Friday, July 15, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 10. Empowerment

Kalachakra thangka directed by Jhado Rinpoche, painted by Buchung Nubgya

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 9. Empowerment

Prior to Empowerment, HH continued Teachings.

[What follows is my incomplete and probably incorrect interpretation]

On the Vajrayana approach to meditation

Common to all Tantra teachings is visualization. In order to invoke subtle mind, the grosser mind should cease. Meditation is a means to perceive ultimate reality and understand its emptiness (voidness). There is no difference between Sutra and Tantra as far as the nature of reality is concerned. The difference comes at the level of subjective experience: one meditates on imagining oneself in a form of a deity. This is only possible by invoking the subtle mind. This is very different from meditating on the nature, let's say, a flower. Even though the ultimate nature of reality (emptiness/clear-light on the external level) is the same, the objects of meditation in the Pali tradition (Theravada) and and in the Tantric tradition (Vajrayana) are different. Both meditate on the void/empty nature of reality but the methods they use differ significantly.

How is Kalachakra Tantra is different from other higher-level Tantras

In the higher-level Tantra there are father-tantra, mother-tantra, and non-dual tantra. Depending on classification, father- and mother-tantras are either considered a subset of non-dual tantra or the latter constitutes its own separate class. [One commentator] establishes correspondence between Kalachakra initiations (empowerments) and the classes of tantra: 2nd initiation relates to father-tantra; 3rd initiation, to mother-tantra; and 4th initiation, with non-dual tantra.

Kalachakra is referred to as explicit (or clear) Tantra, as opposed to obscure (or oblique) ones. The clarity refers to the 4th initiation: in the Kalachakra Tantra, the 4th empowerment is presented explicitly, while in others it is said that it is based on the 3rd, without further elaboration. In other Tantras there are references to rainbow or other subtle bodies but in the Kalachakra Tantra the approach is different: it uses the subtle energy, the clear light. Only in the Kalachakra Tantra the practice involves clear (subtle) Bodhicitta drops (red and white), and from the merge of the two and their dissolving comes the dissolution of the temporal body.

We can distinguish two kinds of emptiness:
  • without aspect, and
  • with aspect (empty form).
Through the cultivation of the empty form one can achieve 3 kinds of bliss:
  1. based on the sexual energy;
  2. mutable (changeable) — via imagining interaction with wisdom, and 
  3. immutable — great seal of empty form.
Through the practice of great seal of empty form one can visualize 21,600 drops arising, which corresponds to 21,600 times we breathe in a 24-hour period.

In other higher-level Tantra practices there are similar practices but what is specific to Kalachakra is that the clear light itself is being used, as oppose to the grosser level of mind.

On the Dzogchen approach

In the Dzogchen approach, using clear mind does not require that the grosser mind ceased its activity. This is an advanced technique, based on fundamental awareness. This is not an easy approach, and practicing it is only possible with a highly qualified Dzogchen teacher/guru.

On authenticity of Vajrayana and Kalachakra

HH then returned to the topic of authenticity of Tantrayana he had partially addressed on Monday, July 11 (Day 6). There are all kinds of questions about Tantric tradition in general and Kalachakra Tantra in particular: Kalachakra is a later text, it could not possibly emanate from the Buddha, where, exactly, Shambala was located, etc. The point, however, is not to take the text literally. Other Buddhist texts mention “pure land” or “copper mountain,” but these are not being interpreted literally. Historical analysis is not a criterion of veracity of teaching. Even in the Sutras the metaphorical interpretation is often required.

Some Indian and Tibetan masters did question the authenticity and validity of Kalachakra Tantra. However, they did so after having themselves practiced the Kalachakra Tantra and having had visualizations based on it.

The Sakya approach speaks of the following sequence:
authentic scriptures --> tradition --> experience.
In practice, the sequence is often the opposite:
experience --> tradition --> authentic scriptures

There are ordinary experiences and extraordinary experiences. In the Tantric (esoteric) tradition you do have extraordinary experiences. You have to trust your teacher, and through your personal experience develop admiration for the great masters of the past. HH reminisced about his conversation, when he was still in Tibet, with a Chinese communist official about whether there is reincarnation. The official said there was not but he admitted he could no prove that. Absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence, so in some circumstances one cannot rely only on reason and needs to have a belief, a conviction. HH then relayed a story about a Kagyu lama who spent time in a Chinese prison and then came to India and participated in the Kalachakra initiation. During empowerment he had a vision of all the masters of his lineage being in one room. There was no reason for that lama to tell untruth, he had nothing to gain. Extraordinary experiences are possible.

HH then said that he has students who gained a great level of insight as a result of Kalachakra empowerment and surpassed himself (“The son is greater than the father,” as an old Tibetan saying goes.)

Ultimately though, one needs to familiarize oneself with different Tantric systems and judge for oneself how effective the Kalachakra Tantra is based on the personal experience.

Evening dharma talk: Robert Thurman

Professor Thurman gave a great talk. He is an engaging speaker with encyclopedic knowledge and volcanic temperament. However, he put forth so much politics that it turned me off, somewhat—even though I agree wholeheartedly with most of what he said. Temperamentally, I feel more comfortable with Dr. Berzin.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 8. Preliminary Empowerment of Students

HH continued his commentary on Kamalashila's The Stages of Meditation.

[What follows is my incomplete and probably incorrect interpretation]

Shamata and vipassana

Explaining sections on meditating on Calm Abiding (shamata) and Special Insight (vipassana) (pp. 43–45), he said that the key to shamata is to find a proper balance: if your mind is scattered and too agitated you have to calm it down but if you feel too low or depressed you have to lift your mind up by some joyous thoughts. Normally shamata meditation precedes vipassana meditation. Initially you'll be able to concentrate only for a few minutes but if you practice you'll be sustain your concentration for several hours. Higher-level meditators are able to practice shamata and vipassana meditations at the same time.

In regard to the section on Actualizing Special Insight (p.46, last paragraph). “Self” here is used in the sense of self-existence. Some schools of thought maintain that selflessness relates only to individuals while other schools say that selflessness relates to all phenomena.

In any case, the essence of Buddhism is:
  • infinite altruism [method] +
  • recognizing the nature of ultimate reality (whether objective or subjective) which is devoid of its own self [wisdom]
Understanding this give a person a sense of inner strength.

What is specific to Vajrayana (Tantrayana) is the possibility for its follower to unite and perceive method and wisdom in a single mental state (a single cognitive event) and then arise in the form of a deity during the meditation. More precisely, it is the ability for the meditator not only to perceive a deity but to identify with it.

In general, the highest-level Tantras are characterized by indivisible unity of
  • form and manifestation;
  • body and mind;
  • method and wisdom
these are two aspects of the same entity.

There are grosser and subtler levels of mind (or energy). In order to quiet the activity of the grosser mind and access the subtle mind one can employ techniques, such as meditating on pranas (energy channels).

On Vajrayana

The concepts of four types of nirvana (natural, with a residue, without a residue, and non-abiding), as well as the concepts of three kayas (Buddha bodies) can be explained only in the Tantric tradition. By introducing a notion of a clear light mind (basis tantra) Vajrayana brings out the hidden meaning of Buddhist sutras and fosters understanding of the Buddha's enlightened mind.

Evening dharma talk: Bodhicitta

HE Mindrolling Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche gave a talk on Bodhicitta. She is a wonderfully engaging speaker. Below are just a few points I jotted down.

Bodhicitta is awakening mind/loving kindness. The method is to reduce obstacles and increase conditions for happiness.
  1. Inner wakefulness (reflection) —not dependent on external circumstances.
  2. Strength of virtuous attitude (cultivate virtues).
  3. Strength of meditation/contemplation.
  4. The presence of a spiritual teacher.
  • Unconditional love: requires practice and repetition, has to be built up to be sustained.
  • Strong sense of awareness (of self-centeredness, selfishness).
  • Undiminishing aspiration to end suffering of other people.
  • Strong desire to reach enlightenment.
  • Devotion to mindfulness.
Meditation allows one to get in touch with inherent goodness of human beings. We have an ability to do something in order to achieve happiness.

Thoughts and actions:
  • Maintain aspiration
  • Realize the magnitude of suffering, see it, open yourself up.
  • Be joyful: find something good in another person rather than being critical. Cultivate an ability to glimpse something positive and maintain a positive attitude. Accept the world as it is, and not how it should be (in your view)
  • Maintained unbiased attitude. Curb your aggression and ambition.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 7. Ritual and Offering Dance

Interestingly, dancing and—especially—singing of a different kind (the group was performing in front of the main stage) were incorporated into the service. The resulting combination of the ostinato chant and weaving melody (video 4), as well as the soaring solo (video 6), were stunning.

Evening dharma talk: Deepening your Kalachakra Views: The Mandala, The Cosmology, The Deities, and the Meaning
The talk Deepening your Kalachakra Views: The Mandala, The Cosmology, The Deities, and the Meaning featured Alexander Berzin (Cosmology), Vesna Wallace (Mandala), and Sofia Stril-Rever (Meaning), and was moderated by Robert Thurman.

The Berzin Archives site contains a wealth of information, primarily on the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

See also: and (Vesna Wallace); (Sofia Stril-Rever)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 6. Preliminary Teachings

Teachings on Acharya Kamalashila's Stages of Meditation (Gomrim Barpa), Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme's Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (Lagden Sodunma), and Geshe Langri Thangpa's The Eight Verses of Mind Traininng. Day 3

The afternoon began with the recitation of sutras in Japanese and Vietnamese.

[What follows is my incomplete and probably incorrect interpretation]

As was noted on the first day of teaching, internal essence (“self”) has no beginning and no end. Similarly, external phenomena have no beginning or end either. For example, there is no reason to think that there was only one big bang, it stands to reason that there were and there will be an infinite number of big bangs.

Liberation from suffering

One has to look beyond appearances and recognize reality. Appearances are illusions; once this is understood the attachment/clinging/grasping, as well as resulting negative emotions (anger, fear, jealousy, etc.) are dispelled.

The liberation from suffering is possible because the basic nature of the mind is pure. Practically, to effect this change, one has to:
  1. avert acts of destruction;
  2. let go of grasping to your identity;
  3. let go of clinging to external things.
As was noted yesterday, there are two kinds of suffering. Avoiding 10 non-virtues, which is common to all great religions, is to free yourself from the first kind of suffering. This avoiding de-merit, avoiding negative actions can be achieved by modifying your behavior.

On wisdom

The main obstacle to liberation though is distorted ignorance (“mis-knowing”). All negative emotions are caused by it, i.e., by self-clinging, self-attachment. To overcome that, one needs to dispel distorted ignorance, i.e., one needs wisdom.

There are three levels of wisdom:
  1. sensory-based;
  2. reason-based; and
  3. internalized.
Wisdom is achieved through meditation. To achieve concentration, one needs quietness, noiselessness (which is difficult to find in a big city). The meditation should be single-pointed, which implies introspection, mindfulness, and concentrating on an object. Mind has to be sharp but relaxed. Meditation skill allows us to perform self-observation, to check whether our actions are right.

samadhi (meditation) = morality + meditation + wisdom

This is common to all three Buddhist traditions. The differences are contextual, they are only distinction of emphasis.

On the role of Tantric tradition in Buddhism

HH then addressed the issues that are sometimes being raised related to “legitimacy” of the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions. Some question whether Mahayana was taught by the Buddha. Others say that if the Buddha came to Tibet and observed the Tantric tradition he wouldn't recognize his own teaching.

Mahayana tradition is based on Theravada, and developed it further using the notion of infinite altruism (Bodhicitta). As far as Vajrayana is concerned, there is a source and foundation of the Tantric principle in the Sanskrit tradition. The contribution of the Tantric tradition is the notion of subtle energy. Without that notion it is difficult to explain the nature of achieving Buddhahood. The important consideration here is not to be bound by the conventional notion of time: the historic Buddha may not have taught Tantra directly but Buddha is eternal. The whole point of Buddhism is that the physical death of the historical Buddha was not the end. (Here HH relayed a story about a Theravada monk who had a visual experience of the Buddha.)

On altruism

Thus one of the main precepts of Mahayana and Vajrayana is altruism.
One has to practice selflessness, which can be of two kinds:
  1. intuitive altruism; and
  2. recognition of interdependent existence.
(An aside: In Buddhism there are no absolutes. Even an absolute devotion to god may become a hindrance on the path of liberation.)

Altruism is not hard to understand but difficult to experience. There are two methods of practicing altruism:
  1. treat others like people we love;
  2. eliminate self-centeredness, recognize that there is no “I”
The second method will banish anger, hatred, jelousy, and rid you of fear. It will fill you with self-confidence and bring you more friends. Egoism make one stiff.

As soon as selfishness is gone there is no hypocrisy, and all moral principles, like 10 Commandments are observed willingly, and not out of fear.

On strength of keeping your mind calm

Stanza (14). If your enemy has succeeded in provoking your anger, if he has made you lose your temper then the enemy has defeated you. But if your mind remains calm then the enemy has failed. (Here HH relayed a story from his childhood about an old Tibetan official who was famous for his humility: the angrier his adversary was the more serene he became. And then he struck back, at the right moment. That's a sign of strength.) Keep your mind peaceful; then it is not impossible that your worst enemy will become your best friend.

Remaining stanzas of The Thirty-seven practices

Stanzas (18–19). When one goes through the hard period on is in danger of losing optimism/hope. If one's life is very successful then he is in danger of becoming arrogant/conceited.

Stanza (22). Meditation on emptiness.

Stanzas (23–24). In the after-meditation state one has to cultivate awareness of illusion.

Stanza (25). Practice of six perfections, beginning with generosity.

Stanza (31). You have to continually examine your own confusion, check whether we follow the right path. That requires self-discipline and involves watching over verbal, physical, and mental actions.

That was the end of exegesis on The Thirty-seven practices of a Bodhisattva by Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme.

The Eight Verses of Mind Training

HH then turned to The Eight Verses of Mind Training by Geshe Langri Thangpa (p.53) that he has known by heart since childhood. (He said that he doesn't get frustrated when there are flight delays: he occupies his mind with these verses.)

Modalities of perception of the world

There are two kinds of awakening mind, conventional and ultimate. As far as ultimate awakening mind is concerned, one can distinguish three kinds.
  1. Non-conceptual (sensory). This one is non-selective, immediate: it engages with whatever is in the field of vision.
  2. Conceptual (reasoning). This one is selective — does not engage with the object directly.
  3. Highly selective. This one operates on the mental level and chooses its objects. However, it tends to conflate time, e.g., “Is this the same thing I saw yesterday?”
On meditation

HH then spoke about meditation. Normally attainment of shamata (calmness) precedes vipassana (insight); however, in higher Tantras there are practices to meditate on both:
  • union of bliss an emptiness (Gelug);
  • union of samsara and nirvana (Sakya).
Coming back to Kamalashila's The Stages of Meditation (p 44, column 1, last paragraph), HH stressed the importance of the correct posture and said that breathing meditation can be helpful if your mind is distracted or agitated.

The object you concentrate on should be in your mind's eye. Visualize it. The image will become bright. Then you visualize yourself as a deity (Vajrayana) or as a chakra (Mahayana). Do not think about past or future. You should feel empty, no external stimuli or internal feelings.

Perception is not mirroring, it is taking one aspect of an object and constructing “knowing,” or understanding. There are different views on the nature of perception: is it a unitary moment or a multi-aspect/multi-stage process?

When we stop thinking of past and future this is a moment of nothingness. Prolong that and experience luminosity, the ultimate reality of the mind. Concentrate on that for as long as you can. Then take *that* and investigate; meditate on what is mind.

Your own breathing is a useful object of meditation. Concentrate on breathing. (Here HH engaged the audience in a breathing exercise.)

Chanting is a form of mediation too. One can visualize each word and continue doing so for many hours. This can train and discipline your mind, so that then you go to a subtler objects.

[This last day teaching felt special: HH talked about both rather abstract and rather personal matters.]

Evening dharma talk: Buddhism, Empowerments, and Everyday Life

The venerable Thubten Chodron gave a talk on Buddhism, Empowerments, and Everyday Life. She made several really great points. For example, when you realize that clinging to your constructed or imposed identities really makes your life unnecessarily difficult renouncing those identities can be truly liberating and can make your life much easier. Imagining yourself as a deity, e.g., Kalachakra, makes you free of fear so that you can aspire to act and think as an enlightened being would.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 5. Preliminary Teachings

Teachings on Acharya Kamalashila's Stages of Meditation (Gomrim Barpa) and Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme's Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (Lagden Sodunma). Day 2

The afternoon began with the recitation of a Sanskrit tradition sutra in Chinese.

[What follows is my incomplete and probably incorrect interpretation]

Morality is more relevant that ever

HH contrasted two groups of people: those for whom inner values/moral principles/ ethics are of paramount importance and those for whom reaching money or power are of primary concern. Whether believers or not, the first group, in the long run, is happier because they can act transparently, sincerely, and confidently. The second group can gain a temporary benefit but often their ways lead to fear and hypocrisy, and, as a consequence, they have no self-confidence, no inner strength, and feelings of insecurity.

Societal problems are not caused by the lack of religious faith; rather, they are caused by the lack of ethics: too much greed and selfishness, lack of concern for (compassion to) the others lead to such issues as the polarization between the rich and poor, global warming, etc. Thus, at this day and age, morality is more relevant than ever. When HH speaks about religions he refers to the ethical essence of such teachings, and not to the rituals involved.

On misconceptions about Tibetan Buddhism

He than addressed some misconceptions about Buddhism in general and Tibetan Buddhism in particular. All Buddhist traditions are based on the recognition of the Four Noble Truths. Characterization of Tibetan Buddhism as “lamaism” is incorrect, it is a sign of ignorance. But, partially, the lamas themselves are at fault: HH criticized the situation when the institution of Tulku has become a sign of social status and relayed a story of a high lama who left a monastery and became a helper to a poor family in a remote village. The lama, HH said, should be judged not by the height of his seat or, to quote and old Tibetan saying, by a number of horses he has. Nor (on a lighter note) by the color of his hat: yellow, black, … (Gelug, Kagyu, …) Touching his red visor (shielding his eyes from the harsh stage lights), HH said, “One day, I may introduce a green hat, to remind lamas to take better care of the environment like the monks in Burma and Thailand already do. And remember: the historical Buddha had no hat at all :)”

Distorted sense of reality (mis-knowing) as the cause of suffering

“Blind faith is outdated,” he said,  and we should gain full knowledge of what Buddhism actually is. There are three goals of Buddha dharma:
  1. short-term: to transform our mind through intelligence and training;
  2. long-term: to purify our mind;
  3. ultimately: to achieve Buddhahood (nirvana/moksha)
The methods to achieve these goals are based on Buddhist principles of interdependence and cause & effect (karma).

Suffering comes from clinging/grasping/attachment. Often suffering exists not because someone directly inflicts it; rather the cause of suffering is ignorance. There are two kinds of ignorance:
  1. simply not knowing, like not knowing an alphabet;
  2. active mis-knowing, like saying A is B, and B is C. This is a symptom of distorted state of mind.
The second kind, distorted sense of reality, is more serious than the first: it causes all destructive emotions—anger, hatred, attachment, and, consequently, their effect, the negative karma. The antidote to that kind of ignorance is awareness, learning to differentiate between appearance and reality. The way to dispel this illusion is logic, and not merely a prayer or a ritual.

The distinction between illusion and truth, the constructs of our mind and the reality goes far back: it is made in pre-Buddhist Sanskrit texts, as well as in older Buddhist scriptures, and that understanding is what all schools of Buddhism have in common.

The nature of reality; reason and its limits

HH then mentioned that the differences among the four [Mahayana] Buddhist schools of thought [Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Tathagatagarbha, and Buddhist Logic (?)] are due to different understanding of the nature of reality. Furthermore, the Middle Way school [Madhyamaka (?)] has two main strands [Prasangika and Svātantrika (?)] whose views on degree of objectivity, nominalism, etc., diverge.

The principle of dependent origination is the most precious gift of Buddhism.

This is all rather theoretical but what is a practitioner to do? HH then returned to explicating Kamalashila's The stages of meditation (p.39) There are three levels of reality:
  1. obvious;
  2. slightly obscure; and
  3. extremely opaque/hidden.
  1. This one we can perceive by sensory experience.
  2. This one we can recognize via reasoning, inference, and critical inquiry. For example, the fact that nothing is permanent or that there is no fixed “self” are not immediately obvious but eventually we can arrive to these conclusions through logic.
  3. To perceive these facts we have to move beyond the level of our cognitive ability, we have to transcend our conceptual framework. For example, we know what our birth date is because we trust our mother's word. Of course, this has to be someone you can rely on, who wouldn't lie to you, and who has no cognitive impairments.
In the Mahayana tradition, some scriptures are definitive and can be taken literally and others are not. With the latter, you have to use critical thinking.
One of the means of overcoming suffering is compassion. How to practice it? One has to realize what suffering is:
  1. Physical pain;
  2. Suffering of change;
  3. Destructive emotions. This is the level Buddhism is most concerned about.
  4. The cause of suffering is ignorance (mis-knowing); once it is eliminated, the suffering is banished.
On unbiased compassion

There are two levels of compassion:
  1. natural empathy;
  2. unbiased compassion, e.g., warmheartedness without attachment. This develops through reasoning and training.
One has to cultivate true renunciation on yourself before practicing compassion to others. The approach has to be gradual. The text (p. 40) mentions equanimity: you start with yourself, you achieve a degree of liberation yourself, and then you can achieve compassion for others. That includes all sentient beings, likable and unlikable, and not just those you care about (p. 41, penultimate paragraph).

On levels of understanding

HH then turned to The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva by Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme (p.34). There are three levels of understanding:
  1. learning (verbal, word-based);
  2. contemplation (based on the strength of conviction, absence of doubt in the truth);
  3. meditation (transforming your mind, attainment of samadhi).
HH then expounded upon the four laws/principles of nature and on the basic and derivative elements.

Relying on your senses only makes your mind dull

Stressing the importance of the inner values over superficial stimuli he gave an example of rich tourists that travel from place to place not so much to satisfy their curiosity but rather to stave off their boredom. People who rely on sensory experience only are pitiful: if the external input stops (there is nothing to see, hear, taste, smell or touch) they instantly feel bored and miserable. However, deeper satisfaction comes from mental activity. Without it, your mind becomes dull. We must pay attention to the inner world. HH, for example, doesn't watch TV: he considers it a waste of mental energy. He prefers to listen to the radio (BBC) and then keep thinking and analyzing information. [Interestingly, I do the same :)]

Stanza (4) (p.34) concerns meditation on impermanence. Illusion of permanence is a waste of our energy/life.

It's your responsibility to put a guru to the test

HH then talked about importance of avoiding negative companionship and finding a mentor/spiritual teacher. In Mahayana, 10 qualities are required of the guru. In the Vajrayana, there are even more. At one time, someone came to HH and said that there were a proliferation of fake lamas seeking power, sex, etc., and that he must do something about it. HH responded that he couldn't: it is a student's responsibility to examine a teacher before accepting him as a guru. You must examine whether he meets the criteria set forth in the Buddhist texts, and that may take time.

How to purify our mind?

Mind is like water: no matter how muddy it is, the essence (clear mind) still remains. Awareness is the seed of enlightenment. There are different levels of mind: it is present in dreams, deep sleep, and death. As was explained in the yesterday's teaching, clear mind has no beginning and no end, it is the deepest level of our consciousness, and it is the basis for reaching the Buddhahood.

To prevent accumulating negative karma, one has to avoid 10 non-virtues:
  • Killing
  • Stealing
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Lying
  • Harsh words
  • Slander
  • Gossip
  • Coveting
  • Cruelty
  • Wrong view
  • ]
The evening concluded with the Tsog — ceremonial offering.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 4. Preliminary Teachings

I didn't go to the Capitol Lawn event this morning; when I came to the Verizon Center in the afternoon for the first Teaching and looked at the big-screen monitor I was surprised to see HH the Karmapa on the stage. Quick Internet search confirmed that he is indeed in DC for the Kalachakra initiation, and that immediately upon arrival he participated in the West Lawn event.

Whitworth, M. (2011), Karmapa lama to travel to Washington DC, The Telegraph, 7 July 2011.
Woeser, S. (2011), Karmapa to receive Kalachakra initiations in Washington, DC, Phayul, 7 July 2011.

His Holiness the Karmapa arrives at West Lawn of the US Capitol
© Kagyu Office
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is received on the stage at the West Lawn of the US Capitol by Gyalwa Karmapa, Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament Mr. Penpa Tsering, and Dr. Lobsang Sangay Kalon Tripa-elect of the Central Tibetan Administration on July 9, 2011. © Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

Teachings on Acharya Kamalashila's Stages of Meditation (Gomrim Barpa) and Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme's Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (Lagden Sodunma). Day 1

The afternoon began with a sutra in Sanskrit, that sutra is common to all Buddhist traditions: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.

[What follows is my incomplete and probably incorrect interpretation]

In a wide-ranging lecture, HH The Dalai Lama touched upon many subjects:
  • he said that Kalachakra initiation has become so popular (in the West) that he uses it as an occasion to give Teachings;
  • he emphasized that Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism is inseparable from the Pali Theravada tradition as practiced in, e.g., Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia; incorporates the Sanskrit Nalanda/Mahayana tradition as transmitted to Tibet; and builds upon both with its own Tantric tradition;
  • he observed that growth of material wealth and power does not necessarily make people happier. It appears that in the more affluent societies the incidences of alcohol and drug abuse and even suicide are on the rise;
  • he said that believers must be “21st century Buddhists”, that is, to combine the scientific understanding of reality with the Buddhist understanding of human condition and the methods Buddhism offers to improve it;
  • he stressed the importance of learning the scriptural languages: too many people recite the prayers without understanding what they mean or ability to read the texts;
  • he emphasized that it is imperative to show respect to people whose view we may disagree with; as an example he offered a secularist (and a nihilist?) tradition in Indian philosophy;
  • he underscored the danger of hypocrisy and corruption (“if one prays to succeed in a robbery then Buddha should punish such a person more than if he didn't pray at all”);
  • he said that the historical Buddha taught contradictory philosophies during his lifetime not because he was confused or he wanted to confuse his disciples but because he recognized that his audiences were different, and different audiences needed different approaches;
  • he expressed a view that people are better off remaining in their own religious tradition but recognized that there is a big attraction to Buddhism in the West;
  • he observed that a maintaining order in a society only by means of law enforcement, by instilling fear, is not enough; rather, maintaining order should be supplemented or in based on the citizens' morality;
  • he touched upon the issues of attachment and transience/impermanence, reminding us how delicate the human body is and how easily it can be damaged, how it is changing, and what happens even with the most beautiful food :).
To elucidate how the Buddhist view differs from that of other religions he recalled an interface meeting where a Sufi scholar posed three questions: What is “self”? Does it have a beginning? Does it have an end?

What is “self”?

While many religions regard “self” as invariable and unchangeable (e.g., a soul), the Buddhist view is that “self” is indeed malleable and that it does change: old/young, sick/healthy, in other words, “self” depends on the state of body and mind. According to the Buddhist view, there is no unchangeable soul, given and taken by god.

Does “self” has a beginning?

Some religions postulate that “self” as a combination of body and mind is created by god for each individual. In the Buddhist view, while body decays, the mind does continue (through reincarnation?) One should recognize that mind does change because of various causes and conditions; nevertheless, the mind does endure. By “mind”, the Buddhists understand the subtle (basic) mind, that is the mind that endures even after death. (Here he relayed some stories about Buddhists whose bodies didn't decay for a long time and how scientists tried to measure and explain that phenomenon. Indeed, that reminded me of an interview with a Chicago physician who treated the 16th Karmapa and couldn't explain why his body remained warm long after his death.) Thus, “self,” understood as the subtle mind, has no beginning—this is the Buddhist answer.

Does “self” has an end?

While the manifestation gets dissolved, the prime substance endures, thus “self” has no end. He then commented on the Kamalashila's text Stages of Meditation (Gomrim Barpa) and explained (in Tibetan, with translation) different methods of meditation (trying to experience an actual feeling, e.g., compassion, intellectually contemplating an object, a discourse using negation, etc.)

Evening dharma talk: Under the Buddhist Umbrella: Do science, secularism, and religion all fit?

After the Teaching was over, Thupten Jinpa (Stanford University), a scholar, commentator, and the Dalai Lama's personal translator for 25 years, gave a talk Under the Buddhist Umbrella: Do science, secularism, and religion all fit?

He compared two different audiences, people who grew up in a Buddhist tradition and then came to the West and absorbed the Western science and philosophy (like himself), and Western Buddhists, who grew up with a rationalist point of view and then came to the Buddhist religion and philosophy. He commented on the inherent difficulties in studying Buddhism not in Sanskrit or Tibetan but learning it, for example, in English. A language necessarily reflects a certain perception of reality, the words and terms express certain conceptual framework. Thus lossless translation is not always possible. He then was generous with his time in answering many ensuing questions.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 1. Opening

H.H. The XIV Dalai Lama's 76th birthday


Parade and celebration on the National Mall