A Rich Program for the Winter Debates

January 17, 2016 – Tergar Monastery, Bodhi Gaya, Bihar, India

The Winter Debates have brought together over 1000 monks from 9 monastic institutes belonging to the Karma Kagyu tradition. From January 17 to 22, 2017, the Gyalwang Karmapa will continue his teachings on the 8th Karmapa’s One Hundred Short Instructions This year he will cover two of them: “The Direct Instructions on the Great Compassionate One, Avalokiteshvara” and “Instructions on the Three Essential Points” (also a practice of Avalokiteshvara). These will be webcast live each day from 9:30 to 10:30 and 11 to 12 in the morning (Indian standard time) through the Karmapa’s website in Tibetan, English, Spanish, and Chinese.

From January 16 to February 4, 2017, the monks will also pursue a vigorous program of debate and discussion. The Karmapa remarked, “We are following the Indian tradition which has debaters and judges to analyze their performances. This year there are five judges: a Sakya khenpo from the Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö College; from among the six great seats of the Nyingma comes a judge from Dzogchen Monastery; from among the three great seats of the Gelukpa, a Geshe Lharampa from Drepung’s Gomang College; for the Kagyu, a khenpo was requested from the Bhutanese government, and so we have a Drukpa Kagyu khenpo; and finally, there is a khenpo from the Jonang tradition.”

“The reason for inviting scholars from different traditions,” the Karmapa explained, “is to show our respect for them and to develop our mutual connections.”

The debates will focus on the second chapter (treating direct valid cognition) from Manjushri’s Smile: a General Discussion of Validity by the 6th Shamar, Chokyi Wangchuk.
The Karmapa related that before his visit to the US about three years ago, he had read the outer life story of Karma Chakme (1613-1678), who wrote that he had memorized the General Discussion of Validity so the Karmapa knew there was a text and its name. When he went to the US, the text was found complete, except for the discussion of the chapter on validity. This text is important because it gives the main points of the 7th Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso’s text, the Ocean of Literature on Validity, and reveals the positions to hold. The Karmapa said he hoped that the General Discussion of Validity would make it easy to realize the 7th Karmapa’s treatise.

In the US, the Karmapa also found the text of a General Discussion of the Vinaya, but he has yet to find the General Discussion on the Prajna Paramita and there also seems to be a General Discussion of the Madhyamaka.

This year the monks will also consider the views of the Mind Only school, which were taught for a month at the Karmapa’s temporary residence in Gyuto Monastery by a nun, who was a renowned expert in the Mind Only tradition that had spread widely in China. With the help of a skilled translator, she instructed monks, who had been selected to represent all the nine monastic institutes. Under the guidance of the Karmapa, their Committee for Compilation prepared a booklet on the Mind Only school, a draft of which was sent in December to all the shedras, so they could have a common basis for study.

The Karmapa wrote an introduction for this text and remarked that originally the plan was to study both the Mind Only and the Middle Way schools this year, but the Mind Only was so vast that it was decided to focus in it and leave the Middle Way for next year. The Karmapa is also putting together a compilation of Mind Only texts from the Chinese, but it is not ready yet.

Finally, the study of the Ornament of Precious Liberation, Lord Gampopa’s stages on the path (lam rim), will continue with seven sessions of papers and discussion. Starting with chapter nine and moving through chapter 16, they will cover the respective topics of the Proper Adoption of Bodhichitta, the Precepts for Generating Aspiring Bodhichitta, the Perfection of Generosity, the Perfection of Moral Discipline, the Perfection of Patience, the Perfection of Diligence, and the Perfection of Meditative Concentration. The remaining chapters will be completed next year.

In between these sessions, discussions will take place on two additional topics: Is it proper for the ordained Sangha to eat meat? Is it proper for tantric practitioners to drink alcohol? The program will also include debate contests and a day of reciting An Ocean of Kagyu Songs of Realization (also translated as the Rain of Wisdom). With their long days of study, debate and discussion framed in practice, the monks will have very full twenty days.

The Winter Debates begin with a Regal Welcome for Taklung Shabdrung Rinpoche

January 17, 2016 – Tergar Monastery, Bodhi Gaya, Bihar, India

The Sujata By Pass Road leading up to Tergar Monastery was lined with sangha and lay people welcoming Taklung Shabdrung Rinpoche. Escorting him to the veranda of the main shrine hall, where the Gyalwang Karmapa stood to welcome him, was a traditional golden procession (serbang) of resonant horns and drums as well as pendants and banners, fashioned of colorful, gold-flecked brocade catching the rays of the morning sun. As Shabdrung Rinpoche’s car entered the main gate, the golden umbrella of royalty awaited him, and long white scarves were offered by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and Khenpo Karten from the Karmapa’s Office of Administration. The Karmapa warmly greeted Shabdrung Rinpoche at the main door of the shrine hall, and they entered together.

Finally, when the crowds of monks, nuns, and lay people had gone through security and taken their place in the shrine hall, the Karmapa and Shabdrung Rinpoche returned to light a silver butter lamp on a table covered in brocade. In front of the Buddha statue, they took their seats on identical chairs, set side by side between the butter lamp and a polished black alms bowl set in a golden stand. The resonant voice of the chant master lead prayers while tea and ceremonial rice were given out to everyone, marking this festive occasion.

For the first time at Tergar Monastery, Shabdrung Rinpoche was visiting the Karmapa after sitting next to him during the recent Kalachakra empowerment of HH the Dalai Lama. Shabdrung Rinpoche’s Taklung Kagyu (stag lung bka’ brgyud) lineage is one of the eight later Kagyu lineages descending from Phakmo Drukpa (1110-1170). Founded by Taklung Thangpa Tashi Pal (1142-1210), this lineage has been blessed by great masters, such as Sangye Ön Drakpa Pal (1251-1296), who built Riwoche monastery in Kham, noted for its colleges where the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism are studied.

In 1991, the present incarnation was born into the Ghazi (Ragasha) family that traces its lineage far back into Tibetan history. Shabdrung Rinpoche was chosen in 1998 to take over the mantle of the Taklung Shabdrung who was his great grand uncle. Presently, the young tulku is studying in Dharamshala at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics.

To begin the debates, the Sangha recited the Praise of Manjushri, ending in an enthusiastic repetition of his seed syllable dhi, dhi, dhi, dhi, dhi! As the monks challenged each other to respond, the Karmapa and Shabdrung listened attentively and occasionally made comments to each other. When the debate came to a close, Shabdrung Rinpoche spoke informally to the monks, encouraging them in their study and emphasizing the importance of pure vision while using view to tame their minds. When he finished, there was a warm round of applause to thank him for his talk and for coming to join them on the first day of the Winter Debates.

Continuing the Karmapa’s outreach to the Kagyu leaders, this visit of the throne holder for the Taklung Kagyu follows on last year’s visit of Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, throne holder for the Drikung Kagyu, and emphasizes the Karmapa’s broad commitment to dialogue between all the Tibetan spiritual traditions.