Karmapa’s message for Vesak 2024

May 21, 2024

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, gives the following message on the occasion of Vesak, 2024.

Vesak message 2024 from Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

Vesak message 2024 from Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa
A transcript of the letter follows.

Dear Dharma friends,
This coming Thursday, May 23rd, marks the day of Vesak (also known as Buddha Jayanti or Buddha Purnima) – the Buddhist festival commemorating the birth, the full awakening, and the passing into Parinirvana of our historical Buddha Shakyamuni.

For us as practitioners of the Buddha Dharma, regardless of what tradition, or yana or vehicle we are following, it is a very unique day for all of us.

According to history, it is the day when Prince Siddhartha, the individual who was to become Gautama Buddha – the fourth historical Buddha – was born. At the same time, it is also the day when Siddhartha attained complete awakening, and thus became known as Buddha Shakyamuni. And finally, it also marks the day when that activity came to completion, the event that we know as his Parinirvana.

We mark this special day by recalling the activity and the blessing of Buddha Shakyamuni and all Buddhas. It is said that, due to their generation of Bodhicitta or the Bodhi Mind, they will remain forever and ever, for the benefit of all sentient beings. In particular, they also reside in various parts of this world that we consider ours, regardless of limitations of time or distance, which are simply brought about by our concepts. The Buddhas, since they have obtained realisation, are able to fulfil their aspiration to remain. So therefore, we can truly have confidence that they are remaining still, in this world, on this planet.

And so, we recall their activity, we recall their generating of Bodhicitta, and focus on the benefit of generating Bodhicitta. And by doing so, we ourselves also accumulate merit, which is very important. In the Buddhist tradition we say that the accumulation of merit and the accumulation of wisdom are the keys for obtaining liberation and full awakening. So therefore, even if we are beginners, if we are able to simply rejoice in their virtuous deeds, the marvellous thing about it is that we accumulate merit equally. And so therefore, we use this skilful means to accumulate merit. And through that, or hand in hand with that, wisdom is also accumulated. Therefore, we must rejoice wholeheartedly.
On this most sacred day of Vesak, we also recall the Buddha’s teaching, the Buddha Dharma, and we try to use this day to implement however much of it we can.

We can, for example, simply focus on the Refuge Vows, and if we feel inspired to practice the Bodhisattva way, we can take up the Bodhisattva Vow as well, and observe it as much as we are able to.

We may recite Samantabhadra’s King of Aspiration Prayers, or recite the Six Syllables of Avalokiteshvara.

Besides that, for those of you who are familiar with the practice of Sojong, I would encourage those who have taken the Sojong Vows in the past and have received explanations on them to devote the Vesak day to this practice.

I believe that it has great benefit, because dedicating just 24 hours to this practice will allow our body, speech and mind to calm down from their everyday restlessness. Moreover, the practice of Sojong doesn’t require any great exertion or effort – it’s simple, peaceful, and enjoyable.

Which brings me to one of the most important parts of practice: whatever aspect of the Dharma we are focusing on, it is most vital that we enjoy it. Enjoying it doesn’t mean that we have to force ourselves to smile or laugh all the time. Smiling and laughing are just symptoms of happiness, not the actual happiness itself.

So, as long as we are able to reflect on something meaningful – such as how to be kind to others, how to be kind to yourselves, how to have a meaningful next minute, next hour, next day, or next month, that kind of attitude is a very enjoyable one.

And that’s what I mean by ‘enjoyment’: it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to stop ourselves from being sad, stop ourselves from crying and force ourselves to laugh – not in that sense. But instead, do something that is really meaningful, really interesting, because this is what will fundamentally open our heart.

When you enjoy doing what you’re doing, everything becomes easy; even if you do have to save the world it becomes easy.

So therefore, dear Dharma friends, this is what I wish for all of you on this day of Vesak – may you be able to spare some time to use the practice of the Buddha Dharma to find joy and open your heart.

With prayers

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa