Emulating Lineage Masters as a Path to Awakening

[From a teaching by Bardor Tulku Rinpoche given in Arizona in January 2010. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso, transcribed by Liz Summers, copy-edited by Basia Coulter. Copyright 2010 Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and Peter O’Hearn. All rights reserved.]

Please listen with the motivation of bodhichitta, which is the thought that all beings throughout space must achieve the state of perfect and complete buddhahood and that it is in order to bring that about that you will listen to the profound and holy dharma. Such a motivation of bodhichitta is considered to be extremely important. This is because whatever we engage in—whether we are receiving empowerment, transmission, or instruction, and indeed whether we are engaged in any action—its moral quality and its result are primarily determined by our motivation. It is the motivation with which you engage in an action that makes it virtuous or unvirtuous rather than the action itself. Therefore, even apparently virtuous actions that are engaged in with a motivation of mental affliction or negativity cannot become the pure virtue and cannot lead to the result of a purely virtuous action.  An apparently virtuous action that is engaged in with an impure motivation is like finding a delicious food that has been mixed with poison. It may be delicious while you eat it but because it is poisoned, unless you are a peacock and thereby immune to poisoning, it will kill you. In the same way, any virtuous action that we might perform with a klesha (or mental affliction) as the motivation, will not really be a virtuous action. Any one of the ten virtuous actions that is motivated by kleshas becomes in effect the corresponding one of the ten unvirtuous actions. Therefore, especially when approaching the teachings, do not be selfish in your motivation; do not be limited. Bring to mind the fact that all beings throughout space have all been your parents and all of them want to be happy just as intensely as you do. All of them want not to suffer just as much as you want not to suffer. Therefore resolve that you are engaging in this virtuous action, in this case listening to the teachings, so that you can bring about the full awakening of buddhahood for all those beings who seek that final and permanent happiness that can only be achieved through that; that you will bring all beings to a state that not only transcends the three realms of samsara (or cyclic existence) but also the state of one-sided nirvana of an arhat; that you will bring all beings to buddhahood and for that purpose you will engage in whatever action of virtue you are setting about. In such an attitude you are seeing the suffering of beings as it is, recognizing its severity and intensity, and you are seeing beings’ wish for happiness as it is.

Unfortunately, although we all want to be happy, because we are generally ignorant of what constitutes true causes of happiness —virtuous actions and so forth—with the aim of making ourselves happy, we do exactly what will cause us to suffer and therefore, in spite of the fact that none of us really wants to suffer, we suffer a great deal. Recognizing that all beings want to be happy as much as you do and that they are largely unsuccessful in achieving the happiness that they seek, and especially considering that all beings have been your parents time and time again, understand that to abandon them in this situation would be unconscionably ruthless and selfish. Therefore, if you can engage in even a slight act of virtue motivated by a true love, compassion, and bodhichitta, the power and merit of that virtue will become immeasurable. As is said, through even one instance of generation of bodhichitta, the most severely benighted beings in samsara are transformed into bodhisattvas worthy of the homage of devas and humans, just as base metal is immediately transformed by the philosopher’s stone into immaculate gold.

As is said, there is no way to please buddhas other than by pleasing sentient beings. One of the things this refers to is the fact that all buddhas and bodhisattvas of the past, present, and future appear among us with a single intention: Their single intention is to free all beings from all suffering and from all causes of suffering. At the very inception of their path, these great beings are motivated by the aspiration bodhichitta, which is the aspiration to achieve perfect awakening for the benefit of others. On that path they implement this aspiration through implementation bodhichitta—through the practice of the six paramitas and so forth. And finally in reliance upon those two types of relative bodhichitta [editor’s note: the aspiration and implementation bodhichitta], they discover absolute bodhichitta. That is to say, at the culmination of their path they recognize that immaculate, flawless, perfect nature or true being, which is called by so many different terms by so many different traditions; that nature, which has always been perfect and is unchanging but up to the moment of its recognition remains obscured by the clouds of our ignorance. When that nature is revealed at the culmination of the path, that is buddhahood.

Therefore we can see that the achievement of buddhahood begins with the motivation of aspiration bodhichitta, is brought about through the cultivation of implementation bodhichitta, and comes about through the discovery or achievement of absolute bodhichitta. To put it bluntly, no one has ever achieved buddhahood through selfishness. If it were possible to achieve buddhahood through a selfish motivation, then we would certainly have achieved it because we are all masters at selfishness. And yet it appears that we have not done so. About this it is said that all buddhas have achieved buddhahood through altruism. All sentient beings remain sentient beings because of selfishness. Of what does our selfishness consist? It consists of “I want”: I want pleasure, I want wealth, I want security, [and so forth]. In more detail, as Nagarjuna advised the king in his Friendly Letter, it consists of our obsessive concern with the eight things of the world: whether I am happy or unhappy, whether I experience pleasure or pain, whether what I have to hear is pleasant or unpleasant, and whether people praise me or revile me.

The characteristic attribute of true awakening (or buddhahood) is spontaneous engagement in the benefit of others. It is therefore characterized by altruism. It should be clear, therefore, that an awakening that is altruistic in nature could not and cannot possibly be achieved by a path motivated by selfishness. In practicing according to our lineage, and especially if you are attempting to follow the practice lineage of the Karma Kagyu, which is as famous as the sun and moon, we seek to achieve what are called “the nine attributes of the wise.” [Those are:] to be noble; to be benevolent; to be wise; to engage in the training of hearing; to engage in the training of contemplation; to engage in the training of meditation; and to benefit others through the three activities of explanation, composition, and debate. We must look at the actual motivation and the actual behavior of the great masters we wish to emulate.

The Karma Kagyu began with the first Gyalwang Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. Dusum Khyenpa’s awakening that he has continued to exhibit in every lifetime since then was, to say the least, not caused by selfishness. The great qualities of the masters whose tradition we claim to follow and uphold were not brought about through their being selfish, through their putting themselves first. For example, in the Guru Yoga for the Four Sessions composed by the Eighth Gyalwang Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, the prayer recited at the beginning, called The Four Monlams, begins, “My mothers—all beings throughout space—supplicate the guru, the precious buddha; My mothers—all beings throughout space—supplicate the guru, the all-pervasive dharmakaya; My mothers—all beings throughout space— supplicate the guru, the sambhogakaya of great bliss; My mothers—all beings throughout space—supplicate the guru, the compassionate nirmanakaya.” Notice that the attitude we take even in praying to the guru is one of praying on behalf of all beings throughout space, all whom have been our mothers and this attitude is considered so important that we customarily repeat that prayer 100,000 times during the practice of guru yoga.

But is that really what we are thinking inside? We may be saying, “My mothers—all beings throughout space,” and thinking “I, who am as important as all space.”  If that’s what we are thinking inside, then we are really only praying for our own benefit and the fact that we may be talking about all beings in the prayer is not going to make any difference. A dharma practitioner must develop the signs of practice. It is said, “The signs of having heard the dharma are to be tranquil and subdued; the signs of having meditated are to have few kleshas (or mental afflictions).” If that doesn’t happen, if our dharma practice consists of thinking that “I am as important as all space,” then it’s not working—we are not emulating this lineage, the golden garland of great unity; we are not fulfilling our guru’s intentions; we are not defending the purity of the dharma, or whatever else we may think. If you want to emulate this lineage, if you are concerned with this lineage, then study the behavior of its great masters. Recognize how unselfish they have been, how compassionate they have been. For example, consider the life of the first Gyalwang Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. While engaging in the path of meditation for many years, he meditated in a hut. The hut was so small that it was called the meditation cube, because it was a cube one cubit or span in width in both directions and one cubit or span in height. That was his living space for many, many years. If the Gyalwang Karmapa became the Gyalwang Karmapa through such intense practice done for the benefit of others, and not through selfishness or some kind of self-aggrandizement, then we should recognize that self-aggrandizement and selfishness are not going to do us any good. If selfishness were the correct motivation for the spiritual path, then the Gyalwang Karmapa would not be the Gyalwang Karmapa. We would be. We would all be Gyalwang Karmapas, but it appears that we are not.

In all practice of dharma it is our mind and our state of mind that are of the greatest importance. For example, the Buddha taught 84,000 aggregates of dharma and the purpose of all of these teachings was to serve as remedies for our mental afflictions (our kleshas, our poisons). He taught the Vinaya in order to serve as a remedy for the affliction of attachment; the Sutras to serve as a remedy for the affliction of anger; the Abhidharma to serve as a remedy for the affliction of bewilderment; and he taught the Secret Mantra to serve as a remedy for all three afflictions. All of the Buddha’s teachings were given in order to provide us with the means needed to overcome the three afflictions: attachment, aversion, and apathy (or bewilderment) that are within us. That means that if these teachings—whichever teachings we practice—serve as remedies to these afflictions, they are working. And if they do not serve as remedies to these afflictions, they are not working. The Buddha did not teach in order to give us the means to increase our fixation on ourselves. He did not teach in order to teach us how to become more selfish, more attached, or angrier. If he had, then he would have been wrong and the Buddhadharma would be a bad thing. But he didn’t. The correct way to approach any of the Buddha’s teachings is to start with the recognition that we are afflicted, we have kleshas, and with that understanding to see ourselves as persons who are ill; to see the Buddha as a physician; and to see the dharma he taught as medicine that we take in order to cure the illness of the three poisons. If this medicine does not cure that illness, it is not working; in some way we are not absorbing it, it is not countering the illness. For example, if you have a headache and you take an analgesic that is designed to get rid of the headache and it doesn’t get rid of the headache, it didn’t work. In the same way, if dharma does not achieve its purpose—the purpose intended for it by the Buddha—then it’s not working.

Lord Gampopa composed the template for dharma that we call The Supplication of the Four Dharmas of Gampopa: “Grant your blessing that my mind go to the dharma; Grant your blessing the dharma become a path; Grant your blessing that the path remove delusion; Grant your blessing that delusion arise as wisdom.” If our practice of dharma and our involvement with dharma does not heal our kleshas, does not change or improve our minds, then our minds are not going to the dharma. If our minds do not go to the dharma, dharma cannot possibly become a path, and there is therefore no path to remove delusion. If delusion is not removed, we will never experience that original wisdom which is our true nature. The only way to achieve awakening (or buddhahood) is through the transformation of the five poisons into the five wisdoms. It is only through the purification of those poisons that those wisdoms can manifest and be recognized. Without that there is no way to get out of samsara.

Especially authentic practitioners of dharma must focus their attention on their own faults and not on those of others. We can ascertain from our own experience thus far that attending to the faults of others is fruitless and pointless. After all we have all spent our whole lives up to this point obsessing about the faults of others and it has gotten us nothing. The basic definition of the dharma that the Buddha handed down is pratimoksha (or individual liberation). This concept and teaching of individual liberation is so important and so central to the Buddha’s message that he said himself that after his parinirvana the teachings on individual liberation would be his representative. The idea of individual liberation is that before you can help others, before you can free others from their kleshas, you must first liberate and free yourself from your kleshas. Otherwise your perception of others will remain so skewed by your own kleshas that you won’t even be able to see them as they are. Therefore in following the Buddha’s teachings we have to apply the practice of dharma to our own kleshas. We have to pay attention to our own faults and recognize them as what they are. If we fail to do so, we will project our kleshas onto others. Neglecting our own kleshas, we will become more and more obsessed with the apparent faults of others. The more attention we place on what we perceive as other’s faults, the more we feed our own kleshas, we are literally adding fuel to the fire of our own mental afflictions. About this, Jamgon Lodro Thaye said in his Calling the Guru from Afar, “We hide the mountain of our own faults deep within us and yet openly and widely proclaim the sesame seed’s worth of another’s faults everywhere.” And this is how we are. Especially because we are afflicted and deluded by our kleshas, we experience our projections as real. But they are not real. Our projections are mere appearances with which we invest reality that they do not actually have. In teaching about this, the Buddha taught that there are two aspects to reality: One is the causality of mere appearances, which he called relative truth, and the other is the nonexistence of those mere appearances, which he called absolute truth. We need to understand this and understand, therefore, that our deluded perception and our deluded projections are mere appearances dependent upon the existence of the mental afflictions, the unsubdued or unconquered mental afflictions within our own minds. If we fail to take this to heart, if we become someone like the person described by Jamgon Lodro Thaye, who actually hides the huge mountain of their own faults inside and widely proclaims the sesame seed’s worth of faults in others, than we have missed the whole point; then we are someone like those of whom Guru Rinpoche was speaking when he said, “If they don’t recognize this, even great pandits learned in the five sciences will remain as deluded as anyone else.” Dharma must tame our mind. We must tame our own mind through dharma. Otherwise we will not be imrpoving of our situation. The kleshas that have afflicted us throughout beginningless samsara, unless eradicated, will continue to afflict us endlessly and will remain as they were.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa, and many other great masters of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism have come to this country repeatedly. You have had the opportunity to meet these great masters, to listen to their teachings, and to do so in a state of freedom, convenience, and even luxury that is almost unique to this country. Since you have all of this, all of these resources at your beck and call, it is necessary that you make some genuine use of it; it is necessary that your contact with these holy beings actually do you some real good. And the real good that such contact is supposed to do is to help us actually tame our minds and overcome our kleshas. I have said what I have said up to now this evening in order to remind you of this spectacularly extraordinary opportunity that you all enjoy and to urge you to make the best possible use of it.

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