More Words on the Environment

December 27, 2007, 4:30 PM, Translated by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche & Karma Choephel

We concluded everything the other day so that it would not be necessary to say any more today. But some people wanted me to say a bit more on a few topics. In addition to concluding the Monlam, today we have completed the practice and mantra recitation of the Medicine Buddha, so it seems there would be nothing wrong with saying a few words at this point. I am often a bit glib, so if you think it is meaningful, please keep these points in mind. If you do not, you do not have to listen.

The other day, the last day of the Monlam, I spoke on three topics. The second topic was the environment. I thought I would say a bit more now about the environment. 

Most of us gathered here today, whether we were born in Tibet or not, have connections to Tibetan Dharma and culture and to the Tibetan language. That is the kind of people we are. Likewise, most of us gathered here live in and come from India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim. These countries are very close to Tibet. For this reason, all of us who live in these countries need to give some thought to protecting the environment of Tibet in order to protect our own environment. This is because most of the water, especially drinking water, in about eight Asian countries, including India, comes from Tibet. Thus, if Tibet’s environment is no longer as clean and pristine as it used to be, this presents the danger of great harm to many Asian countries. 

In particular, if the water system in Tibet does not function properly, it will cause many problems such as floods downstream, like the floods along the Yangtse River. When these great rivers burst their banks, it causes tremendous damage. There are floods and many other dangers. For these reasons the Chinese government plans to plant many forests in Tibet. India and other Asian countries are also taking a great interest in the environment of Tibet because it is such a crucial issue. 

Whenever we open our mouths, we say that Tibet belongs to the Tibetans, but what are we Tibetans doing for Tibet? Are we protecting Tibet’s environment and keeping it clean, or are we destroying it instead? 

Traditionally, Tibetans have held some ancient beliefs. If there was an impressive mountain, we would say it was the residence of some spirit, so it was a revered place that no one should disturb, nor should it be mined or quarried. If there was an impressive forest, or a boulder or cliff with an unusual shape, that was also some spirit’s residence. This belief was quite helpful. 

For example, when I was young, we did not dare go out to play on the revered mountains where the local deities lived. Forget about disturbing them—we did not even dare to walk there. We also were not allowed to put our hands in the streams that provided drinking water. This was to keep from polluting them and angering the nagas. If we had to wash our hands or feet, we had to draw some water from the stream and wash elsewhere. We were not allowed to wash, bathe, do laundry, or use any chemicals in the stream itself under any circumstances. There were similar traditions more or less everywhere. 

But nowadays everyone considers these traditions to be blind faith. Many people, especially the young, say, “That’s just blind faith. That’s just religious belief.” The protection of the environment these traditional views provided is decreasing drastically. The traditional way of seeing things is gone, but contemporary education and views about protecting the environment are not particularly widespread. The main focus is economic development and getting rich. That is what people are into. They wonder whether it is better to run a factory farm, build huge houses, or buy cars. That is the thinking that is prevalent. 

How are houses built in Tibet? They are built out of stone and wood rather than concrete. So nowadays, they use an awful lot of wood to build beautiful, Tibetan-style houses—a lot more wood than they used to. In the old days, only the monasteries would have such carving and decorations; but nowadays many ordinary people’s houses have fancy carved window and door frames and so on. At first glance, it is very lovely, but it wastes a lot of wood and stone. Entire large mountains are flattened. If all the mountains and forests are used up, there is greater danger from earthquakes and floods. There is nothing to hold back or channel floodwaters; there is nothing to contain earthquakes. Destroying everything creates a lot of problems. 

There is a lot of factory farming for meat. This did not used to exist in Tibet; it was not necessary. But nowadays factory farming is easy work. There are factory farms for hogs, chickens, ducks, and cattle. They give injections to the thinner sheep or cattle to make them fatter. This is fine, but indirectly through this, they have used a lot of steroids. Factory farms are getting bigger, and the livestock increases. All that livestock produces a lot of manure and methane, which fouls the environment. Air that used to be clean and pristine is now becoming smoggy. We Tibetans have to really think about all this. 

Tibet is on the roof of the world, and it is clean and pure. It is our own beautiful country. Even if others cannot protect it, we must keep from ruining it ourselves. If we take good care of it, we Tibetan people will not have wasted our honor and responsibility. We have already lost so much of what we had, and if we destroy more of what have in our hands, there will be nothing left that you can call Tibetan. Even if there were an agreement between Tibet and China, and we could gain freedom for Tibet, what kind of a homeland would we return to? We will have ruined our homeland. If we turn it into a huge, ugly wasteland, gaining freedom will not help us gain happiness. 

One reason all this happens—and it is our own fault—is that we do not have much interest in education. The more interest we take in learning about the environment, the more we will cherish and care for the environment. For that reason, the Dharma king Songtsen Gampo said:

In the high, pure mountain land encircled by glaciers,
The pure sounds of Sanskrit could be spoken. 
You, the people of the Land of Snow
Who have this precious human birth:
I urge you to devote yourselves to learning. 

This says that you must become educated. You have a perfect language, like Sanskrit. 

Getting such a good education is like gaining an excellent language, like Sanskrit. Tibet has an excellent environment, encircled by snow mountains so that it is protected from pollution from outside. These protect both the borders and the environment of this land perfectly. So this verse says that all those who have a precious human body there should become educated. Getting an education is very important. It is all of our responsibility that everyone become educated and protect the pure and clean natural environment of Tibet. 

As I said earlier, all of us gathered here, whether or not we were born in Tibet, have connections with Tibetan culture and language. Thus we all must protect the environment of the entire world for its future, and in particular Tibet and the Himalayan range. Tibet is probably the most important source of drinking water in the entire world. We really need to consider this. 

As I said the other day, we must consider this within each of our monasteries. I think it would be very good for any monastery in India, Nepal, or Tibet to get organized and take an interest in environmental protection. I am not an expert on environmental issues, but there are a few points we should know and follow. I will explain them to you. Please keep them in mind. If you can practice these in your monasteries and provide some education in them to the monastics and householders associated with your monasteries, this will bring benefit to all of us as communities and individuals. 
There are several points. The first is sort of like child’s play. It concerns automobiles—trucks and cars. I do not know a lot about this in India, but in Tibet, it often happens that as soon as a lama completes a three-year retreat, he absolutely must buy a truck. If he does not buy a truck and carry around Karma Chakme’s book on Toh rituals, he is not considered a real lama. We had a little monk at Tsurphu who had only been a monk for three or four years, and someone once asked him, “What do you want to do?” 
He replied, “I want to become a lama.” 
“What will you do when you are a lama?”
“I'm going do a three-year retreat, buy a truck and Chakme's Toh book, and then travel.”

He saw lamas doing this. This is what little children think lamas should do. Every lama buys his own car, and then they have to buy oil and gas for that car. Oil comes from underground, but the oil in the world is being used up, and this creates problems. These days the price of oil is increasing, and this is causing a lot of problems, right? This is why we do not need a separate car for every lama. But now everyone needs the fanciest cars with the most impressive names—German ones like BMWs or, in Tibet especially, Japanese cars like Toyotas—which use the most gasoline. Otherwise they do not feel like they have the status of a lama. 

From one perspective, I have to wonder whether this meshes with the lives of earlier masters, who are good examples of having few desires and being satisfied with what one has. Lamas are Dharma practitioners, whether or not they are monastics, which means they should be people with few desires who are content with what they have. They should not chase after the eight worldly dharmas of this life directly, although things might come to them naturally. That is how they should be. These days it is not like that, and that is a problem. 

Sometimes when lamas and monks go abroad, their sponsors offer them gifts. Sometimes sponsors buy them mobile phones, and when they do, it has to be the best one. Monks have even been known to throw away cheap phones they do not want. I have heard about this happening. If you pay for it yourself and throw it away, that is one thing. But if someone spends money to offer you something, how could it be OK to throw it away? You have to realize this. If you do not need it, give it to a friend who does. 

We need to rethink whether we should buy so many cars, especially big cars that use a lot of gas. I do not know whether this happens in India as well, but if it does, we should practice restraint, because this is not good, especially from the local people’s point of view. Most of us here in India are refugees. If the refugees are all driving the fanciest cars, the local people will hardly think of us as refugees; instead they’ll be jealous that we drive fancier cars than they do. It does not look good. It is unnecessary. So the first point is that we need to think about cars. 

The second point is that in the remote areas of Tibet, they are using a lot of solar and wind-powered electricity. This is good. It is very expensive to generate electricity, and if we use it without caring for the environment, it is very destructive to the environment. Oil-powered generation is especially expensive. 

At Tsurphu monastery, there did not used to be any electricity, but then they installed solar panels. Solar panels are still quite expensive, which makes them a bit difficult to install. It can be very expensive to provide the amount of power that can cover a large area. But solar and wind power do not have operating costs, and they do not harm the environment. They can be quite beneficial. 

In Tibet, the sun shines quite well—it is the roof of the world—so many people there use solar electricity. In some areas of North India and Nepal, particularly around Darjeeling and Mirik, it is always foggy, so you never see the sun shining, which makes for a few small difficulties. However, in our monasteries, we are big groups of people, and we have large electricity expenses. Since we are already paying for it, we should think about how to conserve electricity. Do not just pointlessly leave lights on all the time when the sun is shining and the weather is bright. I think it would be good for us to conserve electricity. That is the second point to keep in mind. 

The third point is growing trees, which I mentioned the other day. We bhikshus are not allowed to cut down trees or any other plant that has roots and bears fruit. This is the vast intent of the Lord Buddha. But not only bhikshus; all of us must keep this in mind. Most of the oxygen for all the living creatures in this world comes from trees and plants. So if we can plant even one tree, it will probably help a great number of creatures survive. Sometimes I even think it would be better to plant a single tree than to perform a life-release for many beings. 

Last year I talked about performing life-releases, giving up eating meat, and becoming vegetarian for the long lives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, myself, and many of our lineage lamas who have become elderly, so that they might continue to be with us for a long time. This year I think it would be good for each of our monasteries to plant a thousand trees, if not more. When I say plant, this does not mean that it absolutely has to be done right near the monastery. You can make connections with groups that plant forests or help someone who is planting trees. This is for monasteries that have the resources to do this. If you don’t have the resources, that is another matter. There are, however, monasteries that have some wealth and want to do something for their lama’s long life. My particular recommendation for this year is that it would be good for each monastery to plant at least one or two thousand trees. If monasteries cannot, the monks can plant the trees themselves. Sponsors would also be most welcome. Most monks don’t say they have much money, and I don’t know where they spend what money they do have. It would probably be quite good if we could make a beautiful green forest for the benefit of all living creatures, especially in Tibet.

Tibet covers a huge area, so we could plant as many trees as we want. If monasteries have to cut trees, then it would be good for them to plant a greater number than they cut. Cutting trees without replanting is the one thing that would anger the local deities and nagas, if anything would. That is another point. 

The fourth point is one that is not our responsibility as monks. Monks do not farm, right? But when farmers grow crops, they use various kinds of chemical fertilizers to make the crops grow quickly. When they do this, the first crop grows extremely well, but after it has grown, the soil loses fertility and becomes like sand, I have heard. The chemical fertilizers exhaust the soil. This is how it happens. 

There are many farms in Tibet. When we plant our crops, we should not think that this is our own field and we can do whatever we like. That is one thing to think about. The other is that the use of chemical fertilizers is exhausting the fertility of large areas of cropland. Monks do not need to work in the fields themselves, but they have many friends and relatives who do. Unless we use our overall, collective effort, it will be difficult to protect the environment. 

There are several other points, but we do not need to go through them. 

In brief, for the human race, there are two conditions in this world that can make us advance. The first condition is to go forward out of fear. All beings, including animals, will advance out of fear. They sense a danger to their existence, feel fear and terror, and find a way to remedy their situation. But I think moving forward because you see a benefit or profit is probably something that mainly we humans do. We humans are beings with brains and intelligence. But while we have these brains and intelligence, if we just hang out without doing anything meaningful, then there will be another mouth to feed, another person using up space, another body crowding the world. There will be no benefit at all. 

While living in the world, we need to demonstrate intelligence and define our vision for the future. I think that only then will our existence in the world be meaningful. We will no longer just be taking up space. We will be able to benefit the other creatures who live with us on this earth.

That is more or less it for the topic of the environment. If I say too much, the mosquitoes will have a feast. We have to protect environment . . . but we should think about whether we need to protect the mosquitoes. 

Protecting the earth’s environment is a big issue in the world now. But that is not why I am shivering on this throne talking about it. 

The Lord Buddha and many of the earlier learned and realized masters who followed him made prophecies a long time ago about how the times would become degenerate: the environment would degenerate, and beings living in it would also degenerate. These are things the earlier masters said, but we do not pay attention to them. People just talk about how it said this here and that there. 

I want to tell you a story. During the upheavals in Tibet in the 1950s, the previous incarnation of Pawo Rinpoche was looking through the prophecies of Guru Rinpoche, and thought, “This probably is going to happen.” He showed them to his steward and said, “This is going to happen. These are the prophecies of Guru Rinpoche. We need to flee into exile; we cannot stay here.” Whenever he showed these to his steward, the steward would say, “So it is! I go for refuge!” The steward would then touch them to his forehead and put them aside. 

Later the situation got worse, and even the Karmapa went to India. When Pawo Rinpoche heard about that, he said, “The prophecies predicted this! Even the Karmapa has gone. We had better go, or what will happen to us?” The steward replied, “How can that be? There are the three great monasteries of Sera, Drepung, and Ganden, and the Tibetan government palace of the Potala. It is not easy to leave. If you prepare to go, you will ruin any chance of staying.” He absolutely refused to do anything about leaving. Either he was not educated or he was complacent because he had never faced such difficult circumstances. In the end, the steward was unable to come to India and suffered terribly. He was sent to reeducation camps where he was tortured, beaten, and eventually died. 

It is similar with us. The Lord Buddha and earlier masters said a great deal about how we need to protect the environment, the forests, and the trees. But when we hear this, we just touch the text to our foreheads and say, “I go for refuge!” The eloquent and beautiful words, “May it be so! May there be benefit for all! May it happen! May this be for all sentient beings throughout space! May that be!” often pass our lips, but we do not practice them in a meaningful way. We are still wandering in the oceans of samsaric suffering because our wishes and our actions are going in opposite directions. If we continue in this way, we will remain in samsara forever. There’s no other benefit. So please keep this in mind. 

That is it. Say the auspicious prayers. It's getting late. 

Gyalwang Karmapa’s Advice on Dress Codes for Sangha

December 24, 2007, Translated by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche & Karma Choephel

I also have something to say about clothing, bearing, and demeanor. I thought about saying something last year, but it’s not easy to talk about this. But this year, if I embolden myself and say something about it, it will probably be OK. I said something about this in either 2003 or 2001. In the Buddhist tradition, there are two types of practitioners: monastics and householders. The monastics are monks and nuns, and the householders have households, and they have different garb and different demeanors. Otherwise, if the monastics get confused with the householders, or the householders get mixed up with the monastics, it will become very difficult for other people develop faith. It will be difficult to identify who is what. We won’t be able to identify whether someone is a monastic or a tantric practitioner. We won’t be able to tell people apart.

Even among our rinpoches, there are householders. I’m not at all saying that this is not good. Really. For example, Marpa and Milarepa, for whom we have the greatest devotion, were also householders. They did not wear the three Dharma robes. That’s how it is. This is not a question of more or less important. Even if you are a householder, you can have qualities of purity and realization that are superior to a monastic’s, and a monastic can have qualities of purity and realization that are superior to a householder’s. This is not a question of more or less important, but householders should wear the clothing of householders, and monastics should wear the clothing of monks and nuns. Otherwise, it will get all mixed up.

Those of us who know and understand might think this is OK as it is, but those who don’t know probably think that everyone who wears red robes is the same. If they see one person wearing red robes and the Dharma robe acting like a householder with a spouse and children, they will probably think that everyone who wears the robes is like that. They’ll think that everyone who wears red is the same. For that reason, you should really think about this. Think about what you should do. I don’t have any specific suggestions here. We should all cherish the Dharma and figure out what is the best way to act on this. I ask you all to consider this and then take some appropriate actions.

I’ve talked about three topics. First, I discussed giving up meat; second, the environment; and third, clothing. Up to now I’ve primarily been focusing on the monastic sangha’s clothing and demeanor during the Kagyu Monlam. If I can do something about the motivation and demeanor of the householders—when I have the opportunity or it is the right time—I will do it. But right now I am asking you to think this over and do what you think is best. I don’t have anything else to say. If I say too much, it will get too dark.
Many respectable lamas and tulkus of the Karma Kamtsang lineage have come here, with Jamgon Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche foremost, as well as Kyabje Garwang Rinpoche from the Surmang Kagyu branch of the Karma Kagyu, and also lamas and tulkus from the Drikung and Drukpa Kagyu. I would like to thank you all for “turning your steeds in this direction,” as it’s said. These days we don’t ride horses, so I thank you for turning your steering wheels in this direction. Many members of the sangha have also come here. Some of the things I have said have been pleasant; some have been harsh. For whatever wrong I have done to the Sangha, “I admit this. I confess this. I do not conceal this. Henceforth I shall not do this again.” Because of the positive power of our pure motivations, may we be able to turn the world in the direction of peace and happiness, and in particular, since we currently are staying here in the Noble Land of India, may this country of India have the good fortune of a happy country, happy people, and prosperity. In particular, in Tibet, the Land of Snow, which has been a great source of the Buddhist teachings, the root of the teachings of sutra and tantra, may the sun of peace and happiness dawn soon. May His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the great teachers of all traditions soon be able to set foot upon the soil of Tibet. The people of Tibet wait for them just as the cuckoo waits for the rain. I dedicate this so that all their wishes may be fulfilled, and ask you all to keep this in your minds and pray.

Medicine Buddha Empowerment

December 25, 2007, Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya, India, Translated by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche & Karma Choephel

In addition to the 25th Kagyu Monlam, we have three days of the practice, mantra recitation, and feast offerings of the Medicine Buddha. Today is the first of these days, so I will give an empowerment connected with the Medicine Buddha. Tomorrow I will give a short Dharma teaching on the Medicine Buddha. The great Chandrakirti said:

When one has freedom and a good situation, If he does not restrain himself, He’ll fall into the abyss and lose control. Who will pull him out of there later?

We have a choice about gaining happiness in this life and future lives. We have a choice about whether to follow the genuine Dharma and the path to liberation. We have this choice this one time; it is difficult to get it frequently. This is not only the case with the Dharma. Even in terms of how we lead our lives in this world, we cannot make things happen the way we want. We do not have the control or the opportunity, and this creates many difficulties for us. This is why some people might want to be good people and do good work but find themselves in situations where they have no alternative to doing harmful jobs.

From one perspective, most of us gathered here do not have that sort of difficulty. However we look at it, there is an opportunity right before our eyes to do something virtuous. Whether we take it or not is up to us. If we wish to take it, we have the opportunity. I think that doing something virtuous, something beneficial for sentient beings at this time will make our human lives meaningful.

We have many difficulties in our lives. There are many inequalities in this world. Differences between rich and poor, or male and female, and differences in politics and resources put a lot of pressure on us and create many problems. There is no way for us to lead our lives while ignoring these difficulties. As far as religion, there are many different religions in the world. All religions have their own particular way of explaining their views, which leads them to regard one another with suspicion. Some are not only suspicious, but feel they need to make their own religion triumph over others. Thus it is not easy to live in this world. In both religious and worldly terms, the world is difficult by nature. There is no way to avoid having to endure troubles, no way to live easily and comfortably.

Is the reason there are such difficulties in the world just that the world itself is a difficult place that is by nature full of strife? It is not just that. Although the world is like that, I believe that the way we all think affects our situations greatly.

In my case, for example, my life is connected with Dharma and religious practice. From the time I was born in this world, I have lived in an environment where people have faith in religion, specifically the Buddhist religion. When Apo Gaga, or Ogyen Trinle Dorje, who spent his early years in a Buddhist environment, goes through the world and makes contact with different people and religions, sometimes he encounters difficulties. What are the difficulties? Since I was little, I have had Buddhist habits and been committed to Buddhism. Therefore, I have had to be a bit careful when meeting people of other religions. This is not because of how I feel. It is because my responsibilities put me in a position where I have to be careful. However, there would be nothing wrong with saying that the Buddhadharma is an extremely straightforward and open-minded religion. Now that I have studied the Buddhadharma and gained a decent understanding of it, I do not think my leading a dharmic life conflicts with any religion.

In Buddhist terms, the reason is that karma, cause, and result are most important. The Three Jewels may be important, but karma, cause, and result are more powerful than the Three Jewels. My being Buddhist in this life is the result of a past action. In Buddhist terms, my Buddhist way of life has come about because of karma, cause, and result. Since this is just a result of past actions, there is nothing I can do other than take it up with joy and enthusiasm.

Most other religions believe in God or a creator of the world. From this perspective, too, for me to have Buddhist views and a Buddhist way of life in this lifetime is harmonious with other religions. In terms of the beliefs of other religions, it was God who made me, and it was God who made me become Buddhist. Therefore there is nothing to do but say, “I take refuge in Him” and gladly take this on. This is why I sometimes think that my leading a dharmic life is not in conflict with any other religion. This way of thinking makes me feel comfortable and relaxed about leading a dharmic life.

I also have many worldly difficulties. One is not having any freedom, and then there are difficulties that are not my own but that other people give me. You all see this yourselves. Many people come to see me every day. You might think this is great, but they never tell me anything good. Most people tell me about their problems: “Men and women aren’t equal. You need to look into that.” Or they might say, “There is too great a difference between the rich and poor. You need to look into that.” Sometimes when the members of a family are having trouble getting along, they come and ask me what to do. If someone needs a minor operation on their ear, they ask me what to do about that. I have to do a lot of jobs. The first is doctor. Then I have to do a mother’s and father’s jobs. There are a lot of different jobs in the world, and I have to do a significant percentage of them simultaneously.

People have many problems, and how can I help with them all? Have I mastered all these different professions? No, but what can I do? When I meet people with such trust in me, it would not be right to say something like, “I don’t know. I don’t care if you are sick, suffer, or die. Go away.” I have to find some way to help with these problems. I do not have the resources to get all the things you might need. I do not have anything else I can do, and there is nothing I can say, except that I am doing what I can to take on all of your problems and remain alive on this earth. All I can do is give you advice on how to develop strength of heart. The best thing I can do is help someone develop strength in their heart.

I always try to have pure feelings of love and affection from the bottom of my heart for everyone, whether I know them or not. I try to show this attitude in the way I present myself and hold my body. When I look at people, I look with love and affection in my eyes as much as I can. Even if I can do nothing else, maybe the other person can find some new strength in their heart and a new hope. This is what I hope will happen and what others hope for as well. For some people it happens as we hope, and for some it does not. That’s the way the world is: things work out for some people but not for others. Not everything is spontaneously perfect, and there is nothing to be done about that.

When we are dealing with the difficult problems of living in the world and Dharma, the most important thing is to firmly set our minds on something, whether or not we also need to rely on outside conditions. We need to be courageous and use our intelligence well. We need to develop all our skills and means. If we can do that, although we may not be able to eliminate birth, aging, sickness, and death immediately, I think we will be able to handle our worldly problems. We cannot eliminate birth, aging, sickness, and death immediately because our bodies are impermanent things that naturally arise, remain, and perish. But if we have courage and hope, eventually we will also be able to liberate ourselves from birth, aging, sickness, and death.

I am bestowing the empowerment of the Medicine Buddha so that you may receive these benefits—this vigor of the mind or power of the heart. During the Medicine Buddha empowerment, just as during the puja, the billionfold universe becomes the palace Lovely to Behold—a pure realm as beautiful as beautiful can be, as vast as vast can be. That is how we visualize the world.

The reason this works is our strength of heart. While we are living and remaining in this world, if we only pay attention to darkness and hopelessness, we will not see anything but darkness. But if we turn our attention toward light and hopefulness, then even if we have only a little hope, we will eventually be able to find a way to reach the light. For this reason, the world environment and all the beings in it are not all bad. The beings in the world are not unilaterally vicious, and the external world is not exclusively poisonous and polluted. If we make efforts with a courageous heart, we can transform the world into a pure realm. We can transform the beings in the world so that they become the beautiful and majestic deities present within their minds.

That is why we say that the entire billionfold universe becomes the palace Lovely to Behold and all the beings within it become the Medicine Buddha. Otherwise, the world around us is not really like that, is it? Look around—we could sweep and mop morning, noon, and night, but there would still be no end to the filth in the world. This is not the palace Lovely to Behold. If you sweep and mop three times a day and there is still filth, it could not possibly be the palace Lovely to Behold. Look at the beings in the world. Every day we see in the news that someone got killed here, someone else got killed there. It seems more like we have come to the palace of the King of Death; there are not any gods and goddesses sitting around smiling, their bodies swaying in a gentle dance.

This is why Buddhists and practitioners of the Secret Mantra Vajrayana practice and take empowerments. Indirectly, this is to give all sentient beings strength of heart. If we have courage and put some effort into it, it is not impossible to transform this impure world into a pure realm; it is not impossible to transform the beings of this world into gods, goddesses, buddhas, and bodhisattvas. If we thought this teaching was just for Buddhists, our intention would probably be too limited. If that were the case, the Bhagavan Buddha would have turned the three wheels of Dharma just for Buddhists, not for all sentient beings. Thus this was actually taught to Buddhists and Vajrayana practitioners, but indirectly, it was taught to give all sentient beings strength of heart.

[Empowerment begins]

This was giving the obstructor torma. In terms of how things appear relative to one another, it is possible that obstructors could be something external to us and separate from us. However, the main obstructor is the self-cherishing and ego-clinging within us. Sometimes we do not suppress our ego- clinging or do anything about it, and instead pretend to be Lama Rinpoche. We sit in the middle of a protection circle on the vajra ground surrounded by a vajra tent and say, “OM SUMBHANI SUMBHANI blah blah . . . ” We think, Isn’t it grand to be inside this impenetrable protection circle? But this does not work. To take our fine self with its ego-clinging and self-cherishing, stick it inside our hearts, and let it have fun while saying HUNG PHAT to external obstructors does not help at all. The main thing we need to say HUNG PHAT to is inside ourselves. That is what we need to get rid of. It doesn’t help to pace around the outside of the house when the thief has already snuck in.

We give obstructor tormas to dispel maras and obstructors. Since Bodhgaya is the place where our Teacher the Bhagavan Buddha defeated the forces of Mara, I do not think there should be too many maras here. It is like practicing Vajrayana rituals in Lekdrup and such places where it is said there will not be many obstacles, so I think there can’t be any maras here. If there are any here, they must be the nice maras that we keep inside ourselves. Only when we begin to decrease the strength of the maras inside ourselves can we make any plans to help others in a way that is not connected with selfishness, ego-clinging, or the afflictions. If we make plans while bristling with ego-clinging and the afflictions, they will be mixed with ego-clinging and the afflictions. It would be impossible for them not to be.

[continues empowerment]

That was asking the master to grant us the King of Vaidurya Light as our yidam deity. Giving this empowerment is a different situation than if everyone gathered here were taking the Medicine Buddha as their particular yidam deity. I think that this empowerment was probably supposed to be bestowed upon people who were taking the Medicine Buddha as their own yidam deity. These days we give empowerments for hundreds upon hundreds of deities. We give empowerments for all the infinite yidam deities, and thus no one knows who their yidam is or which yidam to practice. This is a big problem.

It did not used to be like that: you would only take the empowerment for your particular yidam deity. No one would say, “This one is important, so I better get the empowerment. That one is beneficial, so I better get the empowerment.” Nowadays, we might think, “I have no money, so I have to get the Jambhala empowerment.” So we go to some rotund lama who looks a little bit like Jambhala and request the empowerment. If we hear that some lama has great activity, we say, “Please give me the Green Tara empowerment. Please be compassionate to me. I have a job I need to do, and this would make it go better.” I wonder whether this might really be a bit worldly.

Here it is the Medicine Buddha King of Vaidurya Light. From the time we become human beings, it is important that we help one another and have affection for one another. How did our births happen? Our births happened because our parents loved each other. If they did not love each other, we would not have been born. It is because of love and affection that our bodies and aggregates could come to be, so we all need love and affection. There are various ways to have affection for each other.

Humans have various problems, such as the problem of poor physical health, the problem of being afflicted by an illness, or the problem of having no happiness in our minds. These are physical and mental illnesses. It probably would OK to say that all our problems are illnesses. External problems that afflict our body, speech, and mind are probably illnesses. Internal problems in our minds are also illness.

Taking the Medicine Buddha King of Vaidurya Light as our yidam means that we rely on him to dispel all these external and internal illnesses. We say, “King of Vaidurya Light, please always remain above the crown of my head,” whether that happens or not. The main reason we call him the Medicine Buddha is that he is closely connected to medicine. If we help other beings get rid of their internal and external problems, that is taking the Medicine Buddha King of Vaidurya Light as our yidam deity. We could put a huge Medicine Buddha thangka in a back room, pile many volumes of Medicine Buddha practices before it, and then sit in front of it every day going blah, blah, blah. Even if we have the entire Medicine Buddha sutra memorized, if we don’t help anyone at all and just sit there chanting away while thinking, “Keep me from getting sick,” I wonder if that is taking the Medicine Buddha as our yidam. Yidam means to make a mental commitment. What mental commitment should we make? For example, there is no point in just saying to someone, “I won’t forget you. I will keep you in mind.” It is continuing their activity that is a great wonder.

Now we have come to refuge and bodhichitta. In general, whatever work we do in our daily lives in the world, we first have to have trust in the planner who gives us the work. If they are not worthy of trust and we do not place our trust in them, then our work will not go well. So first we need to have trust in a planner who is worthy of trust. Second, whatever act we are planning to do, we need to want to take it on and to have trust in it. Third, we need to have mutual trust in our coworkers and an outlook similar to theirs. In this way, going for refuge in the Buddha as the one who teaches the path, the Dharma as the actual path, and the Sangha as our companions on the path is similar to our worldly jobs. We need to have trust in the Teacher, the path the Teacher taught, and our companions in accomplishing that path. Even if we are not thinking about religion, this is necessary.

Bodhichitta is even more important than that. Just having trust does not help. How much we will be able to accomplish in our work depends upon how much strength of intention we have. If we have strong intentions, then even if we do not have much education or many skills, we can cover a lot of ground and reap great results. For example, some people who are extremely wealthy or known throughout the world do not have much education. Perhaps at first they did not have many skills and banged their heads against the wall over and over, but they developed real strength of heart, attained good results, and eventually became world famous. This depends upon intention. This is why refuge and bodhichitta are so important, not only in our Dharma practice. If we can bring Dharma practice into our own lives, it will definitely help us.

Following this is visualizing the torma and the students as the deity. As I just explained, the world environment and all the beings in it can be transformed from impure into pure. But merely being transformable does not help. Just joining your palms and saying, “May all be pure!” does not help. If we have a clear vision that we are going to do something and it will be like this, then the thought “I am going to do this” comes to our minds. If instead we just look with big eyes at a statue of the Buddha or Chenrezig and say, “May it be so! May it happen!” without thinking about it at all, this does not help. We need to turn our eyes in toward ourselves and say, “May it be so!” If we look outward all the time, the Buddha statue just sits there every day. The ones who can move are us. Actually, the Buddha is not present in the world. The Buddha figures in front of us are unmoving statues; they are symbols that we can look at and say, “The Buddha is like that.” They can’t do anything else. We are the ones who can do something. We can think, remember, and act. Perhaps I am being too logical, but I will speak directly. It does not help so much for us, who can think, remember, and act, to stare at statues that cannot think, act, or remember. I think it is far more helpful for us to look within ourselves and develop strength of heart.

Gyalwang Karmapa’s Advice on Protecting the Environment

December 24, 2007, Translated by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche & Karma Choephel

Now I would like to speak on the subject of the environment.

These days, the temperatures around the world have drastically changed, which has created a great danger for the world itself. This is the situation, and they are always talking about this in the news and on the TV. So we need to think about this. In olden times, we Kagyupas would stay only in remote mountain retreats in caves or stone huts—pleasant retreats—and there was no need to do such work as excavating the ground, cutting a lot of trees, or quarrying. But later, whether it was their increasing activity to benefit beings and the teachings, or whether it was because, as the saying goes, “The more you meditate on mahamudra, the more active you become,” and mahamudra meditators got too busy, those who were supposed to be doing the practices of the Practice Lineage in the high, rocky, snowy places could not manage to do that. They all came down into the valleys, and it became necessary to build many monasteries. I am not talking about our time; this happened in the past.

And now these days, in many Kagyu monasteries we say, “We’re building a new monastery,” and without any compunction we cut down all the trees, the lovely forests, that naturally grew around the monasteries. This can create great harm for the environment. Some monasteries are even selling the timber from the forests behind the monasteries. When we do that, we don’t know what harm we are creating now, but it creates problems for the world environment a few years later. When the so-called essence of the earth, the essence of the place, is harmed, this causes great harm to the world environment, and then we think, “Oh, no! What did we do?” But if we only think about it later, it’s too late. It takes twenty or thirty years to grow a single tree; they don’t grow up immediately upon planting.

For that reason, we need to understand clearly in all our monasteries in India and Nepal, and likewise in all the monasteries in Tibet, that if we are unable to conceive of all sentient beings throughout limitless space, never mind that. But we live on this earth, and everyone can see it. If our earth is destroyed by changes in the climate, there won’t be any of us Kagyupas left. There won’t be any Karma Kamtsang. We’ll all be lost. It’s not like we have Dharma protectors and Mahakala Bernakchen will save us, so that the rest of the world will be destroyed and only we will be left. That won’t happen. For that reason we need to protect the environment. We should provide some education in the monasteries about how to protect the environment. I think that would be very good.

We should not just always dig and build, but also do something to protect the environment. The sutras and tantras say that keeping the monasteries and sacred places clean has immeasurable benefits. It is the same with the earth: the earth is in great danger and it needs our care, so we should try to help protect the environment for all the beings in the world. Even if we can’t do anything else, it is not too difficult to explain the basic things we need to do to protect the world. You should educate people about this and say, “This is how it is.” So whether we are members of the sangha or lay people, if we take some interest in protecting the environment every single day, it will be very good.

That was the second point, the environment.