August 3, 2023
Karmapa at the Europe Center: days two and three (photos and report)
Following the welcome ceremony for Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, and his son Thugseyla, the next day’s teaching at the Europe Center Summer Course in Immenstadt was keenly anticipated.
Now, with more than 6,000 students from 40 countries present, and 50,000 students watching online via a live stream, it was time for Karmapa’s teaching on 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva.
Teaching on 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva
Karmapa started by giving an extensive and beautiful explanation on the meaning of Refuge and Bodhicitta. These, Karmapa said, are the very basis of the path of a Bodhisattva (a being with great courage). While they are presented as two different steps, they are actually inseparable: there is no taking of refuge without the generating of Bodhicitta, and vice versa.
After more than two hours of introduction, Karmapa smiled and said ‘perhaps now is a good time to open the book!’
Karmapa read the first few verses of Tokme Zangpo’s seminal 14th Century Buddhist text. Karmapa explained that, while the style of presentation was determined by the time and the audience the author wanted to reach, the teachings were timeless and never ‘out of fashion’.
Karmapa gave the ‘lung’ (reading transmission) by reading the entire text in Tibetan, and then explained that, in the first few verses of the text, what is explained ultimately comes down to the practice of letting go.
As with the welcome ceremony the previous day, the atmosphere was joyful: powerful and profound teachings, interspersed with bursts of laughter.
In the evening, there was a festive dinner with Lama Ole, his team and invited guests.
Chenresig (Avalokitesvara) Empowerment
On the morning of 4 August, more than 7,500 students were gathered in the tent at the Europe Center, after an overnight influx of devotees who traveled through the night to receive the empowerment of Avalokiteshvara (Chenresig), the Buddha aspect representing enlightened compassion.
Karmapa took time to explain the visualisations of the various steps, as well as their deeper meaning.
Once again there was a joyful atmosphere. After the empowerment, everyone lined up and Karmapa distributed the nectar from the bumpa (ritual vase) to each and every participant. Lama Ole blessed the students with the ritual torma.
The blessing lasted several hours. Once Karmapa was seated back on his throne, he concluded the ritual and addressed the gathering, explaining the meaning of the dissolution phase, where the visualised deity, Chenresig, and his pure land are dissolved into emptiness.
Most of us are used to starting something new, doing something different, to creating and refreshing things – those are everyday things, so we are quite used to it.
But to really observe something where things are slowly starting to decay, things are slowly starting to degenerate – these are words that may sound depressing. But actually there is nothing really depressing about it – it’s just change, transformation.
So if we have learned anything, if we have understood anything from our practice, then this is where our courage comes in: the courage where we are able to face these degenerative aspects, these changing aspects, these transformation aspects…
As long as there is this drive, or this force called compassion, then the courage will automatically come. Then, we use this courage to look at all of the changing aspects: the four aspects of life: birth, ageing, falling ill and dying. We carefully use our courage to see these transformations, and then this creates the atmosphere, the opportunity to gain what is known as enlightenment…
The truth is that we don’t have to fear when we let go, when we dissolve every last bit. There is nothing to worry about – the truth is that, given the right conditions, all of it will arise again, the whole pure land, the whole pure manifestation of Chenresig, all of the Buddha planes or fields will arise as before.
So there is no such thing as the end or the finale. Maybe that’s a bit abstract, but if I put it in a casual way, then this experience that we call life, however important or unimportant it may be, of course sooner or later it will come to a form of end, but that’s about it, and when the conditions are there it will arise again and re-arise again, over and over again. And that repetition cannot be categorised as good or bad – it just is.
From the samsaric or the conceptual point of view, this same process is seen as something negative, and those who have understood nirvana, those who are awake, they look at the same thing and they see it as beauty. That’s the difference. It’s just a matter of perspective…
At the end of every session of meditation, once we have dissolved everything and rest in that state of awareness, we see ourselves once again as Chenresig. So it’s like the planting of a seed for the benefit of all sentient beings, so that should there be an activity again, we are always there. So there is no real end, no final end – that’s how it seems to be…
So, then we just meditate once again as Chenresig, in an instant, in a moment, and then we carry on with our everyday rituals, no matter how insignificant we think they are – we go back to eating, walking, sleeping, getting up, and the same process over and over again… it doesn’t matter whether it is mundane or not mundane, as long as we have picked up this courage called compassion, then everything is pure. So having said all that, I would like for all of us to dedicate all of this merit to sentient beings.
In conclusion, Karmapa once again expressed his appreciation for Lama Ole and his activity, and gave some essential advice to the students about how to relate to the spiritual teacher:
If we go around looking in all corners of the world, we will not find a teacher like him. It’s your merit, and therefore cherish it the best way you can, and as we know, Buddha has always said that in order to properly cherish the teacher one must not focus on the person but on the person’s practice, on the person’s essence. So therefore, that’s something you really have to focus on, and if you do that, no matter where you turn to, the teacher will always be there. So I would like to remind all of you of that. And as I said, I’m sure we’ll see each other very soon.
In the evening, there was a farewell dinner with Lama Ole, his team and some invited guests. This concluded a joyous and auspicious visit to the Europe Center for Karmapa and Thugseyla.