stating that whatever is interdependent arising is emptiness and visa versa, which allows us to see that things arise from a cause, which is empty as well. On a more relative level, the discussion turned to the twelve links of interdependent apprising, their individual definitions, and different ways of looking at their relationships and their groupings.

After the Karmapa arrived, Khenpo Karten asked the monks to consider if calm abiding meditation (shamatha) is focused on a coarse or subtle consciousness. Then different aspects of practice were brought up. Is there a difference between calm abiding in the foundational vehicle and the mahayana? There were also subtle points. If one rests one-pointedly on the mind, this will make the mind workable but it will not bring authentic meditative concentration. And even to attain authentic calm abiding, we need to develop a mind and body that are workable and this is only possible through calm abiding without a reference point.

In the afternoon discussion, these points lead into a long and complex discussion of the four meditative concentrations and their preparatory stages, and also covered how the practice of the exchange for self and other functions. For example, the Ornament of Precious Liberation states that this practice of exchange is for overcoming pride, and a comment was made that the Way of a Bodhisattva teaches that meditating on the views of the transitory collection is the way to overcome pride. The presenting monk showed a painting of the famous stages of meditation, which move from calm abiding through superior insight (vipashyana). These are illustrated by a monk and an elephant. The monk represents the practitioner; the elephant, our mind; the snake on his back, our concepts; the demon leading the elephant, our obscurations; the rope he uses, our hopes, and so forth. The progress of meditation is then shown through the process of the monk coming to ride the elephant. The picture of him in the cave shows that he has attained control over his body and mind. He then comes to ride the elephant that has turned from black to gold in color. Finally the monk rides a rainbow indicating that he has realized emptiness.

Khenpo Karten again asked the monks to consider some questions. Is calm abiding meditation necessary for superior insight meditation? In the fourth meditative concentration of the formless realm, is uncontaminated joy present or not? Above the second level of meditative concentration, are there thoughts? A lengthy discussion dealt with which school was the basis for the text. Some said because there are many citations from Nagarjuna in chapter seventeen, it must be the Middle Way. Others commented that since the very first chapter is about buddha nature, it must be the zhentong Middle Way school, which professes the view of buddha nature as being empty of what is other to it. Another looked at the lineage of the Karmapas and said the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje followed the zhentong Middle Way view and the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje followed the rangtong (empty in and of itself) Middle Way, and so the lineage encompasses both.

Khenpo Karten commented that particular to the Kagyu is the view that the bodhisattvas do not take birth in the formless realm because there is no form that would allow them to help living beings. On the other hand, one monk commented that the Kalachakra tradition states that a subtle form remains in the formless realm. The question about calm abiding and superior insight led to an examination of the word for superior insight: lhak thong (mThong) means “to see” and Lhak (lhag) can mean “to be superior” or to see “better” or “deeper.” One monk proposed that authentic lhaktong comes only at the first bodhisattva level when deeper seeing views emptiness itself. Another states that calm abiding plus prajna (wisdom) is lhaktong. A third said that being to meditating on emptiness and lhaktong means the same thing. And a fourth monk recalled that the Seventh Karmapa said lhaktong refers to the clear and knowing aspect of mind.

At the end of the discussion, the Karmapa came and capped the study of the Ornament of Precious Liberation with a brilliant discussion of the tantric tradition. Searching history, he traced basic elements of the tradition back to their origins. For example, mantras are related to what were known as “true words” or “words of truth” and we find a reference to them in the Buddha’s very first teaching on the Four Truths. Here he describes words of truth as “words imbued with the true way things are.” He traced the origin of dharani (gzungs) back to the tradition of giving praise to deities. Over time these praises were slowly condensed into dharani or the longer mantras, which are special to the vajrayana. Pure lands are related in the Mind Only school to pure vision coming from the pure part of one’s mind. The first anuttara tantra to appear was known as the Tantra of the Vajra Being, a collection of practices of some fifteen different deities. It is from this text that the vajrayana gets its name.

Following this presentation, the Karmapa gave the concluding talk of the Winter Debates in which he thanked Khenpo Karten for his three years of giving teachings during more than five months to the monks who participated in the discussion group for the Ornament of Precious Liberation. He also thanked Khenpo Karten for leading the discussion groups so skillfully. Next year, the Karmapa said, the discussions will be based on the Supreme Continuum by Maitreya because it is very beneficial to mahamudra practice and there are various redactions as well. The Karmapa then thanked the khenpos, tulkus, and the many monks who had come, the staffs of Tergar Monastery and the Kagyu Monlam, all the monks who gave papers, and the twelve monks from Gyuto Monastery who also participated in discussions on the Ornament of Precious Liberation. Dedications and prayers for auspiciousness brought to a close a fruitful and stimulating five days of practice and study. 

Three Days of Intensive Mahakala Puja and India’s Republic Day Celebration

January 24 to 26, 2017 – Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India

After the Karmapa’s talks on Mikyo Dorje’s text, the ordained sangha engaged for three days in the practice of the Extensive Text of the Activity of the Protector, compiled by the Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyap Dorje. Since it is of considerable length, the monks rose at 3am, gathered in the shrine hall at 3:30am, and chanted from early morning to the evening. In speaking of the practice, the Karmapa recalled, “In Tibet, the practice lasted seven days, beginning at 9 in the evening and continuing to 12 noon the next day, and then it started again. Sometimes you did not know if it were day or night.”

Taking an unusual step, the Karmapa appointed the khenpos as the chant masters, so they could learn this role. Khenpo Kelsang Nyima, Dean of the Rumtek Monastic College, became the main chant master and four other khenpos joined him as assistants. Another khenpo became the head of the tea servers for the three days.

On the last day of the ceremony, the Karmapa came from the whole day, starting at 3:30 in the early morning and continuing through to 7:30 at night. On this day as well, he joined all Indians in celebrating their 68th Republic Day. This observance marks the momentous occasion in 1950 when the country’s constitution was adopted to establish India as a democratic republic. In front of the main shrine hall at Tergar Monastery, His Holiness helped to hoist a fluttering Indian flag on a tall pole, which rose from a circle of bright yellow flowers. In attendance were members of the Indian security for the Karmapa and the staffs of the Tsurphu and Tergar Administrations.

The Mind Only School: A New Book and Approach

January 22, 2017 – Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India

Today the Gyalwang Karmapa’s Altruism Publications released a new book in its series, Philosophical Views: Beautiful Ornaments of the Dakpo Kagyu. This volume discusses the views of the Mind Only school and was created by the Committee for Composing Manuals for the Winter Debates, which is guided by the Gyalwang Karmapa.

The Karmapa authored the introduction in which he first mentioned the three different names applied to the school, which are considered synonyms: Yogacarins (rnal ‘byor spyod pa, Yogic Practitioners), Vijnaptimatrins (rnam rig pa/tsam, followers of the Consciousness Only school), and Chittamatra (sems tsam pa, followers of the Mind Only school). The Middle Way school and the Mind Only school presented opposing views and their differences are sometimes described by saying that Nagarjuna, who composed the basic texts for the Middle Way system of tenets, represented the proponents of nonexistence, and Asanga, who wrote for the Mind Only system of tenets, represented the proponents of existence. Alternatively, it is said that the Middle Way teaches the nature (of mind) and the Mind Only teaches its dependently arisen manifestations.

Turning to the system of the Mind Only tenets, the Karmapa listed the four that are key: all phenomena are mind only plus the eight consciousnesses, the three characteristics, and self-awareness. Among these, the most important is the first: all phenomena are merely mind. If we search for the source of all possible phenomena, we will find that the mind alone is their cause. This is the school’s main feature and the reason why the school is called Mind Only.

Contrary to what many people think, the Karmapa noted, the assertion that phenomena are mind only was also present at the time of the eighteen original Buddhist schools. Found in a few of them, it developed gradually over a longer period of time. Three of the eighteen schools were important as the sources of the view that all phenomena are mind only: the Vatsiputriya (gnas ma bu pa), the Mahishaka (sa ston pa), and the Sautrantika (mdo sde pa). A lot could be said about the views of these schools; however in brief, the Vatsiputriya held the position of an ineffable or inexpressible self. The Mahishaka professed nine different types of uncompounded phenomena, among which was an aggregate that transcended the four conditions. The Sautrantika spoke of how the seeds or imprints were formed in consciousness and also posited a subtle mind that over a long time developed into the view of the alayavijnana, the all base consciousness.

“Many views from the eighteen original schools of the shravakas (listeners),” the Karmapa explained, “were brought into the mahayana, which can be seen as the ground into which seeds of the view were planted; they blossomed as the flowers of the tenets in Mind Only school. We often think of the Mind Only views as suddenly appearing but actually they developed progressively through a long history.”

“We might have a doubt or a question,” the Karmapa added. “Between the era when the shravakas flourished and the era when the Mind Only school prospered, a long time passed. What happened during that period?” It is generally accepted that the fundamental division of the schools happened around 200 years after the Buddha passed away and gradually they separated in to eighteen different schools (some say there were more than eighteen).

First they divided into the Theravadin and Mahasamghika schools, the Karmapa explained, and gradually into the eighteen, which all happened before the Christian era. Asanga and Vasubhandu, the main proponents of the Mind Only school, lived around the 4th century of the Christian era, so what was the situation during the hundreds of years between the them? The Karmapa replied that in this period, numerous mahayana sutras gradually appeared and spread widely in this world; mahayana tenet systems were elaborated; and great masters and scholars, such as Nagarjuna and Aryadeva, lived and taught.

Another question follows: Nagarjuna and Aryadeva lived before the Mind Only school flourished during the time of Asanga and Vasubhandu. Why did Nagarjuna and Aryadeva not promote the Mind Only tenets? Did these great scholars simply did not pay attention to them? One could answer simply that of the two schools in the mahayana, the Middle Way and the Mind Only, Nagarjuna focused his activities on promulgating the tenets of the Middle Way school. If we comprehend the history and these reasons, this will give a basis to create an interest and a focus on spreading an understanding of the Mind Only school.

It is usually said that Nagarjuna categorically refuted the positions of the eighteen different schools and did not present any of his own to prove. He simply negated and did not put forth his own view. However, in his commentary on the Prajna Paramita Sutra in One Hundred Thousand Lines, there are passages where Nagarjuna accepts some of the ways the eighteen schools establish their views and takes them as his own, so it is difficult to say that Nagarjuna only refuted others’ positions. One can say that mainly he refuted the sravaka schools and did not adopt very many of their views.

Asanga and Vasubhandu related to the Mind Only school in a different way from Nagarjuna and Aryadeva. For example, in his Compendium of the Vehicles, Vasubandhu cited scriptures from the shravaka schools as a source for his positions and for his discussion of the alayavijnana, the ground or all-base consciousness.

In sum, the Karmapa stated, “As I mentioned earlier, the seeds of the Mind Only philosophical views were taken from the Foundational Vehicle schools. The main reason for stating this is that these schools’ view of the ground consciousness and of how mental imprints are created were sourced in texts and proofs of the eighteen schools and subsequently quoted in Mind Only presentations.”

“However,” the Karmapa continued, “there remains the important question: What is the lineage of the Mind Only school that comes from Asanga? In his travel diaries, known as the Great Tang Records of the Western Region, Tang Xuanzang (Hsuan Tsang, fl. 602-664) relates that at night Master Asanga would go to Tushita Heaven and receive the teachings of the Five Dharmas from Maitreya and during the day, Asanga would come back to earth and teach them to people.

There is something to consider here, since the Five Dharmas from Maitreya as they appear in the Chinese canon and those in the Tibetan lineages are slightly different. In the Chinese canon the Five Dharmas encompass the Yogacaryabhumi, the Sutralamkara, the Madhyantavibhanga, and the Commentary on the Diamond Cutter Sutra. In the Tibetan tradition, other texts are included such as the Abhisamayalankara and the Ratnagotravibanga, while texts in the Chinese list are left out, so some questions remain about this.

In Chinese, the Karmapa related, there is an old life story of Vasubhandu and it differs from what Xuanzang writes in his travelogue. The older text relates that Asanga did go to Tushita to receive teachings from Maitreya but no one believed him, so Asanga invited Maitreya to the human world. Thus Maitreya came down from Tushita and taught the text known to Tibetans as the Five Bhumis, and presently in Chinese as the Yogacaryabhumi, (an old name for it was the Seventeen Bhumis). So the travelogue of Xuanzang and the old life story of Vasubhandu differ slightly, but do not really conflict.

Returning to the question of lineage, the Karmapa asked: If one states that Asanga’s lineage comes from the protector Maitreya, the question that immediately follows is, Who is the protector Maitreya? Is he an actual historical figure or not? If not, then who is he? Historians do not usually accept gods as historical personages. We Tibetans assert that Maitreya is a deity. Who is he really? An historical person or a deity in Tushita Heaven? If we say that the Mind Only is a mahayana philosophical school, we need to say what the lineage is—that it came from the Buddha and it was passed down gradually from one teacher to the next. If we cannot say that, then it is difficult to say that this is a Buddhist school.

We Tibetans are comfortable with saying the teachings came from the Buddha to Maitreya and then to Asanga, but following the ways of investigating used in our contemporary world, we need to look for a source. On the ultimate level, we can give this lineage without any intellectual discomfort, but on the relative level, there is a little unease.

Usually it is said that the brothers Asanga and Vasubhandu were the originators or founders of the Mind Only school, especially Vasubhandu, and specifically his two texts, Twenty Verses on Mind Only and Thirty Verses on Mind Only. Of these two, it was the Thirty Verses that were the most important in presenting the tenets of the school, because it was the last text Vasubhandu wrote at the end of his life, though he did not have time to write an auto-commentary. In his life Vasubhandu had spent long years studying and practicing Mind Only texts and these Thirty Verses were the culmination of all his efforts.

The reason and source for saying this comes from the travelogue of a seventh century Chinese translator, Yijing, who traveled over the ocean and came through Kalinga to study at Nalanda. He listed eight texts of the Mind Only school that scholars absolutely had to study, which resemble the Tibetan tradition: the Twenty Verses, the Thirty Verses, the Compendium of the Vehicles, the Compendium of the Abhidharma, Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes, the Treatise on Interdependence, the Ornament of the Sutras, and the Establishment of Activity (or Karma). In the India of that time, these were known as the Eight Treatises of Asanga, but actually quite a few of them were written by Vasubhandu, leading some scholars to say that the texts should be called the Eight Treatises of Vasubhandu, but it does not really matter.

The primary disciple and holder of the lineage of Tang Xuanzang was a master called Kuiji (632-682), who wrote notes on the Great Treatise of the Mind Only. This text itself states that the sources it relied on were six sutras and eleven treatises, which include all of the eight treatises mentioned above with few added on. Among these eight, the Twenty Verses and the Thirty Verses were the most important; however, since the Thirty Verses present the positions of the Mind Only school and the Twenty Verses concern the refutation of its opponents, the Thirty Verses take precedence. The Great Treatise of the Mind Only was primarily based on Dharmapala’s commentary on the Thirty Verses plus those of nine other great Indian scholars related to the Mind Only, including Sthiramati and Dignaga. The treatise combined all these ten commentaries on the Thirty Verses into one, hence its name, the Great Treatise of the Mind Only.

Completing his discussion of the source texts, the Karmapa turned to comparing views of the different schools. Time being short, the Karmapa said he would not be able to discuss two subschools of the Mind Only, the True and False Aspectarians, and he took up a very important section in the new book treating the distinctions between the False Aspectarians and the followers of the Buddha Nature or Tathagatagarbha school. This later school is found in China, and in Tibet the Madhyamaka Empty of Other School partially resembles it. We cannot say they are 100% the same but they are close, he commented.

Some experts in Tibet, the Karmapa continued, state that the Madhyamaka Empty of Other School is the same as the False Aspectarian subschool of the Mind Only; however there are differences between the False Aspectarians and the Empty of Other school or the Buddha Nature school. According to Chinese experts, there are ten major differences between the False Aspectarians and the Buddha Nature Schools, and the Karmapa selected three of them.

First, the Buddha Nature school asserts that everything compounded arises from thought, which the False Aspectarians do not accept. Secondly, the Buddha Nature school states that suchness is both the subject and the object, while the False Aspectarians state that suchness is emptiness. And thirdly, the Buddha Nature school accepts that among the three natures, the dependent nature is empty of itself, whereas the False Aspectarians claim that it is empty of what is other to it.

Often people conflate the Buddha Nature school with the False Aspectarians, and the main reason is that many of the source texts for the two schools are the same: They both cite the Samdhinirmochana Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra as well as the treatise of Asanga through Maitreya, Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes. However, even though the texts they cite may be the same, their way of explicating them is different, so the confusion stems from having the same text with two different commentaries and not distinguishing between these divergent approaches.

As for the texts that the two schools did not share in common, there is one sutra and also the treatise known as the Supreme Continuum or as the Ratnagotravibhaga; however it is not clear yet who composed the text. Tibetans consider Maitreya to be the author and that the text was extracted from a stupa when light shined through a crack. This, however, presents a slight problem, as the text appeared in Chinese (albeit with the title of Ratnagotravibhaga, Distinguishing the Three Jewels) around the third and fourth centuries, thus before the time that Maitreya was thought to have taught it. Some say the author was Sthiramati (blo gros brtan po/blo brtan, cc 470-550), and according to Tibetans, Sthiramati’s teacher was Vasubhandu, but the Chinese tradition relates that Vasubandhu’s student Gunaprabha filled that role. In sum, it is difficult to say who wrote the text.

Be that as it may, some modern scholars say that what happened historically is that the view of the False Aspectarians developed over time, becoming increasingly elaborated and subtle until it turned into the tenet system of the Buddha Nature school. With a smile the Karmapa concluded saying, “Given all I’ve said this morning, I’ve probably put forth things that both scholars from the Buddha Nature school and the Mind Only school are going to roundly criticize me for.”

Completing His Teachings, the Gyalwang Karmapa Speaks of the Chakrasamvara Empowerment

January 22, 2017 – Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India

The Gyalwang Karmapa finished his teachings for the Winter Debates by giving a reading transmission of the last section of the Three Essential Points, which covered the supplementary instructions on view, meditation, and conduct. This part is long and very subtle so the Karmapa suggested that the translation be uploaded to the site allowing everyone to read and contemplate it. Commenting on the two teachings from Tsembupa and Mitra Yogi, he said this year the teachings were mainly related to Avalokiteshvara and he hoped they had been helpful to people.

The Karmapa then spoke of the protector practice, composed by the Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyap Dorje, which will be performed for three days, beginning at 3am in the morning and lasting into the evening. In Tibet, the Karmapa recalled, the practice lasted seven days, beginning at 9 in the evening and continuing to 12 noon, and then started again. Sometimes you did not know if it were day or night. Over the years, for these three days, the khenpos will take turns being the chant masters so that in the future they all will know how to do it.

Looking ahead, the Karmapa discussed the special event of the Great Empowerment of Chakrasamvara, which will take place after the Winter Debates. “I usually do not give many empowerments,” he said, “only two or three a year, and a great empowerment from the unexcelled yoga tantra I have only given once before in this lifetime. It was when Tenga Rinpoche was still with us, and he assisted me in giving the vase empowerment from this same Great Empowerment of Chakrasamvara.”

The Karmapa confessed, there were no plans to give this empowerment, but “This year the teachings from the Torch of True Meaning are on Guru Yoga and in conjunction with it, I had planned to teach the Four Session Guru Yoga. Then I newly received old instructions on the Four Session Guru Yoga, so I took the opportunity to publish the instruction manuals and then had no choice but to give this great empowerment as well. It is very precious and since I’m reluctant to give them, you should not expect to receive great empowerments from me in the future.”

“In general it is not easy to receive these great empowerments,” he continued. “Some people come to me and want to make a Dharma connection through the Secret Mantra Vajrayana, so they ask for this one. When I give this, however, I am not thinking of other people making a Dharma connection with me, but rather that Chakrasamvara is the main yidam for the Karma Kamtsang, and for all Kagyu lineages. He is also one of the sets of five great deities in the practices from the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa.

“The main Kamtsang practice, of course, is Vajra Varahi but this is a very restricted practice and the empowerment should not be given lightly. The Chakrasamvara empowerment is not so restricted, so I thought if we made a Dharma connection through this, that would link to the practice of all the previous Karmapas since I carry the name of the Karmapa. It is also a good way to make a connection with the Secret Mantra Vajrayana, so it is an important occasion.”

“There is one problem, however,” the Karmapa cautioned. “To receive the empowerment, you must make the commitment to do the Four Session Guru Yoga, which is the main guru yoga in the Karma Kamtsang tradition. You could also do any other guru yoga, as each tradition has its guru yoga, such as the Six Session Guru Yoga of the Geluk tradition. Whichever one of them you may choose, the commitment is to do a guru yoga practice every day for the rest of your life.”

With such a big commitment, he remarked, some people might worry, “I don’t know if I can do this practice every day until I die.” However, the Karmapa said, “One should consider it carefully, seeing that there is a great purpose to this special opportunity.” The empowerment will not be webcast, though there’s a slight possibility that people could register and receive it on-line, but that has yet to be decided and it is not at all certain.

In conclusion, the Karmapa explained that he will not be giving the complete four empowerments nor that of the vajra master, which makes it easier since there will be no commitments for mantra repetition or other vows. Of course, there will be the bodhisattva vow and some small samaya commitments, but there is no need to worry about the fourteen root downfalls or mantra recitation. Thus, opening out the perspective of this rare opportunity, the Karmapa ended the teaching sessions for the Winter Debates.

The Three Essential Points, Day Two, Part II: The Accumulation of Wisdom

January 21, 2107 – Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India

After teaching the accumulation of merit that leads to realizing the form kayas, the Karmapa turned to the next section of Mikyö Dorje’s instruction that shows how to view and meditate on profound emptiness and achieve the dharmakaya through the accumulation of wisdom. First, the Karmapa gave a reading transmission for this section on view, which unfolds in extensive and subtle detail the line, “The key point of the view is recognizing whatever appears,” and then he gave his own commentary. [A translation of the complete text of the Three Essential Points will be posted on]

“The main point, the Karmapa said, relates to our taking the phenomena that appear to us as being truly existent or truly established just as they appear. This talking them to be real and true (or undeceiving), and then clinging to them as existent things are what needs to be negated by the prajna that realizes profound emptiness.”

The Karmapa then cited the quote from Gampopa in the text: “We must meditate on the essence itself. Meditating on the empty does not help.” It is the phenomenon itself as it now appears to us that we need to meditate upon as being empty of its own essence. We do not need to meditate on an emptiness that is separate from the phenomenon. This is the main point. Here in Mikyö Dorje’s instructions, he does refute the explanation of Je Tsongkhapa and his followers; however, it would be good if we could practice seeing that the emptiness described by Mikyö Dorje and that of Je Tsongkhapa and his followers are not contradictory.

The Karmapa related the story of a lama, who had studied the major texts and went abroad to teach. He had decided that he was going to teach people in the same way that he taught the monks. So, he discussed extensively Chandrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way explicating as well the debates about the pros and cons of subtle points. Over the days, there was a slow attrition of his audience until there was just one person left. This foreigner said to the lama that he had a question. “What’s the benefit,” he said, “of hearing about these disputes from hundreds of years ago? What’s the use of knowing that one person said this and another that? I need something that helps my mind right now.” Sometimes setting out in detail what should be refuted and what refutes it does not help all that much. Instead of undermining and weakening what should be negated, these debates can even increase our ego clinging.

A Gelukpa lama once said if we do not think about what is being refuted, our refutations will be nothing but dry words. What we should do is turn inward to see what the actual thing to be refuted is, and that will bring about a true and effective refutation. If we do not understand what it is that needs to be negated and refute it if without real comprehension, it becomes empty, ineffective words, mere jargon that cannot act as an antidote for ego clinging.

Instead of this, we need to look within and see what it is in us that is being refuted. When studying the texts of the Middle Way, we often emphasize an understanding of the words and the refutations, but leaving it at that would make it difficult for these to be truly effective. What we need to do is identify what should be negated. For example, if we are trying to find a thief and someone tells us it was a human being, a monk, and young, this would not be enough to find the thief. We need to be able to point a finger exactly who it is; otherwise, giving a general description of the thief does not help much.

Similarly, we need to be able to identify based on our own experience what it is that is being refuted and say with confidence, “That’s it!” Most of the difficulties come down to what is being refuted (the negandum). To identify this, we need to recognize how it appears. In this text, Mikyö Dorje gives the view of the earlier Middle Way school, which states that a vase is empty of being a vase. The later Middle Way school, however, asserts that a vase is not empty of being a vase, but empty of being truly established. This is the main difference between the two schools.

The Gelukpa Middle Way school usually asserts that when we are employing the reasonings that analyze the (categorized) ultimate, we must refute at the same time both the self that is established on its own and a self that is posited conceptually or through philosophical views. What this means is that any appearance—tainted by self-clinging and related to the six sense faculties—that might arise is what we take to be negated, or examined by the reasonings analyzing the ultimate. This understanding is all right. We do not need to negate some separate thing (that we think is true and established), set apart from what appears to the six consciousnesses. It is not possible to eliminate something that is posited as being separate from phenomena.

In his “Song of the Middle Way View, Recognizing My Mother,” Changkya Rolpay Dorje states a similar view—what is to be negated is not a separate thing; it is clinging to these appearances as true that we need to negate. This is a very important statement. If we are not able to transform these present appearances, it will be difficult to affect change in our minds.

A story about the master Pakmo Drupa (1110-1170) illustrates this point. He first studied with many Kadampa masters but a question remained: What is the one thing that keeps us circling in samsara? He went to the famous Chapa Chokyi Senge (1109-1169) who answered, “Ignorance.” Since such general Dharma language can be found in many texts, it did not help Pakmo Drupa. He asked the same question of a Sakya Master and though the answer was better, it did not move him deeply. Finally, Pakmo Drupa went to see Gampopa, who replied, “The cause of samsara is your present consciousness.” Pakmo Drupa recognized the meaning, it immediately benefited his mind, and he saw its nature.

And so we do not need to search outside ourselves or go through all the hoops of reasoning and search outside ourselves; we simply relate directly to the appearance that is arising right now. If there is a lama with blessings and a student with good fortune, that student will be able to see into the nature of mind and know that the confusion is what is not truly established: it is not some other thing outside that needs to change.

We might manipulate appearances, deciding that this one is delusive and that one is not. We might pull out the delusive one and go through numerous presentations of why this one is so imperfect. Since this is not related to us inwardly or directly, we come to think that what is faulty is separate from us. This way of thinking is not helpful.

As mentioned earlier, the Karmapa said that there are two types of self: the illusory self that is imputed by thought, which exists conventionally, and the truly established self, which does not exist even on a conventional level. Since it is difficult for beginners to distinguish these two as separate things to be negated, many manuals of instruction state that both types of self (the conventionally existent and not) are negated together.

“Here is an essential point,” the Karmapa stated. “We need to look within our mind streams and recognize what needs to be negated, pinpoint what should be altered: this is what will undermine and weaken our massive clinging to a self. We might look at or teach hundreds or thousands of presentations about the Middle Way view or we might recite the root of Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way hundreds or thousands of times, but if these do not help us to change our minds and recognize their nature, they are of little use.” That was a brief presentation of the views of the Gelukpa school.

In his way of thinking, Mikyö Dorje emphasizes the three phases: pre-analytic, slightly analyzed, and fully analyzed. Even right now in our 21st century, these three are important. In the General Discussion of Validity, the Sixth Shamar, Chökyi Wangchuk, combines all his discussions of the philosophical schools from the Vaibashika onward with these three phases of analysis.

“In my view,” the Karmapa explained, “when we are studying the Middle Way, the three phases are connected in the following way. The first pre-analytical phase relates to conventional reasoning and conventional appearances. The second phase of partial analysis works with inference and the reasonings analyzing for the ultimate.” The Karmapa mentioned in passing, “When we analyze what we have made certain through partial analysis, it would have to be called the categorized ultimate (rnam grangs pa’i don dam), not the uncategorized ultimate (rnam grangs ma yin pa’i don dam).” This is because partial analysis remains within a conceptual world.

The Karmapa continued, “The third phase of full analysis comes naturally out of the second one as it becomes increasingly strong. The third phase relates to direct valid cognition and the perception of emptiness through the wisdom of the Noble Ones’ equipoise. At this point, we see that all phenomena are free from all elaborations, free from the four extremes, the eight elaborations, and so forth.”

Through this presentation, we can see that the five great Middle Way reasonings are used during the second but not the third phase, because inference is applied in the phase of partial analysis. If we examine the three phases in this way we can also see that the presentation of the Geluk school, and our presentation of the three phases eventually establish a similar point; the ultimate thought or intent of both come down to the same thing.

“When studying the Middle Way view,” the Karmapa cautioned, “it is important to be able to distinguish the borderlines of the phases and how we move from one to another. If we jump from the ordinary first phase to the complete analysis of the third, then when it is said there is nothing existing, nothing not existing, and so forth, it would be difficult to develop a true understanding. It is important to move along step by step, therefore, knowing how to distinguish between the frontiers of each phase.”

Through wielding inferential validity during the second phase, we come to discover the categorized ultimate. On the question of whether the essential nature of the categorized and non-categorized ultimate is different or not, there is a difference between the earlier and later presentations of the Middle Way. There is a lot more that could be said here, the Karmapa noted, but time does not allow it.

“Basically what we need to understand,” the Karmapa summarized, “is that we should turn our attention inward so that our practice becomes an antidote to clinging to things as real and clinging to a self.” In a lighter tone, the Karmapa remarked, “The original idea was to give a reading transmission of the One Hundred Brief Instructions, but I became a bit too talkative, so you now have these extra instructions.”