Tag Archives: 6 paramitas

37 practices: teachings by His Holiness Karmapa May 2018

I’ll come back as time permits and share some of my notes from these wonderful teachings, given in five sessions May 29-31, 2018, at the awe-inspiring Riverside Church in New York City. Not only did they provide an excellent, concise review as our class approaches the end of the text (7 verses to go!), but His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, the head of our Karma Kagyu Lineage, also shared some insights not seen in other commentaries we have been studying. I was especially struck by His Holiness’s presentation of the six paramitas (verses 25-30) and the clarity of his explanation of ultimate bodhicitta (verses 22-24), aided by the precise translations of Lama Yeshe Gyamtso. Both of these topics are found in session 3, but please listen to all the teachings in sequence if you possibly can (link below).

Two participants in this class mentioned that in listening to these teachings, it became clear for the first time that the point is not just to know about the 37 practices but to actually put them into practice. This is the blessing of His Holiness Karmapa! And I hope that through these teachings everyone comes to understand the importance of engaging in all three aspects of transcendent wisdom: study, contemplation, and meditation, the very first of the 37 practices.

In fact, His Holiness advised us in session 4, “Sometimes people engage in the first two [study and contemplation], but without the third [meditation]. This can sometimes create an artificial understanding, somewhat outward-directed. Such a person understands a great deal, but it is not mixed with their mind because they have not actually applied it to their own mind. It is present in the brain but has not penetrated the heart. So we need to remember that the primary focus or intention is the examination of our own mind, learning how to look at our own mind.”

More later, and meanwhile, here’s the link to session 1 of 5:

37 practices: verse 30

30. To unite wisdom with skillful means

The five perfections, lacking inner wisdom, / are not enough for full awakening.

To cultivate the wisdom of true knowing, / united with the path of skillful means,

And not conceive the three parameters: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 30 audio above

We are on to transcendent wisdom, the sixth and final paramita! It’s the wisdom paramita that puts the transcendence into all the preceding paramitas or transcending actions –generosity, ethical conduct, patience, diligence, and meditation. We can, of course, practice these five paramitas in an ordinary way, and if we do, we’ll be very nice, kind people with enviably calm minds. That would be a great achievement in itself. But, as all the commentaries remind us, if we don’t realize the wisdom paramita and apply it in our practice of all the others, we won’t clear away the fundamental confusion that keeps us trapped in samsara and stuck in the quicksand of emotional reactivity, ego-clinging and the three kinds of suffering.

Or, as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche puts it: “So here we have come to the very heart of the paramitas. Wisdom is not only the most important of the six — it is their very life force. To realize wisdom is the ultimate goal; it is the reason why all the branches of the teachings are explained.”

But wait …

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37 practices: verse 29

29. To attain complete and stable meditation

To vanquish my emotionality / I need insight based in tranquility.

To understand this and to cultivate / a stable, focused meditative state,

Not getting stuck in the four formless realms: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 29 audio above

This just in: Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s commentary on verse 29 consists mainly of a guided calm abiding meditation using visualization of the Buddha as its focus, which then segues right into insight meditation, thus perfectly illustrating the point of this verse. We will do this meditation in class instead of our usual “Two Wings of Awakening” meditation based on points 1 and 2 of the seven points of mind training.

Meanwhile, thanks to an email from Marilyn this morning, I now know there is a fabulous appendix in The Heart of Compassion that I had failed to notice, even though we relied on Appendix 1 in our discussion of verse 6 — quite a while ago. In Appendix 3, Dilgo Khyentse shares important instructions on meditation from Dzatrul Ngawang Tendzin Norbu‘s Vase of Amrita and from Dilgo Khyentse’s root teacher, Shechen Gyaltsap Pema Namgyal. Neither of these texts appears to be available in English translation, other than the excerpts presented here.

I am particularly happy to see Tendzin Norbu’s explanation of “the nine ways of settling the mind.” These are often presented in English as nine levels or stages of calm abiding, which may also be valid, but it sometimes leads to confusion about how the stages relate to each other and how to figure out which stage we’re “on.” The presentation here is easily understood and applied, and for that alone, this appendix is a treasure. But it also includes several other essential and very clear explanations that it is wonderful to have in one place so concisely presented.

The sole focus of calm abiding recommended here by Tendzin Norbu is visualization of the Buddha — and that explains why Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary is devoted to guiding us through that visualization and using the resulting state of calm abiding as a basis for the next stage of meditation: insight, aka vipashyana (Skt) or lhaktong (Tib). Et voila! Having distanced ourselves from the homeland of our habitual reactions way back in verse 2, now we have the method for  putting them to rest once and for all. Will we do it?

Sorry, these class notes have not been completed yet, but they are in the queue. It’s been a busy couple of months!

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37 practices: verse 28

28. To engage in dharma with diligence

If lis-ten-ers and solitary buddhas, / in striving just for their own benefit,

Are seen to focus with the same resolve / as putting out a fi-re on their head,

Since my aim is to benefit all be-ings, / and effort is the source of all good traits,

I must engage with joyful perseverance: / this is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 28 audio above

The sixth paramita, tson.dru in Tibetan, has so many translations. There is no one word in English that fully conveys the meaning. The early favorite translation was joyful enthusiasm, which sort of bypassed the hard work aspect (well, it was the ’70s!). Mingyur Rinpoche currently calls it joyful effort. Ken McLeod calls it energy. Both the Padmakara Translation Committee (Dilgo Khyentse’s translators) and Ken Holmes (Ornament of Precious Liberation) call it diligence, which is my personal favorite.

In its current definition, diligence is “earnest and persistent application to an undertaking; steady effort; assiduity,” which makes it no different from perseverance or steady effort, which can suggest a slog. Tson.dru is far from a slog!

However, if we combine the current meaning of diligence with its original Latin derivation from diligere, to love or delight in someone or something, diligence does the job perfectly, so we will go with that for present purposes. Of course, what it’s called is less important than understanding its full meaning, which we will unwrap with the help of our commentaries, so you are free to call it by whichever name resonates best with you.

The point of diligence is …

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37 practices: verse 27, part 2 of 2

The translation and audio for practice 27, to cultivate patience, may be found in verse 27, part 1. Bear with me — this is a longer than usual post because I found some extra resources for the patience paramita. Or, to put it another way, this post is an excellent opportunity to practice the second kind of patience — and the reward will be immediate, because there are some fabulous commentaries ahead.

In part 1, we looked mainly at the first of the three categories of patience: being patient with sentient beings who harm or irritate us. Though this may be the kind of patience we are most often called upon to exercise — and also where we may be at the greatest risk of doing harm if we lose our patience — the other two types are also important, and we will look briefly at those today.

Pop quiz: Do you remember what the three categories of patience are, along with the three ways we are instructed to practice patience toward other beings, and — also very important to keep in mind — what exactly the Buddha meant by “patience”? If not, I recommend a quick review of the class notes for verse 27, part 1, and/or Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s commentary.

In the second class, we also looked at commentaries by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Pema Chodron, and Ken McLeod; and turned to His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, for some invaluable advice on how to prevent our practice of patience and the other paramitas from being plagued by . . . demons!  Continue reading

37 practices: verse 27, part 1 of 2

27. To cultivate patience

For bodhisattvas wishing to accrue / a wealth of wholesome virtue and good deeds,

All harm is like a precious treasure trove, / from other people or adversity.

To cultivate a patient attitude, / not feeling irritated or abused:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 27 audio above

Patience is really the basis for all the bodhisattva boot camp practices, starting with verse 12, in which we truly begin to put others first, after setting the ongoing preliminary practices in motion (verses 1-7) and developing the three levels of motivation to wake up (verses 8-10).

Patience is the opposite of emotional reactivity, and it is that freedom, to whatever degree we have cultivated it, that gives us the space and perspective to repay harm with kindness and to see our detractors as our teachers, instead of blindly following the emotional impulses that arise from our ordinary habitual patterns. Geshe Jampa Tegchok, in Transforming the Heart, observes, “All of the practices mentioned earlier that involve transforming bad conditions into the path are included under the practice of patience.”

If we didn’t possess at least a little patience, we wouldn’t even be able to count to 10 before responding to insult or injury — the first step in anger management that most of us learn as children. So the good news is we probably aren’t starting from scratch, even though we may feel we have a long way to go.

So what, exactly, is patience? Gampopa has the answer!

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