Logo of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Thaye DorjeThaye Dorje
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

Karmapa’s ‘Meditations for our Times’

April 18, 2020

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, shares some meditations for our times.

Karmapa hopes that these meditations will be a useful resource for all practitioners, and indeed anyone else who might find them of interest.

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28 May 2020

What will life be like after the pandemic? Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa reflects on this question.

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, visits Indonesia in November 2019

That’s a question of the future, isn’t it?

Well, it is a mystery. 

The future has always been a mystery. ‘Mystery’ not in the sense of foggy and unclear, but rather brightly uncertain in how it plays out. 

In a cheerful sense, the future has always been a magical thing – an unknown thing that we have been trying to capture since time immemorial. 

In a practical sense, there will be similar patterns of experience, such as mornings and evenings, sunrises and sunsets. 

The predictable practical challenge will consist of basically struggling to capture our past memories, what we think was normal and nice.

That challenge has been repeated over and over so many times by now that it is not a mystery any more.

Hopefully we are somehow tired of that habit: the habit of seeking opportunities for our future to recapture the past days of the good times, like carrots being dangled in front of us, and yet they are attached to our back.

But if we want to do something different for a change (a new challenge is something we might perhaps enjoy, because a new challenge is always uplifting), then it might be interesting to see the future as an opportunity to let the past normality overwhelm the future a little less.

Of course, we need the compass of the ‘past’, but using that compass is the trick, rather than overusing or underusing it. If we master this trick, we needn’t be frightened to look at the future.

The complementary trick is the acceptance that there is no guarantee. We as humans have lived for as long as we can remember with concepts of guarantees of unimaginable proportions. But if we look at it calmly, not once did we really believe in these guarantees: in the end, when it came to going through hard times or making a decision in life, we didn’t really depend on laws and promises, because deep down we knew that no number of laws or promises would ever provide us with a real guarantee. 

For the longest time we have lived with that contradiction: we feel comfortable with the promises, we are soothed by the concept that there is some kind of safety net, but at the same time we know that none of them have ever been fulfilled and that there is no absolute guarantee. And because we are humans, we cannot really change that fact – we cannot fix that. We only have to accept that that is the case.

Our anxiety comes from the non-acceptance of this state of uncertainty. But when we look at history, we see that ironically enough, it has kind of worked. We have somehow got by, and if we want to make the ride a smooth one, we have to accept the fact that there is always at least a 1% factor of uncertainty. 

Our strange habit of holding on to the idea of a guarantee is deeply ingrained in us because we have lived with it for so long and because it is soothing to us. Maybe, this time round we can slightly alter this habit and get closer to our deep-down knowledge or hunch that rules and promises are fabricated; that cures of any kind may be 99% guaranteed, but  a 1% factor of uncertainty always remains.

Without that small factor of uncertainty, life would be intolerable. It is that speck of uncertainty, of that 1 % of no guarantee that makes for the freshness of the present moment that presents us with healthy challenges and opportunities.

An acceptance of this dash of uncertainty lifts the present moment up and gives spice to our life.

24 May 2020

In this meditation, Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, reflects on the importance of not seeking a quick fix in the midst of change.

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

If we try to view this pandemic from a spiritual perspective and see spirituality as somehow separate from this ever-changing world, it will be very difficult to make sense or find a meaning.

No spiritual lens is required to see the obvious, and just how dangerous this disease is. Everyone can recognise it.

But somehow we are taken aback by it, gripped by it to a point that when we experience and witness countless cases and an ever-rising mortality rate, the arising of non-acceptance emotions compel us to look for meaning somewhere else, somewhere other than acceptance. That’s when spirituality somehow gets overused like suddenly following an extreme diet or going over the top with medications due to health reasons.

This approach tries to force spirituality to somehow fix the symptom in one go, which is sadly not possible. This kind of attempt, which sees spirituality as separate from health, casts out the healing benefit of spirituality.

This applies to all forms of spirituality I feel, and particularly to Buddhist spirituality.

Actually health is a fine line between feeling well and feeling unwell. Meaning those two are interdependent, or they rise and fall in a symbiotic way.

If we can see this then a composed approach will take place within us.

Taking care will take place together with letting go of trying to find a quick fix or finding an absolute cure.

17 May 2020

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, shares a meditation on concepts and human nature.

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

 

We don’t have to take on the burden of trying to predict the future. 

The mysterious nature of the future can’t be grasped in any way. 

The future will always remain in the future. 

Therefore, we can only rely on predictions and take precautions.

It’s even meaningful to look into the future then. 

To see that the future is uncertain and mysterious. 

We then dare to look into it without any decision, meaning without worry. 

This concept of the future is a mirror to the past. 

Thinking of what has happened already stimulates wonder.  

That’s the future.

Obviously our eyes and sensory doors can’t see the past or the future. 

Only our conceptual mind can. 

Time is a concept, and only a conceptual means can perceive concepts.

If we understand that, we can come to realise that concepts don’t really have much to do with reality. 

Yet, daring to use concepts to look at reality can be seen as the most human thing to do.

What is human? 

Is it this body? 

Is this external and internal environment human? 

Obviously not.

Humanness is a force of nature that desperately tries to relate to reality or life with concepts like time. 

This attempt is neither good nor bad. 

That’s just how humans are. 

But if we view this human pattern in a caring way, we can find unimaginable beauty – humans are trying to do something that can never be done: we are trying to fix life by using concepts.

Picking up the courage to witness that – that is a spiritual practice.

So practice.

 

6 May 2020

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, shares the following meditation on the eve of Vesak 2020.

 

སྨོན་ལམ། (smon lam) – MONLAM, Aspiration

When it comes to becoming a Buddha, when it comes to blossoming into a Buddha, aspiration is a beautiful way to seed this state of Buddhahood. 

To be a ‘Buddha’ is to be awakened. 

To be more precise, if we split this method or vehicle of aspiration in half, the two parts can be understood as:

The 1st half is སྨོན་ལམ། (smon lam). Monlam’ is the Tibetan term for aspiration, ‘praṇidhāna’ in Sanskrit.

The 2nd half is བསྔོ་བ། (bsngo ba). Ngowa’  is the Tibetan term for dedication, ‘pariṇāma’ in Sanskrit.

‘Monlam’ is like inhaling and ‘Ngowa’ is like exhaling. 

Just like breathing, it is most natural.

This path is known as becoming a Bodhisattva, a child of the awakened one – not to be taken literally, of course. 

Right now, we are most probably dreaming. 

This state of being human is a balanced dream. 

Because we aren’t absorbed in ecstasy. 

A being in a higher state, a god being, is in a constant state of rapture so that they cannot see reality (like a life in luxury).

A being in a lower state, a tormented being, is in a constant state of agony so that they equally cannot see reality (like a life in poverty). 

Both luxury and poverty are examples that are just relative. 

A human state is what is known as a middle state, where we are on the verge of waking up. 

Dreaming still as ‘you’ and ‘me’.

But every now and then we doubt, in a way questioning who you are and who I am, or whether we are dreaming or not. 

A stream of curiosity pushes us to check.

The appearance of birth and death, and various states of changes, are the cues for our curiosity, which leads us to doubt whether we are really here or not. 

So, human birth may not be ideal for pleasure, but it is ideal for waking up. 

So, this smidgen of curiosity is a perfect and fertile ground for planting the seed of awakening. 

This is done not by forcing something onto the human condition, but by implying that it’s not wrong to doubt whether we are dreaming or not. 

And to imply that waking up is not frightening at all.

Either a spiritual guide can do it for us, or we can nudge ourselves to go a little beyond our habitual norm of being content with this dream.

At the same time, we have a kind of knack or instinct to always want to be different from the norm or from others, to stand out, like for example in the realm of fashion. In this case, we shouldn’t fight this habit of wanting to be different, but go along with it. 

If we want to be really different and do something ‘out of the box’, it is most interesting to set out on the adventure to wake up. 

That’s what Buddhas are saying actually. 

Now, coming back to seeding awakening (Buddhahood): being content with dreaming this human dream is alright, but sooner or later this dream will cycle and there is no real guarantee that it will come full circle to reach back to this human state.

That’s why waking up is sensible. 

After waking up we can dare to dream any dream we wish.

So, when it comes to seeding awakening, aspiration is the simplest seed. 

Because it’s something we do all the time. 

It doesn’t require any kind of effort. 

All it takes is to aspire continuously, just like breathing or beating your heart. 

That’s not an effort, it’s just a rhythm, like dancing.

Lungs dancing in and out, hearts dancing up and down. 

Likewise, aspire away day in and day out. 

Aspire to wake up, and from time to time look around and see who is still dreaming, and aspire for them to wake up. 

Right now their dream is too real, to the point that we can’t really force them and splash water on them to wake them up even if we wanted to, but we can aspire for them. 

Most of them are too captivated by their dreams of being themselves, the way they are, the way others are – it’s just so real that if we say it’s a dream they will think we are insane. 

Since we aren’t fully awake ourselves, it’s hard for us to convince others too.

So instead we aspire.

Mind you, aspiring is not like empty words or thoughts. 

These feelings of ‘Oh, it is just empty words and thoughts’ are habits that have got stuck over time, when we took the easy route for ourselves and demeaned curiosity by saying that it’s just child’s play. 

For example, we may do this when someone is enthusiastically in their own rhythm, but we can’t get it, so we say he or she is like a ‘machine’. 

Or when someone is taking things easy, we say he or she is like a ‘child’. 

This kind of habit of not having understood something or someone completely, and labeling it as a machine or something, is making it easy for us, but it can stick with us, and plant seeds for us to dream deeper and not wake up. 

So, aspire in a way that you breathe in, inhale, take in every act and thought, of yours and others, that are in alignment with waking up – namely, virtues and merits, such as kindness. 

This has a quality that is not associated with slumbering, and instead it’s associated with awakening. 

So take that in, breathe that in. 

That’s aspiration.

Now that your lungs are full of the oxygen of virtue and your miracle-like human body has transformed it into CO2, you have to breathe it out. 

Exhale it. 

Give it away.

Let it go.

Of course, you have to let it go without any real prior decision, just as the lungs do. 

Without any religious or political decision, just dedicate.

That’s dedication.  

The best example is that of a child breathing in a more profound way than an adult. 

Now, that’s karma well owned. 

So, dear dharma friends, on this eve of Vesak, please aspire. 

And all your dreams will become awakened!

 

26 April 2020

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, examines the idea of ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ in his latest meditation for our times.

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

When we try to apply the Bodhisattvas’ methods, to think of others and benefit others, we might feel overwhelmed.

We might get the sense that we are too ordinary. 

If we are ordinary, what is wrong with that?

Weren’t all Bodhisattvas in that position at one point? They must have felt utterly helpless and useless. 

Nevertheless they achieved their extraordinary qualities – simply by accepting their ordinary state. 

How did this happen?

First, they tried in ever so many ways to find this extraordinary state, just as Prince Siddhartha had done. But in the end, when all hopes had been dashed, they accepted their ordinary state. 

They finally saw that aging is natural. 

They finally saw that it’s also natural to get sick and to die.

It’s not at all wrong to experience age, sickness and death, no matter how ordinary they may seem. 

Such experiences have taken place countless times.

These ordinary experiences have never stopped other experiences from happening. 

It’s not as if these ordinary experiences are like a finale, cutting short any extraordinary experiences. 

After all, this present experience is still possible.

So it is this simple acceptance, which stopped the quest to save everyone from dying and all of the other natural, ordinary experiences. 

Instead, the quest to save everyone from dying transformed into the quest to help everyone embrace the acceptance of this ordinary pattern. 

That’s how the Bodhisattvas became Bodhisattvas. 

We too are in exactly the same position as the Bodhisattvas. 

If we compare ourselves with the Bodhisattvas, we won’t find a single shred of difference. 

So, let’s not burden ourselves with climbing a pinnacle-less mountain. 

That’s no mountain at all. 

When we climb mountains,  we climb down. 

That’s not inauspicious. 

That’s most natural. 

The descent of the mountain is essential to our enjoyment. 

If there is such a thing as an advantage, then ours is that we can make use of the Bodhisattvas’ realisation that we do not need to look for a separate, extraordinary state. 

Buddhahood is not separate from the ordinary state. 

It was never meant to be.

If you superstitiously believe that the ordinary state is, in fact, ordinary, then consider this: pristine lotuses are born out of mud. 

This is not just a saying. 

It is a reality. 

That is exactly how we are. 

Ordinary-like compositions of physical and mental mud have produced a pristine experience like this one: Us. Or you. Or me. What’s wrong with this? 

If there is anything wrong, it is our resistance to this natural way. 

We can’t separate this pristine wisdom from this mud. 

If we try, all we will get is either a lifeless statue or an idea of who we are. 

That’s all we will get. 

But it is that lifeless statue or idea that is the real death. 

So this is not what we want. At least, if we are sane.

Therefore, my dear dharma friends, if you wish to benefit others, try to accept this ordinary state. 

When I say ‘accept’, I do not mean in the sense of ‘take on this burden’ or ‘do nothing’! 

Instead, accept it in a way that there is no other way. 

There is no extraordinary way. 

There never was. 

We have that advantage.

We don’t have to try and flatten every mountain for the sake of all beings, in the name of finding this extraordinary way. 

If there is an even path, we walk it. 

If there is an uneven path, we walk it accordingly. 

Our feet do not burden themselves that they have to walk the ground.

The ground does not burden the feet to walk on it.

There is just walking. 

Nothing more, nothing less.

Extremely ordinary.

Yet, if viewed in a theatrical manner, it is extraordinary because we can’t find words to describe why these feet are walking the ground.

Left. Then right. 

From beginning-less time. 

Now that’s extraordinary.

 

19 April 2020

In his latest meditation for our times, Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, reflects on the courage of healthcare workers, and all of those on the front lines and behind the scenes.

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

There is no (absolute) cure. 

In a spiritual context, to say this may seemingly contradict the whole purpose of spiritual practice. We may ask ‘then why should we practice?’

The purpose of spiritual practice is actually a way to realise, for certain, that the very attempt to find an absolute cure is futile. There is no way. Realising this, the patient will paradoxically pick up courage. In addition, we are able to make sense of the fact that, in a a spiritual context, finding cures is only an expedient method, like telling a child that keeps asking ‘Are we there yet?’ ‘Yes, we’re almost there’ – as if there were a way to cure death. 

But that’s all there is to this thing called ‘a cure.’ 

Once again, from a patient perspective, does that mean that we should start being stoic and practice fatalism? 

A blunt answer is ‘No!’

A natural answer is ‘There is no answer.’ 

When we look at the countless doctors, nurses, janitors, the systems that back them, the entire healthcare system – in short, all of the people who are on the front line and those who are behind the scenes – we witness their courage and selfless acts. When we ask them why they do what they do, no matter how much their individual answers may vary, we will find that they will ultimately converge into one common response: essentially, they don’t really know. And when we see that they go ahead and do it nonetheless, it melts our hearts and moves us to tears. 

So, besides the bare truth of spiritual practice’s purpose to show us that there is no cure, such acts of care offer a most natural view of compassion. Reasons and logic of an absolute cure that we grew up with in our various cultures don’t apply. If we portray that in a mundane setting it’s like a mute person trying to muffle a message: even though that muffle may not be eloquent in any way if we listen carefully the message can be heard and understood. 

Compassion is a simple term, yet it could help us to explain why we are moved when we witness selfless acts from the people on the front lines and those behind the scenes. These medicine men and women know that for those who survive this pandemic, a cure may be found, but the pattern of human existence is such that we will soon come across another challenge. Moreover, for the critically ill, they know that their efforts and courage are futile.

Still, the unbelievable rhythm of their hearts continues to beat for a causeless cause. If their example isn’t enough reason to have confidence in spiritual practice, particularly for us as Buddhists, I don’t know what else there is. It’s so vivid and clear. No language is needed to be able to relate to their courage.  

So, dear dharma friends, kindly practice with no pressure to find an absolute cure. Simply practice like these heroes. 

Then, better than a cure, every moment we live will be a tribute to these warriors. These warriors without a cause.

Then, however long we live, it will be a life well lived.

 

9 April 2020

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, offers this meditation on the importance of practice to accept change

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, presides over a fire puja at His Eminence Beru Khyentse Rinpoche's guest house, India, December 2019. Photo / Tokpa KorloI’m not trying to frighten ourselves.

But we should practice with the attitude that it’s essentially a way to realise that we can’t overcome change, meaning that we are not an entity other than change or separate from change.

We are change.

So it’s a skilful way, and equally a caring way, to realise that.

We can try and think that everything is fatalistic, or that we have to be stoic and there is nothing we can do about it and let it be, so to speak.

But that will only numb our senses for a while and eventually bring panic.

So, practicing has a kind of charm to ease us into accepting change, without alarming us too much.

Owning our own karma is not based on clinging to the method of causality and rebirth.

These methods are just to roughly find a cue to flow with the current of change – just like waiting for a traffic signal before entering the highway.

Once we have entered into the traffic we naturally feel still.

That’s the point.

A disease like this is never evil.

It never was.

It’s just nothing in its essence.

But if we have courage this nothing can be transformed into something.

 

2 April 2020

A meditation on karma and change by Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa
 
Owning your own karma, by saying ‘it’s your own doing,’ is simply one way of talking about karma.
 
The concepts of time, self and language used in ‘it’s your own doing’ play a powerful part in describing karma. In fact, with the tools we have, we have no other way but to describe it in this way. It is as though there was an ‘I’ that caused something in the past to result in this present experience, in a linear way. But that’s just a way of explaining it – nothing more.
 
It is helpful on a relative level because I feel that this experience that I am going through is so vivid, and I want to be able to make sense of it. And so, this statement is almost the only way to put it into words.
 
However, if we strip away the concept of time for a moment, then what is left is just the causal aspect of karma, in which the past does not play any part. Then, we will find that, when owning our karma, the infinite burden of time is not weighing us down.
 
Next, we strip away the concept of ‘I’, or in this case ‘your’ and ‘it’s’, and then what is left of the statement is ‘own doing’. Since factors of subject and object are stripped away, the concept of ‘own’ has no place, and then just ‘doing’ will be left.
 
After a while ‘doing’ will become a mere sound – ‘Doing!’ Nothing more. Then there is even less burden – in fact there is no burden at all. There is not even a ‘here’ or ‘now’, both of which belong to the concept of time.
 
Nevertheless, the concepts of time, self, and all of the linguistic tools used have all played their part in their own way. They have not claimed any merit for their part and have departed naturally after conveying an answer to our question about how we can make sense of what we feel.
 
Ever since the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, all educational institutes or Viharas have been founded with the sole purpose and with the sole hope of making the knowledge of understanding karma (which is synonymous with change) available to all.
 
The establishment of these spiritual environments was never about anything else. It was never about escaping karma or change. The nature of enlightenment or liberation was presented simply as a means to inspire us to own change, to own karma.
 
Achieving Nirvana is never a separate entity from change.
 
Enlightenment is the complete acceptance of change.
 
With this attitude, practice as well as you can.
 
If it helps to think that you are practicing for all, then do just that.
 
But there is no need to practice with a sense of a burden.
 
All you need to do is just use these means to accept change.’

28 March 2020

A meditation from Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa:

 

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

A recitation of the Six Syllables is like a few simple lines of musical notes, or a melodic ringtone.

More elaborate practices are like complete orchestral scores, such as those created by Studio Ghibli.

Music doesn’t carry any real purpose, and it’s the same for meditational practices.

But, amid fear and anxiety, meditation can help us to find calm and gain focus.

So, kindly practice.

Even taking precautions is also a practice.

But practice that too like playing music.

 

26 March 2020

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, shares the following meditation:

Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

As we breathe, if we say that inhaling is life, then as we inhale we are doing just that.
 
As we breathe, if we say that exhaling is death, then as we exhale we are doing just that.
 
But just because exhaling is death, it doesn’t mean that we should stop exhaling.
 
That act of panic itself would be unnatural.
 
As we breathe out and let go of life, it comes back.
 
Death might seem final, but just as there are long inhalations, there are long exhalations, and there is nothing else.
 
Both the aspects of breathing are interdependent.
 
They always were.
 
So there is nothing permanent.
 
Our natural body and mind knows this without any external input.
 
That’s how our heroes, the doctors and nurses, and the whole medical establishment, are able to care for all the patients.
 
Sure, they have fear and panic: they are sane.
 
But when they find a way to accept reality – which is change – their courage and their love take over their panic and fear, and with only one focus they go with the flow of what’s happening to the patients and do what they can.
 
So kindly breathe, my dear ones.
 
Breathe.
 
Breathe without fear.
 
You are breathing with me and I am breathing with you.

 

24 March 2020

Karmapa offers a new teaching on accepting change

 

18 March 2020

Karmapa’s teaching on change, karma and COVID-19 – in Tibetan

18 March 2020

Chenresig Practice – Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

The text for the Chenresig practice can be downloaded here.

18 March 2020

Karmapa’s teaching on change, karma and COVID-19 – in English