WORDS OF ADVICE FROM THE KARMAPA

In the spring of 2015, while visiting the United States, the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, gave a talk in which he said:

“Outward-looking wisdom is basically knowledge which we acquire through study. Usually our mind becomes learned about everything except itself. We are wise about everything except our own mind, which usually remains utterly ignorant of itself”.

His Holiness the Karmapa then went on to say:

“Therefore I think that the most important thing is to gain the wisdom that is the “Recognition” of the mind itself. I believe that is the basis of true wisdom. We call this ‘knowing one and liberating everything,’ because when you gain that kind of insight it is all-inclusive and allows the power of intensity of your wisdom and learning to increase naturally”.

The Karmapa distinguishes between “outward-looking wisdom,” which involves using our mind to examine and study the outside world (going to school, etc.), which traditionally has been referred to as “Knowing everything and liberating none” and inward-looking wisdom, using the mind to examine itself, which, as he phrases it, is “Knowing one and liberating everything”.

The Karmapa is laying it all out for us in very simple language. Here in the West we are brought up with the idea of using our mind to study the outside world. This is what we all do and most of our professions and livelihoods are based on this approach. However, as the Karmapa points out, the “mind” that we use to study the outside world is “unexamined”. It never occurs to us (nor have we been taught) to qualify our mind, to check it out to make sure it is clear, unobstructed, and, as they say, good-to-go.

Instead, like any other commodity, we use the mind, just as it comes out of the box. This is what is meant by an “unexamined mind”. We never looked it over, much less examined it in any detail. Nor have any of our teachers or mentors instructed us otherwise. We just use it; that’s all.

I believe it was Socrates who said that an unexamined life is not worth living. Well, the Tibetan Buddhists are suggesting that an unexamined mind is not worth using and that we would do well to check out and examine the mind BEFORE we train it on the outside world. This concept is almost completely foreign to those of us living here in the West. We have never been asked to examine the nature of our own mind. This fact is what the Karmapa is pointing out. What can we do about that? The Karmapa goes on to state:

“Nowadays many people are interested in Buddhism [Buddha Dharma] and especially meditation. But they think of meditation as some kind of spiritual therapy, like spiritual massage. They hope that by practicing meditation they will be able to reduce the stress and pressure that they feel in their busy lives and relax. This is fine, but it is not a complete practice of meditation as taught in Buddhism. That requires a more exclusive or intensive training”.

“I think the hope that meditation will put you at ease and make you more comfortable may cause some disillusionment. Actually I think that the intensive practice of meditation will probably make you very uncomfortable initially, because old habits die hard, and in the practice of meditation we are attempting to replace many of our old negative habits with new ones. This goes against the grain of our personalities and therefore will probably be very uncomfortable”.

“The aim of Shamatha practice [Tranquility Meditation] is not simply to achieve peace of mind and feel comfortable and relaxed in one’s mind. Shamatha practice is actually to improve our minds, and to change our personalities for the better by weakening and finally remedying our kleshas [disturbing emotions]. Some people think the point is just to feel good, relaxed and comfortable, but that is not it. The function of shamatha is to serve as a remedy for our kleshas”.

“It is not enough to practice meditation only in our shrine room sitting on the cushion,” he continued. “It is necessary to bring the practice of shamatha into all post-meditation activities, including our work. It is especially important to be able to apply it when we become highly emotional”.

In the above words, you are hearing directly from His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, what (hopefully) I have been trying to communicate in my many dharma posts of these last number of years. I hope you find this post useful.

As for some background story, I (along with my family) had the extreme good fortune to visit the young Karmapa in 1997 at his ancestral home (Tsurphu Monastery) high in the mountains of Central Tibet. And I didn’t think just to go there on my own. To my astonishment, my dharma teacher for the last 32 years, the Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, told my wife and I to go and see His Holiness during an interview. It came out of the blue, and he said we were to go within a month! We were dumbfounded, but went and it opened a door to so very much.

My wife Margaret and three of my kinds (Anne, May and Michael Andrew) went with me and the many adventures and stories of that trip are available in a free e-book if you are in the story mood. The book is also available in paperback. 

~ Michael Erlewine

Our Pilgrimage to Tibet


(Posted by Buddhism: HH the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Facebook, 7 March 2024)

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