Karmapa is a great Bodhisattva
who developed through the course of history in the same way as the Buddha. First,
he was an ordinary being who wanted to reach enlightenment. He practiced, developed
further, and acted in the way of a bodhisattva.
Acting like a bodhisattva is what we also try to do. First we take the bodhisattva vow and develop the enlightened attitude (bodhichitta). We make the effort to do good and to benefit beings in all possible ways.
Karmapa decided many thousands of years ago to be a bodhisattva. He had already developed the enlightened mind and took rebirth countless times in ordinary and extraordinary forms, as a being in the lower realms of existence and as bodhisattvas or as teachers in order to help beings.
The history of the Karmapas began before this world started. Karmapa manifested in many different forms and under many different names in his former lives. He kept the bodhisattva attitude for an incredibly long time in order to benefit all sentient beings.
During meditation, high bodhisattvas see many things clearly in their minds, for example, what their activity is going to be in the future. Speaking of activity in the context of the Dharma always means benefitting all beings. At a certain time, Karmapa meditated on Mt. Meru and his meditation lasted 10 million years. All other bodhisattvas recognized that he would be of extraordinary benefit for all beings and gave him the name "Karmapa," which means the activity of all Buddhas.
At the same time, 100,000 dakinis appeared and offered him a special symbol, a sign of victory. They created a crown from their hair and offered it to him. This crown is not physical but expresses the timeless quality of the Karmapa. From that moment on, his name has been Karmapa and his symbol is the Black Crown. He represents the activity of all Buddhas.
In the future, the 6th Buddha will continue Karmapa's activities. Buddha Sakyamuni was the 4th historical Buddha; the next will be Maitreya. The 6th Buddha will carry the name Singhe, which means "Lion." So Karmapa will appear under the name Singhe. He will teach in the same way as the Buddha Sakyamuni and continue with his bodhisattva form.
When Buddha Sakyamuni gave teachings after his enlightenment, many thousands of people who were his students reached enlightenment in a very short time. The same is said in the teachings about Karmapa as the 6th Buddha. The people who have missed all opportunities and have not reached enlightenment until then, can make wishes to be reborn at that time as his main students. This was Karmapa's very strong wish. In this way, his activity manifests all the time, not only in this world, but also in many other former and future worlds.
Buddhism came to Tibet in the 7th century and developed slowly. The first form of Karmapa which was reborn in Tibet appeared in the twelfth century as the 1st historical Karmapa. We know that Karmapa had lived before in India as yogis, siddhas, or scholars. Some of them we know, like Saraha, while others remain unknown. Before Karmapa came to Tibet, many Tibetans went to India, studied the practice of Buddhism, and brought it back home.
Everybody knows Marpa,
the translator. He had one of the strongest personalities. Marpa translated
into Tibetan all the teachings which he practiced and realized himself in India.
Marpa came into contact with Karmapa's activity in India many times, for instance
with Saraha. Saraha was the most important holder of the Mahamudra lineage and
passed on the whole transmission. In his transmission lineage there were many
Mahasiddhas, among others Tilopa, who passed on all the yogas which made the
achievement of realization possible. We name those practices "The Six Yogas
of Naropa," but they were already taught by Tilopa, Saraha, and Shawaripa.
The transmission was passed on by all the Siddhas to Marpa.
Returning to Tibet, Marpa gave the transmission to his main student, Milarepa. Then Gampopa received it, then from him it was given back to Karmapa when he appeared in his official form, visible to everybody as the 1st Karmapa. Karmapa incarnated over and over again in Tibet and made sure that the teachings remained fresh. The reason he went to Tibet is obvious. At that time, Buddhism fell apart in India because many obstacles arose while it was spreading steadily in Tibet. All bodhisattvas who had previously lived in India, were slowly being reborn in Tibet. One can see that all Shamarpas, Situ Rinpoches, Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoches, Gyaltsab Rinpoches, and Pawo Rinpoches lived in India in their previous incarnations.
The students surrounding Saraha and Tilopa, and the ones who lived during the time of Naropa were all reborn in Tibet one by one. The Tibetans gave them new names, but the bodhisattvas had their roots in India. They were reborn in Tibet where more people were interested in practicing and they gave their teachings there. The people practiced and became enlightened.
Since difficulties arose in Tibet such as the destruction by the Communist Chinese and other circumstances, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa asked high lamas, like Trungpa Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche, to go to the Western countries and benefit people there. Now the basis exists in which to pass on the transmission, and the people in the West have the ability to develop and reach enlightenment. We never know whether our contact with Buddhism is new or whether it is an old connection. With many, there was probably always a connection to the Dharma, but they were not totally liberated. Those people then made strong wishes. Our karma always gives us a certain direction - in this case the direction to meet again in certain places and continue the habits from the past.
When we have the possibility to make contact, we should use this time and choose the appropriate path. If we do not choose the right path, there is another delay, and the times change again. Choosing the right path is the wish of the bodhisattvas as well as our own. Our path is influenced by diligence and laziness. Laziness always means a delay. We never lose the karmic connection; but if we do not develop, we will never reach liberation. The wish of the bodhisattvas and their blessing is never far away. The mistakes that are connected with samsara always drag us down if we do not make an effort. This leads to further delays, then we go in circles for some time, and then we meet again.
Now is a very important time for us because we can go the same path as the bodhisattvas. We have the possibility and the same opportunity to reach enlightenment. The problem lies in the current circumstances, the current conditions of the cycle of existence, the conditions of our own emotions. Out of this appear many reasons to miss this chance. Because our mind changes, at certain times we may be very interested in the practice of Dharma, this is very good. At another time we may experience circumstances which make us lose our interest. This is not basic karma but a form of circumstantial karma, when one drifts too far away and then comes back and practices a little bit. This wastes many opportunities since all of us have not completed the path of practice. Sometimes one has strong confidence, sometimes less confidence. Sometimes one only sees the outer circumstances: "I can do this or I cannot do this." There are many changes with everybody, this is normal. There are a few important things to be aware of. For instance, the path of the Six Paramitas, especially diligence, patience, and practice. If we penetrate deeper, we will not be ripped away by the circumstantial obstacles. That is very important. We do the practice and develop the enlightened attitude. In the beginning, we cannot accomplish great deeds, but even small thoughts can help all sentient beings. As our practice grows step by step, we realize the nature of our mind more and more. This happens the same way, like with the bodhisattvas of the past. Involvement as a first step is very important, and then activity.
Now about the Karmapa's ideas about the development of the Dharma in the West. His Holiness visited the West for the first time in 1974. He saw that he could benefit beings in America as well as in Europe and chose places to which he gave the name "The Seat of Karmapa," which is not necessarily a building, but a transmission that is put on a place. This transmission is not meant to be only for a few lifetimes. It happens exactly the same way here as it did in Tibet. First a few people create the conditions so that the teachings can be transmitted into the Western culture and into the language. Then little by little, bodhisattvas will be reborn there. This happens in Asia, Europe, and in America, where the possibility for the development of the Dharma is greater, just like it was in Tibet. His Holiness Karmapa did not say clearly that he would be reborn here or there, but when he gives the name "The Seat of Karmapa," slowly his students will be reborn there and will work hard in order to create the necessary conditions for everyone.
His Holiness made a very important choice for America and Europe, not to force the development, but to let it happen naturally. We work with it now, not for one lifetime, but for many centuries for the benefit of all people, just like they did back in Tibet.
Karmapa does not want
to convert everybody to Buddhism nor to take everything over, but he wants to
offer the opportunity through places like this. He lets people continue, make
their own decisions and do their practice, according to their own wishes. They
are not being forced by lamas. Instead, people with all kinds of abilities get
help to grow in the Dharma. People who have a connection with the Karmapa are
actually very diverse. They work to help each other and they work toward building
an opportunity for others to follow the path.
Everything happens according to the wish and the karma of the people. Karma here does not mean good or bad, simply what you were and did before. Many had previous contact with the Dharma but are still ordinary people who have been reborn over and over again in Samsara through the influence of ignorance and karma.
Some made strong wishes and decided to develop the enlightened attitude. They therefore are bodhisattvas, not on a high, but on an ordinary level. They come back because of their bodhisattva wishes. Their lives are very active and they can help many beings. Some of them have a higher realization, but being a bodhisattva does not necessarily mean that one is on a high level. There are many different levels. Some come in an ordinary form even though they are on a high level, depending on where it is necessary to help. In this way many things are possible. Each bodhisattva gets involved according to his wish and tries to benefit sentient beings. This is the reason one should accept all other schools of Buddhism. They are all good.
With the transmission of the Dharma to the West, old feelings and connections come up. It is not just a coincidental group of people who came together to carry on their own tradition but they came together as a result of their past karma. The ones who are reborn now have to continue their development, especially in regards to the teachings they received in former lives. Such a continuation gives a much deeper quality to the spiritual development than a new contact. His Holiness wanted to form everything in the same way, like the name Karma Kagyu implies: Karma means activity and stands for the activity of all Buddhas, and Gyu means transmission. Kagyu is the transmission of the teachings from the past till now. So, Karmapa wanted to continue in this way by getting people together who had connections from previous times.
The 16th Karmapa told Ole and Hannah not to go into retreat. They wanted to do the first three year retreat under Kalu Rinpoche in Plaige, France. Instead His Holiness asked them to put all their energy into Northern Europe and America and make strong efforts to help people develop, and to follow the path together. That means he asked them very energetically to create a solid base and for everyone to work together. That is the reason Ole emphasizes very strongly the cooperation of all centers.
There are several important steps in our development. First is the individual commitment to practice Buddhism; second is the development of the enlightened attitude, the most important for us. Then, there is the ability to receive the transmission in accordance with one's own capacity; when one is able to receive the teachings, one becomes useful for others. Then, it is very important to study the Buddha's teachings. We learn more and translate whatever teachings exist in Tibet into the language of the country, and at the same time we do our own practice.
For example, one does the Karmapa meditation, the Guru Yoga on Karmapa. Through Guru Yoga, in each function, in every practice, in everything we do, we are inseparable from Karmapa's blessing and from the nature of our own mind, which is the same as the mind of the Buddha. Inseparable from Karmapa means that we get his blessing and all his qualities. When one practices it and is involved in any activity, one receives a lot of blessing and help from Karmapa in a very natural way.
Each time an experience manifests out of our practice, we can go deeper into it. In the beginning we cannot penetrate very deeply, since all teachings are in accordance with our own abilities. When one learns the practice and applies it, each time an experience occurs it gives one a deeper understanding.
Normally all teachings are like that. In the beginning, we can understand a part of it and when we practice, we can go deeper. Without any practice, we cannot progress. First one has to study the teachings and then one can understand them, and still one has to continue to practice. One reaches a deeper understanding as a result of the practice and in that way one develops more and more. This is the same way that Marpa and many other translators in Tibet followed. They developed themselves more and more and in the end realized the full meaning of the teachings. In that way they could transmit everything into the Tibetan language even though India and Tibet were totally different. The culture, ideas, and knowledge were different. Buddha gave the teachings in the Indian language in the Indian way. Therefore the Tibetans went to India and learned everything in order to translate it into Tibetan. Karmapa's wish was for the teachings to be adapted in the West in the same way.
Western Buddhists will transmit all teachings into Western culture. People will do the practice, learn, translate, and develop a deeper understanding. This means that with certain wishing prayers, some Westerners can become translators like Marpa and in this way they can pass on an authentic transmission. Until then, we can develop ourselves according to our own abilities. His Holiness Karmapa's basic idea is to transmit all teachings into Western language, culture and ideas. This will bring great benefit in the same way as it did in Tibet.
Kagyu Life International, No.2, 1995 Copyright ©1995 Kamtsang Choling USA