Wisdom and Meditation
by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

I am very happy to be at the Root Institute once again and I am delighted to see everyone come here to listen to the dharma with such faith and devotion. I have come to the Root Institute many times and every time I get a very warm welcome and I would like to thank you all very much for this. I did not make any particular preparations for what I am going to say today, nor am I quite sure what I should say to you, but perhaps I will share my feelings about the Kadampa Lineage.

When we talk about the Kadampa Lineage, we are referring to the lineage of those who are able to engage in the entire thought of the Buddha, and all of the Buddha’s speech without leaving anything out and to bring all of that onto the path to enlightenment. And this is a particular feature of the Kadampa lineage. So within their presentation of the Buddha’s teachings, their discussion of the three types of individuals, and so forth, what I think is most important for our time is the example they set of being able to practice and understand all the Buddha’s teachings, and to be able to take them onto the path. I think this is the most important and impressive thing about the Kadampa Lineage.

It is also a way of practising where you do not have any bias between the different philosophical schools or between the different vehicles of Buddhism. Sometimes there is some bias between the levels of the Mahayana and the Foundation Vehicle, but the difference between these is actually nothing other than differences in the capacities of our own minds. It is a question of the extent of our resolve or the amount of responsibility or burden that we are able to take upon ourselves. Even if we belong to the family of the Mahayana, in order to be able to really develop the capacity of our minds, then in the Kadampa tradition, we would start by studying the teachings of the sravakas and the pratyeka buddhas without casting any of it away.

Similarly, in terms of the different philosophical schools, it is well known that there are four main schools in India. These are philosophical schools that we progress through like going up a staircase. After you understand the manner of explanation of the lower philosophical schools, then you are gradually able to understand the upper vehicles. For this reason, then, the practices of the lower philosophical vehicles become companions or helpers to the practices of higher vehicles. And so for the Kadampas, there is a way of practising these without the lower becoming false in terms of the upper vehicles or without them being adversaries to the upper vehicles.

So this is a way that a single individual can practice all the different vehicles or philosophical schools of Buddhism without discriminating against any of them. It is the way to come to the essence of one’s practice within a single human lifetime.

Therefore, we look at the examples of the Kadampa masters and their teachings–the really vast, profound, and very extensive presentations–as a sort of foundation or commonality between all the different lineages that developed in Tibet. I think that all of the masters of the current lineages of Tibetan Buddhism cite the masters of the Kadampa lineage. Of course, they have their own particular explanation and instructions but I feel that the basis of all of them is the Kadampa tradition. And this is because the Kadampa tradition contains all the different teachings of the Buddha within one package.

And then there are the old and new Kadampa traditions. After the appearance of Lord Tsongkhapa there emerged what is called the new Kadampa tradition. And we can talk about the difference between the old and new Kadampa but the main point to remember is that the Kadampa tradition is the basis for all of the later Tibetan dharma traditions. Therefore, it seems to me that as long as all of the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism are still extant, then the Kadampa tradition will also be present without weakening. It is as if the essence of the Kadampa tradition has completely permeated all of the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. So these are my basic feelings about the Kadampa tradition.

Does anybody have any questions?

1.) What is enlightenment?

There are many different explanations of what enlightenment is–the state of Buddhahood and all of that. If we talk about it in terms of ground, path, and fruition, there are many different presentations of this and there is really no time to describe them all in detail. But actually, when we think about the word buddha, in Tibetan it is translated as sangye, which means purified and developed. And the example that is given for this is a lotus that is fully in bloom.

But if we talk about what buddha means in ordinary language, it means understanding, and not just any old understanding, but great understanding. And we can also talk about the difference between consciousness and wisdom. The word for wisdom in Tibetan is yeshe and the word for consciousness in Tibetan is namshe. “Ye” in the word yeshe means primordial or from the very beginning. It is like knowing what the nature of all things has been from the very beginning. Understanding the nature of things and the way that they abide is what we call wisdom or yeshe.

Consciousness or namshe is knowing the outer appearance or the external way things are and then clinging to that. That is what we call consciousness. And so buddha means someone who understands the nature of all things as it has been from the very beginning. As ordinary individuals, when we see phenomena, we see the external appearance and do not understand that this is not their true nature. We cling to this as if it were their nature. Actually, all we are seeing is the temporary way that things appear to be and then we grasp at this as if it were the actual nature of how things are.

There is a story about the Buddha that illustrates this. The Buddha was going on his alms round one day and he came to the house of someone who started criticising him by saying, “You lazy monks are always going around and begging all the time. You should be working for your own food.” He was criticising and using a lot of really harsh and nasty language. The Buddha just stood there and listened to him and finally when he slowed down, the Buddha said, “Have you finished with what you have to say?” And the man said, “Yes I have finished.” And then the Buddha said, “If you give someone something that they do not want, what should they do with it? Should they give it back to you and would you take it?” And the man said, “Yes I suppose I would take it.” And then the Buddha said, “Well, all of these mean and nasty things that you have just said, and all of your criticism I do not need, so I would like to give it back to you.”

What this story illustrates is that the Buddha understands the nature of how things are. He realises that there is absolutely no point to him getting angry in any way. He realises that the other person was speaking out of a motivation of hatred or anger but that is not a reason for the Buddha himself to get angry. So normally we would think of this as something we should get angry about. We think of this as something true and we grasp at what appears as being the nature of the actual way things are. Because of that, our minds are disturbed. We take things way too seriously because we do not understand the true nature of things but instead are mistaken or confused by the appearance of things. I think this is one way to explain the difference.

2.) When I see the suffering of other sentient beings, I take it very seriously. And sometimes I want to try to do something to help but it does not always work out. So is it better to wait until enlightenment to act?

Of course, it is wonderful to have an interest in achieving enlightenment. This interest is primarily in order to bring benefit to sentient beings. But as it says in Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, those people who do not have clairvoyance should not work for the sake of other beings. The reason it says this is that if we do not have a little bit of clairvoyance, we will not be able to know the minds of other sentient beings. We will not really be able to know their capacities, their inclinations, or their interests. And if we do not know that then we will not be able to teach them the dharma that is in accord with their own level. We will not be able to help them as much. For instance, we would not know if it is appropriate to teach someone emptiness or not. If we do not have clairvoyance, it is not easy to help them. So for that reason, it says in the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment that without clairvoyance, you should not teach the dharma.

But also when ordinary individuals try to do things for the benefit of other sentient beings, it is said that most of the things we do and do not. During the phase when one is a bodhisattva, then most activities we do d up not having much effect or benefit. Of course, some of the things we do have benefits but for the benefit of others are meaningful, it is possible of course that there would be some that would not be meaningful. And then when one achieves the state of Buddhahood, all of one’s activities are meaningful. There are not any that end up being pointless. So for that reason, we need to achieve the state of Buddhahood. Some people might think it is in order to be able to achieve some high benefit for oneself, but in fact, Buddhahood is just being able to work for the benefit of other sentient beings, and not just a few hundred or a few thousand sentient beings, but to be able to help all those beings who have consciousness by bringing them to the point of Buddhahood and omniscience. To bring beings to the state of complete enlightenment is something that only a buddha can do and this is why we need to achieve the state of Buddhahood. And so once we achieve the state of Buddhahood, our activities for the benefit of others will be effortless.

However, while we are still on the path, there are some small things we can do for the benefit of others even though they may not be as vast as the infinite activity of the Buddha. And we should do as much as we are capable of doing. So this does not mean just thinking to ourselves, “Oh I can’t do that.” We need to test ourselves. We need to try it out. If we try something out and find we are not able to help, well there is nothing wrong with that. And if we were not able to do anything, then we can make the aspiration, “In the future, may I be able to help sentient beings in this way.”

In any case, we should do the things we can actually accomplish now. It is not a question of waiting until we achieve enlightenment. Since the state of Buddhahood is working for the benefit of sentient beings, then the path that brings this to fruition is also bringing benefit to sentient beings. The vast activity of the children of the bodhisattvas is the activity of helping other sentient beings and if we do not practice it now then it would be difficult for us to effortlessly bring benefit to sentient beings in the future.

And so we need to train on this path and gradually go through the stages of a bodhisattva in order to achieve the state of Buddhahood. And this comes out of working for the benefit of others and out of our resolve and aspiration. And it is through this that we are able to actualise the effortless activity of a buddha.

3.) Why should we aspire to be born in a pure land? Why not aspire to be born again in this realm where dharma is so desperately needed.

The reason to make aspirations to be born in a pure realm is that there are all the harmonious conditions for practising the dharma without any impediments. You have everything you need to practice dharma and that is the reason to be born in a pure realm. To speak in business language, there is a profit to being born in a pure land. But this does not mean that you must make prayers to be born there or that you should be born anywhere else. It is up to you what aspiration you want to make. It is your choice.

If we do what we can to be born in the happy states of the gods or humans, if we gather all the causes and conditions for being born with a precious human body, then after death we can take rebirth as someone who can do great things for the benefit of the teachings and for beings. It is possible that we can do this. If you have the resolve to do this, that is wonderful. But it is not necessarily very easy to do so. As humans in this world, we have a lot of experiences and when we try to practice the dharma, it is not easy. There are a lot of things that get in the way. We have to put a lot of effort into our dharma practice. In the pure realms, it is not like this. We do not have to put a lot of effort into it. Whether it is the power of the realm or because of Amitabha’s aspirations, you have everything that you need to practice the dharma. And there are no impediments to the practice, so there is a great profit to being born there. But it depends upon your own interest and courage. If you have the courage to make the aspiration to be born in a degenerate age such as this one, this is extremely praiseworthy. It is like the Bhagavan Buddha who made the aspiration to become a buddha at a time when the lifespan was 100 years, and because of this, he was proclaimed as being the greatest of all the white lotuses of the thousand buddhas of this time. So that is also wonderful.

4.) How can we keep the heart open, be mindful, and not follow our disturbing emotions while living an active, ordinary life?

The main thing is that we need to have carefulness, mindfulness, and awareness of what we are doing. We have the habitual tendency to do unvirtuous things and for that reason, we need to really apply our mindfulness and awareness. This is something that we need to understand: we have a lot of disturbing emotions and afflictions and because of that, we need to be careful and aware and apply mindfulness. And this is because from innumerable lifetimes since the beginningless time we have been habituated to afflictions and disturbing emotions. We have a very old habit for this. And so we need to replace this old habit with a new habit and we need to use our mindfulness to create this new habit within our mind.

It is similar to when we meditate upon loving kindness as an antidote for hatred. We need to meditate upon it and use it and then we need to be careful and aware in order to make it into a new habit. So we meditate on loving-kindness over and over again, and when we meditate upon it, we need to protect it with our mindfulness, awareness, and carefulness. If we do not protect it, we will just lose it. So it is very important for us to protect our new habits and the most important thing is that we have a deep resolve within our hearts and minds.

Sometimes it is as if there are two people within our minds. There is one person on the side of disturbing emotions and one person on the side of virtue. And it is like we are stuck in the middle between the two of them. Sometimes we support one or the other and it is never definite which side we will support. We should take all of the power of our body, speech, and mind and decide which side we are going to support: the virtuous side or the unvirtuous side. We need to contemplate the nature of the disturbing emotions and when we have the experience where we can recognise the problems and faults, from that point onward we should have the resolve not to be overcome by the enemy of the afflictions.

So this concludes our short session this afternoon. I would like to thank all of the people who keep the Root Institute going, all the lamas and sangha, all the Indian staff and Bihari people who are here, and even the elephant they have outside. Whenever I come to Bodhgaya, the Root Institute offers me an invitation. I am especially grateful for this opportunity. And I would like to thank you very much for making such wonderful arrangements and preparations out of such pure motivation and I hope that I can come again and again in the future. I would also like to pray from the bottom of my heart that all of you have great auspiciousness, happiness, and well-being.