An Interview with the Gyalwang Karmapa November 29th, 2010
Members of the Kagyu Monlam Reporting Team met with His Holiness in his quarters at Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya to ask about this year’s Kagyu Monlam. Questions were collected beforehand from all sections of the team, and the interview was conducted in Tibetan. His Holiness’ busy schedule meant that his time to answer questions was limited, but we are deeply grateful that he made the time to meet with us.
Q. What is the theme for this year’s Monlam?
The principal theme of the 28th Kagyu Monlam is 'The Well-being of the World', which means the physical world and all sentient beings. Why? In 2010 there have been many natural disasters, particularly the earthquake in Jyekundo, Tibet, likewise the landslide in Drugchu, and the flash floods in Ladakh, India. Owing to these natural disasters there has been a great loss of life. This Monlam is planned to be of benefit for those who lost their lives, the survivors, and those who have lost loved ones and family members, that they may cast off their sufferings quickly. We will unite to pray for them during this Monlam that they may be able to rebuild happy lives for themselves.
Q. Why are special long life prayers to be offered for three senior lamas this year?
Nine hundred years have passed since the birth of the first in the Karmapa lineage, Dusum Khyenpa, and as a part of our commemoration of that anniversary, during the course of the Kagyu Monlam, we will offer a long-life puja to Thrangu Rinpoche, Dorlob Tenga Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche. These three senior lamas within the Karma Kagyu, whose achievements on behalf of the Dharma and of sentient beings have been great, have now become advanced in years. The performance of a long-life puja, which combines sutra and tantra, is a means of supplication that the three may continue to live long in order to continue their activities, for the sake of the teachings and of sentient beings.
Q. What is the purpose of the Akshobhya Retreat and Ritual? What is the importance of Akshobhya in general and in particular?
We usually hold the Mitrugpa [Akshobhya] Mandala Ritual and the Fire Puja for the sake of the deceased. This year, unlike previous years, we will be performing the Akshobhya Purification Ritual every evening for six days during the Monlam, until the seventh evening, when we will perform the Akshobhya Purification Fire Ritual. The reason is that, as I have mentioned earlier, this year many people have died because of natural disasters which occurred around the world, especially Jyekundo, Drugchu and Ladakh, so for their sakes we are performing the fire ritual in a more extensive way.
Generally, in Tantra, in terms of authentic deity practice, first you do the nyenpa [recitation] and then the drupa [the practice]. The nyenpa can be calculated in terms of time as at least a week, and forms a kind of introduction, and, we are doing the practice in this way bearing in mind the benefit of the deceased.
Lord Buddha praised Buddha Mitrugpa as supreme for purifying karmic obscurations, and this is that very Mitrugpa. In the world at the present time, in the twenty-first century, due to the power of evil activity, because of human thought and conduct, compounded by modern technology, the force of the action of our karma is extremely powerful, and the strength of negative has become much greater than the positive. So, at this time, when negative forces are increasing, I think the time has come for us to engage in the practice of the Ritual of Akshobhya, if we are able.
Q. What does it mean when people say that the Gyalwang Karmapa is an emanation of Akshobhya Buddha?
In general, in Tantra, where the flower lands indicates the Buddha family, so the Karmapa belongs to this vajra family [of Akshobhya]. Hence the Karmapas wear a dark blue crown on their heads when engaging in enlightened activities [dark blue is the colour associated with Buddha Akshobhya]. Some people also say that the Karmapa is an emanation of Mitrugpa, so this tradition does exist, but in general, the Karmapa, and the lamas of the Dagpo Kagyu, not just the Karma Kagyu, belong to this vajra family.
Q. What are the designs and themes of the butter sculptures this year?
This year they are in connection with the Karmapa 900 commemoration, thus in the torma [butter sculptures] we have representations of eight previous Karmapa incarnations, from the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, to the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje.
As last year, in the centre there are deeds of the Buddha, drawn from the Avadana [accounts of past life deeds]. Similarly, there are eight worldly protectors – the four great deities and the Four Great Kings –who guard the virtuous activities of Buddhist practitioners, and, more broadly, not just of Buddhist practitioners, but of other virtuous beings too. Since we are now living in India, in a sense this is a way of showing our respect to the Hindu gods of India, and since they are gods who protect all virtuous, positive beings, and since they were praised by Buddha as well, this is the reason for us to make torma of them in particular this year.
Q. What is the design of the Main Entrance Gate this year?
I have nothing particular to say about the main entrance gate. Although there was no special tradition of making welcoming gates in Tibet, this practice came about in India and we are following that custom. The main purpose for which this gate has been made is not simply to have a splendid, beautiful welcoming gate but for the inner meaning, the blessings. We have affixed important dharani mantras to the gate so that it serves two functions as people pass back and forth underneath. Its blessings purify particular obscurations, and also assist in the two accumulations [of wisdom and merit]. As Lord Buddha said in Sutra, and trusting in his words, we have attached these special dharani mantras. This is what we did last year and we are doing the same this year.
Q. Dusum Khyenpa founded the Tibetan incarnate lama system. What is a trulku?
In the Mahayana sutras and commentaries three kayas [the three different bodies of a Buddha] are presented; the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya [trulku in Tibetan]. In order to engage in activities for the sake of sentient beings, Buddhas come in the form of the sambhogakaya for bodhisattva disciples with pure karma, and, similarly, in the form of the supreme nirmanakaya for ordinary disciples. But what we speak of in Tibetan as a trulku is somewhat different. Holy beings, whose prayers have the power to be accomplished, after making prayers for the aims of the teachings and other sentient beings, having in mind the aims of their disciples and heart disciples, take rebirth again and again. This is not strictly what we are speaking about when we talk of the trulku in the three kaya presentation of the sambhogakaya, nirmanakaya and dharmakaya. Rather they are bodhisattvas, with the power to accomplish their prayers, who also take rebirth thinking of sentient beings, their own disciples and heart disciples. And we speak of these as trulkus.
Q. In looking at Dusum Khyenpa’s life, what is it that stands out for Your Holiness?
In my way of thinking about it, the first Gyalwang Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa was not just immensely kind himself but also a source of kindness. For example, in the case of water, there can be a spring, but the spring can also be the source of a river, I feel it’s rather like that. For 900 years both the Karma Kagyu and all the activities of the Kagyu lineage that stem from that, arose based on him and on his kindness. So this kindness of his was not just kindness but a source of kindness. He was the most important seed. That being the case, not only do we in the Karma Kamtsang need to recollect that kindness, but moreover all practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism too. For example, the practice of recognising trulkus originated in the Kagyu of Dusum Khyenpa. Therefore, Dusum Khyenpa’s coming into the world is significant for the teachings of Buddhism in all of Tibet. I believe him to be an important source.
Q. What is the importance of lineage? How does the lineage stay alive?
Since this is a century of invention, people do not pay particular attention to lineage; they make inventions based on the power of their own intelligence. That’s the sort of century this is. However, we live in and are part of the world. For many tens of thousands of years, we and our ancestors have been interacting with the natural environment and human society underwent many changes, so, as a consequence, humans developed many intellectual skills and wisdom. These are things which we must study and know about it. Among them in particular, in the 21st century, although there has been great improvement in material things, we are losing our inner happiness. The distance between us and the environment is increasing and, as our lives become busier, it is more difficult for us to take the essence from them. As we have become further and further separated from nature, a great deal of harm has been done to the environment. Based on that, there is a need for us to again bring to mind the intelligence of our ancestors. We need to study them and be able to establish sincere, inter-personal connections, as they did for many tens of thousands of years. Similarly, we need such connections between humans and their environment.
Particularly in the case of the reincarnation lineage of the Gyalwang Karmapas, it’s a lineage not just in words but in meaning. In addition, if we ourselves are to uphold the wisdom of Mahamudra and the unfettered great compassion in individual minds, we must generate and cultivate them in our own beings, continually making efforts to do this and increase enlightened activities. It will only be possible for the lineage to remain if we do so. Otherwise, if we uphold the lineage only in words and in the practise of rituals, there is the danger that the lineage will decline.
A comment on the teachings: Jowo Atisha's " Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment"
The teachings this year are meant for the Himalayan peoples, many of whom have been Buddhist for generations, and several people had the idea that it would be good to organise teachings for them before the Monlam. So it was agreed that we would do that this year. However, no special announcement or special provisions were made. Therefore, whoever comes may attend, whether foreigner or Himalayan, and it will be a teaching for everyone.
The reason for teaching Lamp for the Path this year is that generally Tibetans and Himalayan peoples practise Tibetan Buddhism, and among Tibetan Buddhists there are many distinct practices of Buddha dharma according to the common vehicle, the Mahayana and the Vajrayana. There is a sequence in which these are all to be practised. It is not just that we practise according to whether our capacity is greater or lesser. It is not good to practise higher tantra before we reach the appropriate level. Therefore, the incomparable Lord Atisha established a gradual path for three types of beings that is the way to practice in accordance with mental level and mental capacity.
The need to proceed in accordance with these stages is something that all practitioners definitely need to know. Moreover, this is an extremely crucial point for those who are practising all three vehicles together. Therefore, I thought it would be good to speak about it. In particular, Tibetan Buddhism has spread and is now practised throughout the world, and there are some who do not pay attention to this issue of mental level–whether they have reached the necessary level or not– and there are also many who are not aware of the situation, so I thought I would do this in order to encourage them.
Q. Why was the The King of Aspirations: the Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct chosen for the teaching during Monlam?
At the time when the previous Bokar Rinpoche presided over the Kagyu Monlam, having restablished it in Bodhgaya, it was primarily a recitation of Samantabhadra’s The King of Aspirations: the Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct [Sangchos Monlam], and this prayer was emphasised. From then until now, Kagyu Monlam has always included the recitation of this prayer every year. Since we concluded the teachings on the Life of Milarepa last year, it seemed that it would be very appropriate for this year’s Monlam to have teachings on the Sangchos Monlam, and therefore there will be a brief commentary on it.
Q. Could you say a little about the ‘speaking statue’ of Dusum Khyenpa?
The speaking statue of Dusum Khyenpa is normally kept in Bagyö Rinpoche’s monastery in Kollegal, South India. In connection with the Karmapa 900 celebrations we will be inviting it as the principal sacred image, and at the same time we will be treating it as the main sacred object during Kagyu Monlam. There is no detailed history of this object, but it is extremely precious and, having spoken on many occasions, has many blessings. There’s a plan to invite this statue not only during this Monlam but all around the world, whenever Monlam or Karmapa 900 celebrations are being held. Therefore, we have invited the glorious Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa and this is a very special object that has attained blessings of body speech and mind for all, without discrimination.
Q. Do you have a message for all those attending, listening, or volunteering at the 28th Kagyu Monlam?
We call this the Kagyu Aspiration Prayer [Monlam] and that is its meaning. I believe that it is a great activity , accomplished by bringing together in one place the wishes, hopes, aspirations and enthusiasm of many people. For this reason the volunteers of Kagyu Monlam and the many people who join the assembly, as well as those who watch from afar over the Internet, all directly and indirectly, in many different ways, express their hopes, wishes and aspirations, and only then does it become a real Kagyu Monlam.
Based on that, I think that probably this is able to influence peace in the world. Therefore, without them, there would be no Kagyu Monlam. Recollecting their kindness, I have the hope of being able to continue holding this vast Dharma celebration of Kagyu Monlam every year, and for it to become even more meaningful in future, for it to have a richer meaning, and for it to increase without degenerating. Based on all of you, I have the hope that all sentient beings may attain the joy of Dharma, and glorious, wholesome happiness. Similarly, I live in the hope that all sentient beings will share in the happiness and joy of the noble taste of Dharma.