Note from A Word Witch: I paraphrase Karmapa’s speech, except in sections marked with quotes. Any errors in meaning or transcription are, of course, mine and mine alone.
Karmapa then asked, “What do we mean by ‘peace’?” Is it a state of ease or relaxation? If so, these are difficult states to maintain and so, they are not our goal. What we are aiming for is something a little more than “eating ice cream on a hot day.” (He could not have picked a better metaphor for this Floridian!)
True peace requires effort to actively and intentionally renounce violence in all its forms. To achieve true peace, we must eradicate the mental unvirtuous actions—covetousness, malice, and wrong views—because these are the “seeds” of further unvirtue committed by body and speech.
“We cannot create peace through force or violence.”
In terms of renouncing the three unvirtuous mental seeds mentioned above, Karmapa made a distinction between eradication and suppression. Suppression, he said, can create mental illness, is unhealthy, and is different from the correct application of remedies that leads to eradication of unhealthy mental states. In addition, you need to understand the reasons for the remedies, or the remedies will not work. “Using my own experience,” Karmapa said, the more we are aware of the harm our kleshas do, the easier it is to apply the remedies.
“We may notice love is not constantly present, but anger happens by itself.” Yet because our minds have the capacity for the alternating emotions of anger and love, we need to realize that experiencing either of these emotions is a choice or decision we can make.
Do no wrong whatsoever.
Engage in abundant virtue.
Utterly tame your own mind.
This is the Buddhist teaching.
This saying describes “a gradual process of learning and development.”
“Do no wrong whatsoever” is the guiding principle for the Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas. “Engage in abundant virtue” guides those on the Mahayana path, while “Utterly tame your own mind” guides the Vajrayana practitioner. All these guidelines are stages of taming the mind and represent different “levels of responsibility,” or what individuals of different capacities are able to bear—like different grades of school. “The way we practice here,” Karmapa said—meaning at KTD—“is an integration of all three vehicles.”
To “utterly tame your own mind” is the correct understanding of Vajrayana or Secret Mantra. “Mantra” means “the protection of mind,” and when we practice Vajrayana correctly, we protect our minds from ordinary craving and perception, transforming our perception into the pure appearances of the mandala deities—a transformation that is unique to Vajrayana. This is a mental transformation that is not achieved through the accumulation of ritual implements; progressive practice is not “the accumulation of stuff.”
Here, we broke for lunch, with the rain shower still falling. I don’t know who the people were who served the delicious vegetarian lunch, but they had their act totally together, moving large numbers of us through a lunch line reminiscent of a school cafeteria so that everyone was well fed and even had extra time before the afternoon session began.
Karmapa began the afternoon session with more spontaneity. I wrote in my journal, “~frequent faces and exhibits of a wicked sense of humor~.” At one point Karmapa looked at his translator and said, “Understand?” Yeshe’s response: “Things are warming up.”
Karmapa explained that it is the ability or strength of the individual that lends the vehicle that person practices its power. If a person at the Shravaka or Pratyekabuddha grade level tries to practice Mahayana, they will still end up practicing on the Shravaka/Pratyekabuddha grade level; if a person in the Mahayana grade tries to practice Vajrayana, they will still end up practicing Mahayana.
Karmapa then addressed how we practice with body, speech, and mind. Whether or not we actually enter into the Buddha’s teachings depends on whether our body, speech, and mind “enter that space.” Mind is of foremost importance; it must be purified. “We cannot fake it or be hypocritical.”
The challenges we experience must be met with the corresponding faculty. If we are confronted with physical danger, our response will need to be a physical, bodily response, as in running away or otherwise removing ourselves from the situation. If we are confronted with harsh speech, “Can you feel compassion on the spot? It’s possible, but quite difficult.” Most of the harm that comes to us through body and speech is external harm.
Ill will that comes toward us from the minds of others does not hurt us—I was reminded, though of course Karmapa did not say it, of the old children’s teaching tool, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”
Harm that comes to us through our own minds, however, is internal harm. What hurts us is our own malice and ill will that we develop, often in response to the malice or ill will that we sense is directed toward us from others. “Our anger only harms ourselves,” and this is the worst suffering we can experience because we cannot run away from it.
Karmapa explained one way to deal with what is frequently our knee-jerk reaction of developing malicious thoughts in response to criticism leveled at us from other people. He explained that when someone criticizes him (and I really have to wonder who has done this), instead of immediately jumping to his own defense, he thinks of himself as a friend of the critic, and this enables him to assess whether the criticism is valid or not.