Monday, May 25, 2015

Recognizing the Three Poisons as Illness: HH Karmapa Teaches about Medicine Buddha at Kunzang Palchen Ling (Karmapa Pilgrimage 2015, Part 6)

Friday morning at 6 a.m. found me scarfing a quick breakfast of coffee and an oatcake before hurriedly packing my car for the return trip to Florida. After attending the morning’s teaching by His Holiness Karmapa at Kunzang Palchen Ling, my plan was to deliver Nancy to the Amtrak station in Poughkeepsie so she could return to New York City while I would spend the night with my friend Stirling before heading home to Florida on Saturday.

It is always extremely difficult for me to leave Woodstock. Luckily Nancy was riding with me so I avoided tears and thoughts of, “If only I could spend more time here!” Instead, as we drove out of town I said a silent goodbye to Woodstock, the staff and place energy at the Inn, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, and my helpful spiritual friend at KTD.

Nancy and I had driven to Kunzang Palchen Ling on Thursday to deliver a gift that her husband had carved for Karmapa, but today the center was transformed. The bustle of pre-event planning had given way to orderly directions from lamas and event volunteers, the staccato hammering sounds of construction were replaced by the deep, resonant notes of Tibetan trumpets, and I was delighted when Bardor Tulku Rinpoche himself, looking happy and healthy, peeped into the shrine room from the walkway outside. The spacious upstairs shrine room and the large downstairs multi-purpose room (complete with TV for video feed from the shrine room) were filled with people who had connections to Rinpoche, to Karmapa, or to both teachers. It was great to see old friends and to make new acquaintances, and I was especially grateful that I had been able to secure a seat in the shrine room.

Karmapa was still feeling unwell, so instead of conferring the scheduled Medicine Buddha empowerment he gave transmission of the most commonly used mantra for Sangye Menla (Medicine Buddha) and a short talk about the significance of this particular form of Buddha.

Karmapa explained that the reason Buddha is likened to a physician, the Dharma (Buddhist teachings) is likened to medicine, and the Sangha (community of Buddhist practitioners) is likened to nurses is because they all treat the three poisons of attachment, aversion and ignorance—the poisons that are the root causes of all illness.

In addition to viewing the three poisons as the source of all illness, Karmapa said we might also view them as demons that may have control over others. Personifying attachment, aversion and ignorance as demons helps us to become more loving and compassionate toward the people over whom these demons exercise control.

Saying the mantra and/or doing the practice of Sangye Menla then serves two purposes:  It helps us to recognize the three poisons in ourselves—to recognize our own sickness—and it helps us to recognize those things in others and to have more love and empathy toward them.

I was happy to hear that in his closing remarks, Karmapa said that he was pleased that Bardor Tulku Rinpoche’s health has improved and that his family is doing well. Rinpoche had a stroke several years ago, which has left him with limited use of one of his hands, and he has had other health problems recently that prevented him from traveling. Those problems appear to have been resolved and Rinpoche is planning to visit us in Florida this coming October.

What an auspicious occasion for the last time I would see Karmapa on this trip! I am often amazed at the good fortune that has brought me into contact with him and with my other magnificent teachers.

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