Karmapa’s heart advice on Dharma practice

by Karma Wangdu on 2 June, 2014

Teaching Day 2

30th May, 2014. Morning Session 1.
Nuerburgring, Germany.

In the first of two sessions this morning, the 17th Karmapa clarified what it means to really practice Dharma.

First he dealt with some misconceptions. Many people have mistaken expectations about Tibetan Buddhism. They believe that Tibetan Buddhist practices have magical properties or miraculous powers that can solve all problems; if you’re ill, a Lama or prayers will heal you; if you have economic problems you will become rich. Though some advanced practitioners may be able to cure illness and help others, His Holiness warned that this is very unusual. The practice of Dharma is not intended to solve such problems. “The practice of Dharma is there to solve the most fundamental problems in life,” he explained. What are these problems? However healthy we are, however successful or rich, there is no guarantee that we will be happy. We all experience mental suffering, agitation, and negative emotions. How then can we ever find peace of mind and happiness? The answer is that we can only become truly happy by transforming our minds: “The main purpose of Dharma practice is to train and transform your mind. Other things are incidental, not the main focus.”

A second misconception is that we have to give up a normal way of life to become a Dharma practitioner. On the contrary, Dharma practitioners need to integrate Dharma practice into every aspect of their lives, and use everyday activities as a way of practising Dharma.

A third misconception is that because we are Dharma practitioners, we should be perfect. We shouldn’t be short-tempered. We shouldn’t be jealous. We shouldn’t have too much attachment, and so forth. This leads some people to suppress these emotions, and, because they feel ashamed by them, they pretend not to have them. His Holiness advised that suppressing these negative emotions is of no help whatsoever, as we have avoided dealing with them directly. If we continue in this way, there is the danger that we may even begin to suffer from mental problems or a point will come when we can’t control the emotions any longer and they burst out in a very destructive way.

His Holiness assured everyone that it was a mistake to believe that negative emotions are “not allowed” because you are a Dharma practitioner. On the other hand, as a Dharma practitioner, you should not feel free to give them full rein either. What a Dharma practitioner should do is work with these negative emotions slowly, step by step, and learn how to control them, and, thus, eventually be rid of them. Speaking in English, from his own experiences of negative emotions, the Karmapa said: “Because I’m the Karmapa, people in their mind think I’m like the Buddha or like a god—no emotion. If I show anger they are shocked or they think I’m just playing. Sometimes, I’m really angry and they think, ‘How can the Karmapa be angry?’

He continued: “The day we become Dharma practitioners we don’t become a nice person. Working with emotions such as anger or hatred takes a long time, perhaps five or six years of inner dialogue with our negative emotions.”

Sometimes we fail to recognise negative emotions. However, by carefully observing our minds, we can familiarise ourselves with them. If we do this, we will not have to force the negative emotions into submission, they will diminish naturally.

His Holiness provided a story to illustrate this: Once upon a time there was a couple, who lived with their in-laws. The young wife had a very difficult relationship with her mother-in-law. The wife loved her husband and didn’t want to hurt him, but the situation with the mother-in-law was intolerable. So, in the end she decided that her only way out was to kill her mother-in-law.

She went to a doctor who gave her a medicine that he said would kill the mother-in-law slowly. It would take about a year. The doctor advised the wife that she should add the medicine daily to her mother-in-law’s food, but, when she was offering the poisoned food, she should always pretend to be kind and respectful.

The wife followed the doctor’s instructions. However, as time went on, she found that her relationship with her mother-in-law had changed, and they had become much closer. Now the wife no longer wanted to kill her mother-in-law, but she was fearful that the effects of the poison she had been administering might be irreversible. Frantically, she consulted the doctor. How could she undo the work of the poison?

The doctor reassured her. He had not prescribed poison at all. His intention from the beginning had been to heal the relationship.

We should deal with our negative emotions in a similar way and learn to understand our mind.