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Instructions offered by Venerable Chöje Lama Phuntsok Rinpoche
I wish to greet you kindly and want to speak about the Second Gyalwa Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, who is surrounded by various deities and has a large retinue. The meditative visualization practice is therefore rather complex. Let me briefly speak about the history of the practice. Karma Pakshi, the Second Gyalwa Karmapa (1203-1283 CE), is the reincarnation of the First Gyalwa Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193). The meditation practice of Karma Pakshi was envisioned by the Great Tertön Yongle Mingyur Dorje, who lived during the times of the Tenth Karmapa, Choying Dorje (1604-1674), and the Eleventh Karmapa, Yeshe Dorje (1676-1702). Tertön Yongle Mingyur Dorje was a Nyingmapa and the Terma he revealed is exceptional. Termas, gter-ma in Tibetan, are treasures that were concealed by Guru Rinpoche, to be discovered at the appropriate time by a Tertön, a treasure revealer, for the benefit of future disciples. One can see Tertöns as reincarnations of Guru Rinpoche. There are many different kinds of Termas - texts, ritual objects, relics, and natural objects. The Terma that Yongle Mingyur Dorje revealed is a text that consists of three volumes and contains the Karma Pakshi Sadhana, which is only practiced in the Karma Kagyü School, not in that of the Nyingmapas. The collection of three volumes revealed by Mingyur Dorje also contains a cycle of teachings and the practice on Dorje Drolo, who is the wrathful manifestation of Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, and the eight names of Guru Rinpoche. Secondly, this Terma contains a cycle of teachings on Amitayus, Tsepamed in Tibetan, the Buddha of Long Life. Thirdly, it contains a cycle of teachings on Vajradhara and his retinue as well as their Sadhanas.
Even though it is a Nyingma Terma, Yongle Mingyur Dorje offered the Terma he brought to light to the Tenth Gyalwa Karmapa, and therefore the Tenth Karmapa became Lord of these Terma teachings. Mingyur Dorje had also realized the Kagyüpa Mahakala Practice, Bernakchen in Tibetan. At that time, he envisioned the entire mandala of Karma Pakshi – Guru Rinpoche above Karma Pakshi as the central deity, Hayagriva (Tamdrin, Horse-Throat, a wrathful manifestation of Buddha Amitabha), and other deities surrounding him. At this point, it is sufficient to know that the mandala of Karma Pakshi is based upon Mingyur Dorje’s vision. One can see Karma Pakshi meditation practice as Guru Yoga, which consists of various stages. The creation and completion stages of the Guru Yoga practice in Ngöndro are different than those in Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga. While practicing Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga, one imagines that the main deity is indivisible with one’s own Lama, who is the Gyalwa Karmapa in the Karma Kagyü Tradition. Guru Yoga is explained in accordance with Mahamudra in the Kagyü Tradition, but the ritual of Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga is explained in accordance with Dzogchen, because Tertön Mingyur Dorje revealed this practice due to having realized Dzogchen. Actually, Mahamudra and Dzogchen are not different - ultimately they are the same. They differ as long as devotees are practicing the path. There is, of course, only one Guru Rinpoche, but he manifests eight aspects and therefore has eight different names, just like the Gyalwa Karmapa has manifested seventeen times and therefore each manifestation has a different name. Yet, all Karmapas are one and the same. Which aspect of Guru Rinpoche is Karma Pakshi, then? Dorje Drolo, whose energy and force is indivisible with Karma Pakshi. There are many great Tertöns and many exceptional Termas, and the Terma revealed by Yongle Mingyur Dorje is that of Dorje Drolo. So Karma Pakshi, Dorje Drolo, and Mingyur Dorje are not different and distinct from each other. As said, Yongle Mingyur Dorje lived during the times of the Tenth and Eleventh Karmapas and contributed immensely to the Kagyü Tradition. A detailed life-story of Mingyur Dorje is available. It happened that, due to political upheavals during those times, the Karma Kagyü Lineage was split apart in the regions of U and Tsang, i.e., the central and northern provinces of Tibet were fighting. The Terma of Mingyur Dorje was very important for the Kagyü Tradition, because its practice strengthened the Karma Kagyü School in the region of Kham, East Tibet, enabling practitioners in that region to turn back enemies and bring peace. And that is why the practice did not become extinct and get lost.
Mingyur Dorje was poor. He took on the outer appearance of a beggar who had no home or possessions. A black dog and a secret consort were his only companions, but his nature was not separate from Dorje Drolo, the wrathful manifestation of Guru Rinpoche.
The ritual of Karma Pakshi is a Gongter, spelled dgongs-gter in Tibetan, i.e., it is a revelation directly within the mind and is not found through a material substance. Teachings envisioned and revealed in this way were planted within the indestructible sphere at the time the Tertön in a former life was one of Guru Rinpoche’s disciples. Karma Pakshi and Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga are very important for the Karma Kagyü Tradition and therefore the Sadhana is practiced in retreat. I received the empowerment and instructions based on the transmission and instructions written down and given to us by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great, the First Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. There are short and long meditation practices in Buddhism, which are all skilful means to tame, mature, and realize one’s own mind. If one is able to tame one’s mind through a specific practice, then one has been successful, otherwise not. Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga is an exceptional means to tame, refine, and realize one’s own mind. It’s not practiced in order to become powerful, live a long life, or get rich. In the Bodhicharyavatara, Shantideva wrote that if one knows one’s own mind, then whatever one does will be fine. If one doesn’t know one’s own mind, then anything one does will be in vain. Therefore it’s very important to work with one’s own mind and realize it. Tranquillity and insight meditation, zhi-gnäs and lhag-mthong, are practiced by followers of Sutrayana, and they are skilful means to work with one’s own mind. The creation stage of practice, visualization of deities, recitation of mantras, and the completion phase practiced by followers of Mantrayana are also skilful means to work with one’s own mind. If practitioners of both traditions are able to tame and realize their own mind, then there is no difference between the two vehicles. If practitioners fail, then practicing the instructions of the one vehicle is just as useless as practicing the methods taught in the other. If one’s negative thoughts decrease and one’s positive thoughts increase, then it is a sign that one’s practice is going well. It is crucial to understand that everything, i.e., all experiences of happiness and joy, arise from one’s own mind, and therefore it is important to work with one’s own mind. Followers of the Kagyü and Nyingma Traditions stress that one needs to know how one’s mind is and functions, and both schools offer detailed practice instructions. Working with and taming one’s own mind is very important when one engages in Guru Yoga meditation. One needs to receive and contemplate the instructions in order to understand one’s own mind. Then it will be possible to meditate correctly, i.e., one will understand the meaning of meditation practice while one progresses along the path. The different stages of visualization in the Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga engender realization of the meaning of meditation practice, dgongs-dön. But, knowing the meaning by hearing the instructions, go-dön, is utterly important in order to be able to contemplate the teachings correctly. Both hearing and contemplating the instructions correctly are a prerequisite to meditate without error.
Photo of Karma Pakshi from His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche the Third in 1991.
A few notes from the instructions on the practice and purpose of Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga
When one engages in the meditation practice of Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga, one visualizes oneself as Karma Pakshi in the mandala of Karma Pakshi that consists of four deities - Hayagriva to the right, Rechung Dorje in the back, Vajravarahi to the left, the three aspects of the Dharma Protectors slightly below and in front, and Guru Rinpoche above, who is the rigs-bdag, the “Lord of the family.” The entire mandala therefore has five parts, the Protectors counting as one. Of course, it will be difficult to visualize the entire mandala clearly. It is important to know that the deities in the visualization practice are appearances of one’s own thoughts and mind. They do not come from outside oneself, but only appear in one’s imagination. They have no essence but appear, just like a rainbow in the sky. There are four ways to generate visualization. Karma Pakshi practice is visualized in a single instant, which is specific to the Nyingma Tradition. It would be wrong thinking that the visualization is separate from oneself, since the practice engenders an exceptional view if understood and meditated correctly. Of course, the practice commences with taking refuge and generating Bodhicitta. The Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa wrote a Guru Yoga-Sadhana, a short practice that is easy to carry out. Therefore it is a very skilful method, seeing Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga is quite complex. There’s also the Guru Yoga practice of Ngöndro. All Guru Yoga practices enable disciples to realize that the visualization is indivisible with their own Lama and as a result to receive the Lama’s blessings. The purpose of practicing Guru Yoga is to receive the blessings of one’s Lama. In order to receive the blessings, a disciple needs faith and devotion, mös-pa and güs-pa. It’s certainly not right to have faith and devotion once in a while; rather one’s trust and devotion need to be what is called yidbyed-pa in Tibetan, which is ever-present awareness. In order to have unwavering faith and devotion that is consistent, stable, and pure, dang-ba, it’s supportive to read the life-stories of the great saints and sages. There are many kinds of life-stories - outer, inner, and secret. If ever one has doubts, it’s important to ask questions and discuss them with an authentic teacher. Again, faith and devotion are crucial to receive one’s Lama’s blessings. In The Short Vajradhara Prayer, we pray: “ Devotion is the head of meditation, as is taught. The Guru opens the gate to the treasury of oral instructions.
To this meditator who continually supplicates him
Grant your blessings so that genuine devotion is born in me.” For whom does one have pure faith and devotion? One’s Root Guru, who is indivisible with His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa. It is important to appreciate and realize that one’s Root Guru is exceptional and that it’s not at all proper and is actually very disrespectful to see him just like one sees a usual friend. Lacking pure faith and devotion in the wondrous qualities of one’s Root Guru, a follower can have strange ideas, for instance, by adoring a Lama because he is attractive or is dressed nicely. Such superficial ways of seeing a spiritual saint and sage are truly very strange and lead to improper behaviour.
Karma Pakshi is not separate from the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje – they are by nature the same. It is possible to see and experience the wondrous activities of the Glorious Karmapa, to reflect his life-story, and to have pure faith and devotion in him, in contrast to the lifestory of Karma Pakshi that we can only read about in books. It’s truly difficult for beginners to visualize Karma Pakshi and his retinue after having received the transmission from an authentic Lama, whereas advanced practitioners can perceive the entire pure realm easily. Developing and increasing one’s faith and devotion are more important at this stage than visualizing the entire mandala of Karma Pakshi clearly and perfectly. Faith and devotion are extremely important factors in Vajrayana, and whoever has pure faith and devotion will be able to visualize the practice swiftly and clearly. Based upon pure faith and devotion, practitioners will be able to realize what Buddhism actually means. Sometimes one’s meditation practice is successful, sometimes less so. When everything is going well, it does happen that one develops hope, and when one’s practice is not going so well, it does happen that one develops fear or has doubts. It is necessary to be free of hopes and fears, re-dogs. It’s only possible to be free of doubts if one has faith and devotion, i.e., if one has confidence and trust that are based on discriminating awareness, shes-rab. To exemplify this, some people engage in the practice of Dzambhala meditation, hoping to become rich, which is not a sign of discriminating awareness. Shallow hopes and fears do not only impede Mahamudra practice, but hoping to become a Buddha is also an extreme. Practicing Mahakala hoping to become powerful, for example, is not correct at all. In the Kagyü Tradition, realization of Mahamudra means being free of hopes and fears - they are extremes, re-dogs-kyi-mtha’, that impede realization of the true nature of reality. No matter which practice one engages in, it’s utterly necessary to be free of any hopes and fears. Therefore trust and devotion are important and extremely beneficial, seeing one’s practice should help and not harm. When one notices that one’s mind is maturing through one’s practice of Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga, then that is a sign that one is benefiting. It’s not a matter of eventually looking like Karma Pakshi, which would be rather difficult for female practitioners, seeing he is depicted with a goatee beard. That would really look funny. The only purpose of engaging in the Guru Yoga meditation of Karma Pakshi is to refine one’s own mind and not to change one’s physical appearance. In fact, the only purpose of every single Buddhist practice is to tame, train, and refine one’s own mind. As it is, one fabricates many concepts and is constantly preoccupied with positive and negative thoughts in a hopeless attempt to change things outside oneself. One engages in visualization practices in order to transform one’s negative mental states into positive ones, i.e., to attain a state free from mentally fabricated concepts. If one’s negative thoughts and concepts decrease, then one’s practice is going well. If one’s negative thoughts increase and one’s positive thoughts decrease, then something is going wrong, i.e., if one becomes more proud, resentful, etc., then one’s practice was certainly not helpful and was in fact wrong. Meditation practice is carried out to reduce and finally relinquish one’s mind poisons. If this is not the case, then one’s practice was in vain. Pride, jealousy, miserliness, etc. are concepts, true, but through correct practice it is possible to transform one’s mind poisons into positive thoughts. Again, every Buddhist practice is carried out to benefit one’s mind. If one fails, then one’s practice has not been successful. Let me repeat that there is no other aim in Buddhism - whether one practices the instructions taught in Sutrayana, Mantrayana, or other Buddhist vehicles - than taming, training, and refining one’s
own mind. In a Sutra, Lord Buddha said that all teachings he presented serve to tame one’s own mind. In another Sutra, the Buddha said that the teachings he offered serve one purpose only, to help living beings abandon negative actions, to engage in beneficial activities, and to attain Buddhahood. So, that’s our motivation when learning about and meditating Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga. It is necessary to check one’s own mind on and off and see whether negative thoughts have decreased or increased. Happiness and suffering depend upon one’s own mind and don’t exist outside oneself. If one suffers and investigates how it arises, then knowledge of the conditionality of suffering can become the cause for happiness and joy. Texts state that one can experience suffering as happiness, which is achieved by examining the causes and conditions that bring on suffering and pain. On the other hand, the same texts state that happiness is actually suffering. What does this mean? Usually people think that if they are prosperous, successful, and become rich, then they will be happy, but if one investigates carefully, one will discover that such happiness only entails anguish. For example, when lay people see monks, they feel sorry for them and think, “Oh, those poor monks. They have no home of their own, no wife, no children, no riches.” But - to be honest we are very lucky and have quite a good life. Think about it. One’s ideas of whether someone is happy or sad depend upon one’s thoughts. A very rich, powerful, and influential person hardly has time to eat, is always stressed, and rarely experiences peace of mind. We see that suffering is the bottom-line of what is usually referred to as “good luck.” I think luck means being free and independent and doesn’t mean working one’s head off to achieve aims that pass. Looking at Jetsün Milarepa, who had no home, no possessions, no nice clothes, no tasty food to eat, he was happy and independent. Jetsün Milarepa saw that people were deluded, whereas people thought he was crazy. So we see that the experience of suffering and happiness depend upon one’s own thoughts and are not concrete realities. Should suffering and happiness exist of their own accord and inherently, then someone who is happy would always be happy and someone who suffers would always suffer. In that case, nothing could ever change. But things do change, and that is the reason we practice Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga after having received the transmission. It is important to understand and practice the Sadhana regularly and continuously, which doesn’t mean to say that it’s not good to practice for a short while. It’s very important to know that one practices Guru Yoga in order to receive one’s Lama’s blessings of body, speech, and mind. Having taken refuge and aroused Bodhicitta, one engages in the creation phase of Karma PakshiGuru Yoga, which embraces the Three Roots - the Lama, Yidams, and Protectors. The practice enables one to relinquish one’s usual thoughts and, instead, develop mindfulness, drän-pa. One’s purifed thoughts are described in the aspiration prayer of the Sadhana. Having recited the prayer fervently, one then takes the vows, receives the blessings, practices the completion phase, and settles one’s mind in the state free of all contrivances. Having meditated Karma Pakshi-Guru Yoga in that way, the Sadhana explains the post-meditation phase and reminds us: “In post-meditation, all appearances of samsara and nirvana are the unimpeded play of one’s own wisdom-awareness. Without hope and fear, without accepting and rejecting, take every appearance and experience that arises onto the path of great bliss and evenness.” One then repeats one’s aspiration to attain Buddhahood for the welfare of all living beings and recites the dedication prayer to be able to realize body, speech, and mind of the Gyalwa Karmapa and thus to be able to lead all living beings to the ultimate state, which is the indivisibility of emptiness and loving kindness and compassion - Vajradhara.
An auspicious prayer concludes the ritual. It is: “Although beyond samsara and nirvana, you accomplish the vast activities of the Buddhas of the three times. May the mandala of the Karmapa, who embodies the Three Roots, be fully established.” Thank you very much
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