Sep 6, 2013, Karme Ling, the retreat center of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra
The 9th Lodroe Nyima Rinpoche, a nephew of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, is the abbot of Thrangu Monastery, Thrangu Nunnery, and the Princess Wencheng Temple in East Tibet. This summer, he came to the United States for the first time in order to participate in Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s 90th birthday celebration. While staying at Karme Ling, he did a one-week White Tara personal retreat dedicated to Rinpoche’s longevity. During his retreat breaks with several people gathered at the lunch table, he candidly talked about his experience with Rinpoche during this visit, and this spontaneous exchange became a teaching so profound that we felt impelled to write it down to share with all of you.
Lodroe Nyima Rinpoche is the reincarnation of Bengar Jampal Zangpo, the root guru of the 7th Karmapa Chödrag Gyatso. Bengar Jampal Zangpo is the author of the well-known daily recitation text, the Mahamudra Lineage Prayer, written at the conclusion of his 18-year solitary retreat on an island in the middle of Sky Lake (Namtso) in Tibet more than 500 years ago.
【Q】Would you please talk about the qualities that you have observed in Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche?
【A】I think the quality that most distinguishes Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche from others is that he conceals very well many qualities in his mind stream, always modest and never showing off. This fact itself is sufficient to prove that he is a being of the greatest stature.
When ordinary people like us do something good, we want others to know about it. Even though it is not necessary to talk about it, we simply cannot contain it and end up publicizing it in less than a week. Because of the pride in our minds, we want others to know that we have done something praiseworthy. That Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche has lived humbly to the age of 90 is really something extraordinary.
【Q】You are the abbot of Thrangu Monastery in East Tibet, and are busy with many responsibilities. If you did not have these responsibilities, what would you like to do the most?
【A】 There are two things that I would like to do the most: properly rely on a qualified teacher and master the Chinese language.
In my youth, I felt that study and contemplation were the most important things. As I grow older now, I feel like relying on a good teacher, someone like Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, for practice instructions. We do not need to do many practices. Doing one practice well is enough.
Actually, being able to earnestly follow a good teacher requires a lot of merit. Because lacking merit, many people follow one teacher a few years, and then switch to another one for another few years. They wander around among several teachers and end up not learning anything well. A few of you here have been following Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche closely for ten or twenty years, which is really due to your good fortune.
As to mastering the Chinese language, Chinese is quite a marvel to me. In order to express something in Tibetan, one would need to use many words, whereas often in Chinese one character is enough. For instance, the three learnings [listening, contemplation, and meditation] in Chinese are wen, si, and xiu respectively, one for each learning and enough for its full expression.
【Q】 It seems impossible to study the Chinese language and rely on a qualified teacher at the same time. For instance, that you want to master the Chinese language would imply that you will start disseminating the Dharma among many of your Chinese students. In that case, you will not have enough time to rely on a teacher and focus on your own practice.
【A】 Relying on a teacher does not mean you have to be around him every day. Rather it is to take his teaching and sincerely practice it throughout your whole life. This is extremely important.
Being able to earnestly do one practice and to rely on one teacher show that you have uncommon devotion to the teacher and the practice. For this reason, you will achieve accomplishment in this very lifetime. On the contrary, if you switch around, then it demonstrates that you do not have enough confidence in the teacher and the practice, and therefore you will not have attainment in this life.
Take Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche as an example. In order to spread the Dharma and benefit beings, he built a monastery, travels everywhere to establish Dharma centers, and does not have much time for his own solitary practice. Nevertheless, none of these impacts his study, contemplation, and meditation, or his pure moral discipline.
During these days of being with him, I can easily feel his devotion to his guru. Every time Rinpoche and I spoke, as soon as we mentioned the 16th Karmapa, he wept. I believe that with this kind of devotion, even just for an instant, will immediately purify the negative karma of thousands of eons.
Without this kind of devotion, even reciting the six-syllable mantra or Vajrasattava’s one-hundred syllable mantra millions of times still does not compare to the merit of the former. Does it still have merit? Yes. However, compared with the merit of an instant of devotion, the difference is like heaven and earth.
We cannot say there is no one like Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, but people with his qualities are simply very rare today. In his presence, I really do not dare to mention the 16th Karmapa, nor do I dare to talk about the 3rd Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, because the moment I utter their names tears well up in his eyes and it makes me feel uneasy to see him cry.
When we have constant devotion to our guru, everything we do―walking, standing, sitting, and sleeping―will all be practice. For there is really no one in our hearts except our guru, therefore, for sure, everything we do is for the sake of our guru. However, before we reach that level, I feel it is very difficult to turn everything we do into practice.
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche was seriously ill when the 16th Karmapa sent him to the US to regain his health and eventually be the abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. To apply for a passport for Rinpoche, the Karmapa asked him to have some photos taken. When the first set of photos was presented to His Holiness, he was not satisfied and requested a retake. After trying several more times with the same result, His Holiness said to him lightheartedly, “I want to put a nice photo on your passport, but you look so ill in all of them that I simply cannot find a good one.”
At another time, His Holiness called Lama Ganga and Rinpoche to his room and told them in a similar light way, “You think I am high up in the clouds, doing nothing. For the sake of beings in the western world and for you to spread the Dharma, I am personally dealing with the Sikkim government, personally selecting decent passport photos, and finally personally delivering the passports into your hands.”
Rinpoche said, over so many years, whenever he felt exhausted or faced with various obstacles, the thought of these words of His Holiness and his facial expression in saying this would bring up strength from his heart.
It makes me think that were ordinary people to hear the same thing, they might feel touched or inspired initially, but over time the feeling would gradually subside and would be completely forgotten in less than a year. For them, the words of His Holiness would simply have no blessing.
However, for Rinpoche, the statement from His Holiness 40 years ago is still fresh and alive, continuously motivating and inspiring him to accomplish his amazing activities. For him, His Holiness’ words even to this date still have blessing.
Therefore, when there is devotion, the guru does not need to say much. One sentence can set your heart trembling; one gesture can penetrate to the core of your being. This—is also a kind of realization.
【Q】 People in these modern days seem to be more sophisticated, and cannot be easily moved simply by one sentence or one gesture. I think it is due to the complex environment we live in. Though we could be near the guru, it still would be very hard to give rise to that kind of strong devotion or feeling.
【A】 Indeed, in the present time, referred to as the degenerate age, it is harder to recognize the qualities of a guru. In the past, those with true devotion to their gurus followed the gurus’ instructions strictly. When the guru said A, they would do A, or said B, they would do B, wholeheartedly obeying the progressive instructions given to them. Nowadays people do not practice according to the instructions in sequence. Right away they want to have the high teaching, or do what they regard as a better and more supreme practice. Several such years can pass, during which many of them do not make much progress or have much experience. As a result of having violated the guru’s instructions and not having correctly and earnestly relied on the guru, they are not able to receive the guru’s blessings.
About 4 or 5 years ago in Damka monastery, a Sakya master in his eighties bestowed to an assembly the transmissions and empowerments of the Treasury of Quintessential Instructions, one of the Five Treasures. The event, which lasted for a few days, started out early in the morning and continued late, sometimes even to 10 o’clock in the evening, because teachings were given along with the transmissions and empowerments. One day near the end, a monk sneaked into the master’s room and beseeched him, “Master, can you give me the most supreme instruction?” “What did you say?” said the master, who did not have good hearing. “Master, can you please give me the best, the most supreme instructions?” the monk begged sincerely. The master was astonished to hear this, and said, “All along from the very beginning, that is what I have been giving you. Were both your ears plugged up at that time? There are no more supreme instructions other than the Treasury of Quintessential Instructions.” He then scolded him even more.
Such a person regards public teaching as something for ordinary people, and does not take it seriously even when they are given many pith instructions. They want to hear something profound and unavailable to others.
A few days ago I was sitting in Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s teaching on the Torch of Certainty. I felt ashamed for not taking this text seriously in the past. As a matter of fact, with the Torch of Certainty, we do not really need other practices as everything is included in it. However, we regard it as something very simple, thinking that it is just a preliminary practice.
I think this kind of mentality is primarily due to lack of merit. Thus, when we encounter a supreme liturgy, though we have gone so far as to open up the book, we lose interest in reading it in the end.
【Q】 Many of us might have read a lot, have listened to many teachings, and have felt that we understand them pretty well. However, in reality it might not be the case. We actually might not have the realization that we think we have. In this situation, what can we do?
【A】 I think that having the opportunity to study and listen to the Dharma is very important. If we keep on doing it, eventually a certain kind of realization will come. As it will not come all at once, I think we still need to study and listen to the Dharma every day. It might not make much of a difference initially, but as we grow older, along with the changes in our times and our work, gradually conditions start to allow us to see various sufferings of beings in the six realms. Joining this with the teachings we have learned, we will feel the tremendous benefits of study and contemplation, just as stated in the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva, “Listening, contemplation, and meditation are the practice of a bodhisattva.”
【Q】So we just continue to study and contemplate? When this accumulates to a point, will such realization naturally come?
【A】Yes. It will help tremendously.
By doing this, some kind of experience will gradually come, and little by little you will become confident in the teachings. The sutras say that all merit comes from spiritual friends. Hearing this for the first time, I did not have confidence in it, thinking it would be impossible that all my merit is given by the teacher. Not until much later was I truly convinced. However, before we encounter or recognize an authentic teacher, we can regard the Buddha Dharma as our spiritual friend, and cultivate confidence in and devotion to it through study and contemplation. In this sense, study and contemplation are still very important.
As an ordinary person, I think that a book should be read multiple times, at least one hundred times. (laughter) If that is impossible, 20, 30, or some multiple of ten times is necessary. Only then can you have a profound experience.
Taking the Torch of Certainty as an example, reading it once or twice will not result in full comprehension of its breadth and depth. Only after reading it one hundred times can we have certain understanding, certain realization, and a kind of ineffable experience. Moreover, after reading a book so many times, when reading another one, you will be able to remember clearly what is in the previous book and what is in the current one, and start to see the significance and to feel intrigued.
When reading a book, we feel that we understand everything in it. However, afterwards we forget everything about it, and nothing is left in our mind streams. This is because our concentration is poor, unlike Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s. Today at 90 years of age, Rinpoche can accurately recall the incidents that happened when he was 7 or 8 years old.
After reading the Torch of Certainty one hundred times, you would remember most of its language and content. Only then will you give rise to an uncontrived devotion to Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, and become aware that this text is so precious that you do not want to be separate from it. Only then will you recognize or realize that the first Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche was no ordinary being, but truly was a reincarnation of Manjushri, as well as an emanation of buddhas and bodhisattvas.
【Q】 So, as in sadhana practice, in which we accumulate hundreds of thousands of mantra repetitions, can a similar approach be applied to reading books?
【A】Yes. For example, you might aspire to properly and earnestly read a book some multiple of ten times, which in itself is definitely a form of practice. In so doing, you would undergo significant transformation. Even though you might not be able to renounce everything mundane for the sake of practice, when you see people who are able to, you will revere them from the bottom of your heart, thinking that they are truly fortunate. If you have this kind of experience in this life, then you have in fact planted a seed of wisdom and compassion in the Alaya Consciousness, and you will be able to encounter Mahayana Buddhism and spiritual friends life after life.
【Q】Is it harder to practice the Dharma in this degenerate age?
【A】Many people feel that it is impossible to practice the Dharma authentically in these dregs of time. I think this is due to the impact that the rapid changes of times and the disorders of people’s minds have on study, contemplation, and meditation. On the other hand, due to the advancement of modern technology, we are able to learn almost anything on computers through the internet. Even on a sleepless night, you can get online to listen to teachings. This kind of opportunity has never existed before, and because of this, it is fair to say today we have a better chance of study and contemplation. However, does this lead to a better practice? It is not necessarily the case.
In the old days in Tibet, books were scarce and therefore very precious. If I had a copy of the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, then people would take turns borrowing it for reading. During that month of possessing the book, the borrower would read it many times and would have benefitted greatly from doing so.
On the contrary, with the many learning opportunities opened up to us today, we never pay any heed to them. Actually for serious practitioners, the simplest practice is the most supreme practice.
I heard a story. Once there was a Kadampa master whose disciple was about to depart. When the disciple came to bid the master farewell, he made some offerings to the master and pleaded for the last, the most supreme instruction. The master replied, “I have taught you everything I know without any reservation.” The disciple then went back to bring more offerings to the master, beseeching again for the most supreme instruction. This time the master held the hands of the disciple and told him, “You will die, and so will I. My teacher gave me this teaching, and that is what I have been practicing. You too should go and contemplate well the same thing.”
This master achieved enlightenment simply by contemplating impermanence every day. Every day as well, we have been doing various practices, but still have no attainment. This is because we have not had a realization of impermanence.
【Q】 Some prefer meditation, and some prefer study and contemplation. For me, reading the Torch of Certainty one hundred times seems impossible. It is not that I have fully comprehended what’s in there, but rather after reading a little bit of it, I feel that I have to practice this right away, so I do not keep reading. Since people are different, how do we ourselves know the proper balance between study and meditation?
【A】 That is right. Different people have different propensities. For the few people we mentioned previously, they do not need much of study and contemplation. Simply by hearing of impermanence or the word death, they can achieve enlightenment and have such a profound realization that they cannot stand any waste of time even for one second. To them, a lot of reading is not necessary. However, what I just said is for ordinary people like us. Only when you have done much reading and contemplation, can your practice come from within. If you simply repeat after others, or are dragged to do meditation by friends, all these practices cannot be something coming from your heart.
【Q】 The three learnings are listening, contemplation, and meditation. After reading the Torch of Certainty many times, from which of these three does the naturally arisen devotion come?
【A】After reading the book lots of times, the devotion, faith, and renunciation will naturally arise in us. When renunciation arises, compassion follows. In this, all three learnings—listening, contemplation, and meditation―are included.
【Q】 Does meditation have to be done strictly on the cushion? Can pondering and repeatedly reflecting on a subject be a form of meditation?
【A】 Of course. For instance, when we are continuously reflecting on impermanence, it is an authentic meditation practice.