Compassion and Emptiness are the Keys

by Karma Wangdu on 23 May, 2017

Battersea Evolution, London, England – Afternoon, May 21, 2017

Continuing with his explanation of the Geshe Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses of Mind Training, the Karmapa turned to the seventh verse, which teaches the practice of tonglen, sending and receiving.

In sum, whether directly or indirectly,
May I offer all benefit and joy to my mothers.
When my others are harmed or suffer,
May I secretly take these harms upon myself.

Originally, the Karmapa noted, these teachings were kept as a secret oral instruction and given only to those who had prepared themselves as a suitable vessel for them. They were also secret in another way. The practice entails taking on the injuries and suffering of others while sending them all of our benefits and happiness. We regard others’ welfare as more important than our own and come to see that actually, benefitting them is the best way to benefit ourselves. In doing this, we should be free of expecting anything in return and so we help others secretly.

It would be difficult to practice tonglen on a physical level, the Karmapa commented, though there are some masters who have done so and there is even the legend of a statue in a monastery that took on a disease rampaging in the local area and evidenced the lumps on its surface typical of the illness. “In general, however, it would be extremely difficult,” the Karmapa remarked, “to bear physically in a single body the suffering of all living beings. And so we mainly use tonglen as a method to work with our minds, training them to become so courageous that we do not become discouraged or rigid and can fearlessly meet others’ suffering. Through this, our compassion and patience increase and our minds open up.”

The final verse of the eight speaks of emptiness:

All the while, may I be uncorrupted
By thoughts of the eight worldly concerns.
With a mind that knows all things to be illusions,
Free of clinging, may I be liberated from the fetters.

“Free from concretizing the eight worldly concerns, we train our mind in the illusion-like outlook that sees things as not real,” the Karmapa explained. “This does not mean, however, a blank voidness. Emptiness is basic space, an open source whence everything comes. It is the wellspring of all new opportunities, the opposite of our fixations that block something new from arising.” He continued, “Usually we impose our concepts on what we experience, following after our own projections, and this prevents new things from happening, so we let these illusions fade away. Through recognizing emptiness, we return to the original state of our mind.” Phrasing it differently, the Karmapa stated, “When we follow after our routine thoughts and old habits, it is difficult for fresh intelligence to take birth. Understanding emptiness helps us to let go of ego-fixation that reifies our experience; it allows us to return to freshness, to the very basis of who we are.”

On this positive note, the Karmapa completed his explanation of the Eight Verses with a final piece of advice: “Instructions on mind training are given in a few words with deep meaning. The instructions we have explored together this weekend can become a valuable support for our meditation, since they contain all the essential points of practice. They will be especially helpful if we can memorize the verses and apply them to our mind on a daily basis. In this way I am confident that these teachings will be beneficial.”

In the second part of the afternoon, the Karmapa gave an empowerment of Chenresik, who embodies the compassion of all the buddhas. This initiation was especially appropriate in the context of teaching tonglen, which develops our love and compassion for others. Earlier the Karmapa had explained, “Chenresik is one of four special deities in the Kadampa tradition. He arises in the form of great compassion, indispensable for developing bodhichitta.”

After he had performed the initial stages of the empowerment, His Holiness was offered the supports of body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities by Chime Rinpoche, Ato Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, and Lama Tenpa. Afterward, the Karmapa mentioned again how important a bodhisattva Chenresik (Avalokiteshvara) is and paired him with Jampelyang (Manjushri) who embodies wisdom. Both are key to the practices of the Mahayana. After the initiation, the offering of thanksgiving was led by the three women, who have done such a wonderful job in organizing the visit to England: Joanna Hollingbery, Chloe Roberts, and Claire Pullinger.

After completing the empowerment, the Karmapa gave a scriptural transmission for the practice of Chenresik known as the All-Pervading Benefit for Beings as well as the transmission for the short preliminary practice he composed. He expressed his delight in being to come to England’s capital and to be in the presence of Chime Rinpoche and Ato Rinpoche, elder lamas now who were disciples of the 16th Karmapa and who have waited a long time for him to come.

The Karmapa also stated clearly his hope of visiting Samye Ling in the near future. He explained, “I always had it in mind that I would meet Akong Rinpoche here and it makes me sad that this did not happen.” Nevertheless, the Karmapa said he was very glad to be with senior representatives of his lineage as well as the Sangha from Samye Ling and other countries. “There are friends I know from before and having everyone here together is like a family gathering. All of you have come and given your time to be here, which gives me great joy. I would like to thank everyone for this.”

Finally the Karmapa spoke briefly of Akong Rinpoche’s reincarnation, as several of his disciples had been requesting His Holiness to recognize him. His Holiness explained, “When I was in Tibet, I recognized some 30 to 40 reincarnate lamas but since I have come to India, the number has dwindled. Nevertheless, I have recognized Bokar Rinpoche and then Tenga Rinpoche, so at this recent pace it has been one recognition per year. This makes other people more assertive, ‘You must recognize our reincarnation.’ But let’s take it easy and see. Akong Rinpoche’s disciples should continue fulfilling his wishes and his vision for enlightened activity and then the enlightened intention of the guru will be fulfilled.” With this vision of the return of the precious guru, the Karmapa concluded his weekend of teachings.