The Gyalwang Karmapa’s Special Address to the Kagyu Monlam

January 11, 2009, Translated by Karma Choephel

I have the opportunity to give a special address today, but I do not have anything special to say. Maybe all the special topics have been used up. Last year I took the opportunity to say some things about environmental protection, and the year before that I had the chance to talk about giving up meat and being vegetarian. Everyone has really taken a lot of interest in these issues. With the issue of vegetarianism, it has not been just the Tibetan monasteries in India and Nepal. Many monasteries of all lineages in Tibet itself have actually implemented a vegetarian diet. This deserves accolades. 

I feel that interest in environmental protection is also growing. Students from abroad in particular have taken a special interest in this issue. They have made plans for environmental protection, and are putting a great deal of effort into implementing them. This is very good, and I would like to thank everyone for this. But you don’t need to clap! 

This year I don’t have any particular issue to address. If I say something special every year, you might pay attention to it, but if I were to say something every year it would no longer be special. It would become normal, and then we might not emphasize putting it into practice. Since that is a possibility, I will not say much. 

Last year I did speak about the environment. The climate has changed and temperatures worldwide are unbalanced. The ice packs at the earth’s poles are melting and the weather is getting warmer in Tibet. We are approaching a critical situation. This is not going to affect only one ethnic group or one country; It will impact the fate of the entire globe, so we all need to work together. It is very important that we educate ourselves as much as possible, and that we take greater interest in the current scientific thinking on climate change and environmental protection. 

In Tibet, we have passed down our own particular methods of environmental protection from generation to generation. This is very good. However, there might be some people who have a basic interest in environmental protection, but lack adequate education as to the best ways to protect the environment in a particular time and place. This is why we need to emphasize education and interest in contemporary sciences, particularly environmental science. This is an unmatched opportunity to do something beneficial for Buddhism and sentient beings in general. Since we live in this time, we need to make real efforts at this. 

In particular, I have produced a book of guidelines for environmental protection that will be distributed to all the monasteries once the Tibetan translation has been completed. It has been finished in English and Chinese, and there are plans to produce it in other languages as well. Once this is done, all the monasteries, dharma centers, associations and individuals in the different countries of the world should motivate themselves to do something about this situation that is threatening the world. There is no better Dharma practice than doing something good for all the beings who live and depend on this world. From a worldly perspective as well, this is a critical life-and-death situation. Please keep this in mind. This is my first point. 

My second point concerns the five-minute meditations we held during the Milarepa teachings over the past few days. Actually, if you have never been instructed in meditation and then are told to meditate, it must be a bit difficult. But if you call yourself a member of the practice lineage, you should be someone who puts their main emphasis on meditation practice. If we merely claim to be in the practice lineage verbally, without giving any appearance of doing any meditation or practice, we are disgracing the lineage that among all lineages is supposed to be the most practice-oriented. Members of the practice lineage should have minds that are somewhat tamed or that settle peacefully, but we don’t seem to be like that. For that reason, it would be good for all the different monasteries to plan to make time in their daily schedules for some meditation—at least five minutes. 

All the monasteries have many lamas who have completed retreats, and these lamas should be put to use. Of course we need to help those abroad, but we should also help all the Tibetans, Nepalis, and Indians. It is not OK to just follow the money. Thus the better among the lamas who have completed retreats should give daily instructions in meditation. They may teach meditation on the four thoughts that turn the mind or on something else, but at the very least there should be five minutes of meditation per day. If this happens and we have the opportunity to gather for another Kagyu Monlam, I hope that your posture and physical appearance will be better during the meditation. I hope it does not get worse. We will be able to tell if you have been meditating regularly. If when I look out at you I think, “They are really meditating,” that is a sign that you have been meditating regularly. On the other hand, if when I look out you are not sitting in the posture of a meditator but slouching like a sleepyhead, that is a sign that things have not gone so well. So it would be good to include this in your daily schedule. After all, we are a practice lineage. There is no point to just carrying the empty name of a “practice lineage.” Thus putting a strong emphasis on practice and meditation is the second point. 

For the third point, during the work leading up to the Kagyu Monlam, I have had many opportunities to interact with many young monks. We have quite a few young monks and nuns who are very intelligent and know how to use their brains. But we are not used to using our brains and so we do not give them any training or chance to develop their skills. If we let them remain ignorant fools, it seems to me that their human lives will be wasted, so we should give them education. If they normally work in the monasteries or perform a job that is connected with the Dharma, we should help them develop their skills and creativity, and they will know better how to do their jobs. 

If monks and nuns do not know how to do anything in the monastery, we should not look down on them. If we give them skills and jobs instead, these young monks and nuns will not go to waste. They will be able to have an education and skills in this life, and this will also help Buddhism and the monasteries. For this reason, all the monasteries should take an interest in education. This should be in Buddhism—even if only the four thoughts that turn the mind and the stages of the path—and also in languages such as English, Hindi, and others. We are a Mahayana sangha, so we need to work to help the teachings and beings, and in particular work on behalf of people of many different inclinations and ethnicities. If we intend to bring vast benefit to beings and the teachings, we will need to employ various different methods, approaches and activities. It would not work just to follow traditional customs. For this reason, everyone should take an interest in education and develop the skills of the monks and nuns in all the monasteries. It’s good to make them use their brains, isn’t it? They should not just be left behind like sheep. This is the third point. I don’t have anything else in particular to say. 

Finally, today we are bringing the 26th Kagyu Monlam to a successful conclusion, so we should dedicate the virtue we have created during it. We should make the aspiration that this virtue become the seed of peace and happiness for all the limitless beings throughout space, and that it become a cause that increases and gives power to our love and affection. In particular, we should keep in mind those beings to whom we are directly connected, the beings who live on this planet, and dedicate the virtue we have done to them. We should make the vast aspiration that they may receive this just as we have dedicated it. 

As I explained yesterday, if we foster the precious teachings of Buddhism in a dharmic way, they are the source of happiness for wandering beings. But if we mix the Buddhist teachings with excessive clinging to our own views and practices as best or with attachment, aversion, or delusion, there is the danger that will cause us to lose this root of help and happiness. For that reason, if you are a fully renounced monastic, a Buddhist, or a practitioner, you should keep that in mind without ever forgetting it. Our biggest fault is that we get into dire straits and forget that we are monastics, Buddhists, and practitioners, and then display all the worst traits of our characters. Therefore we need to continually recognize who we are, without ever forgetting. This is extremely important. 

The Buddhist teachings from Tibet have been seriously threatened in terms of study, practice and activity. They are good in general, but many aspects have deteriorated, so please pray that through the power of these roots of virtue what has deteriorated may be revived and what has not been harmed may flourish. 

Similarly the great Buddhist master, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has been ill a few times recently. This is a sign that we need to heighten our alertness. Thus we should pray fervently that all the great beings live long, benefit many sentient beings, and turn the wheel of Dharma. 

The foundation of the teachings is the Sangha, but in Tibetan society we do not really seem to hold the Sangha in high regard. In Thailand, Taiwan, and other Buddhist countries, members of the Sangha are highly respected. People treat them reverentially, and join their palms in prayer to them. But we Tibetans treat them as equals. We pay great respect to the rinpoches, tulkus, supreme nirmanakayas, great masters and kings of dharma, but do not really understand that the Sangha under them is the foundation and root of the teachings. Yet this understanding is very important. Although the custom of recognizing the upholders of the teachings as tulkus appeared in Tibet, generally in terms of the system of the teachings of the Bhagavan Buddha, it is the Sangha as a whole that upholds the Buddha’s teachings, not individuals. It is the community of the Sangha that upholds the teachings. So may the Sangha of the ten directions be harmonious and well disciplined. In particular, as I said the other day, the Tibetan lineages are all one teaching with many different methods. We need to recognize them as all being one. It is very important that we have unmistaken faith in and samaya with the upholders of these teachings. For that reason, please pray for them. 

This year there have been terrible situations, such as the disturbances in Tibet, the earthquake in China, many people dying in the natural disaster in Burma, and many people unexpectedly losing their lives in from the terrorism in Mumbai. In Bihar as well, many people died in the flooding. Please keep these beings and the suffering of all beings in your mind as you make the dedications.