Group of Western pilgrims with HH the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa in Rumtek
Western Visitors’ Interview with His Holiness the 16th Karmapa
From the magazine Lotusgarten, which appeared only once.
Beyond materialistic ideas
Question: Many young people from the West are seeking new ways to develop themselves spiritually, beyond both capitalist or communist materialistic ideas. Could His Holiness give special advice to young people about this?
Karmapa: The political-materialistic worldview completely differs from the worldview of the Dharma. Communism primarily strives for a fair distribution of material goods, while Buddhist teachings emphasize the equality of all sentient beings and urge us to practice love and compassion for them all, since all possess Buddha nature, the enlightened potential, whether they are born as human beings, animals, or other sentient beings.
Q: With the new generation of sects and new religions arriving in the West, how can we distinguish false prophets from paths that promote true spiritual growth?
Karmapa: Again, I would not say that one sect or religion is good, and another is bad. Especially now, when the chances for Dharma to develop in the West are good, we must be very careful that teachers do not make the mistake of claiming that their tradition is better than any other. At the same time, the Buddha’s teaching in the West should not disperse in many different directions.
Moreover, sentient beings have different levels and types of spiritual development and many would not even recognize a pure teacher. Dharma is not dualistic, not about classifying things into good and bad. Rather, it teaches the principle of cause and effect, the law of karma. In this way one does not fall into the duality of distinguishing between good and bad.
Q: In the West, we often meet people who run to every guru who visits their city. What should they keep in mind?
Karmapa: Especially in the West today, we can see that different teachings and different categories and levels of teaching are being mixed together, completely confusing people.
(His Holiness laughs loudly.)
This is like putting a goat’s head on a sheep. Following a path is particularly important, and each individual must decide which one. We cannot take several paths—all of which lead to different places—at the same time because then we won’t get anywhere, nor will we experience anything profound. That is useless. Instead, we should practice and follow one trustworthy teacher. If we follow several masters, they may give different answers to the same question, confusing us. We must have trust in our lama and in the teaching.
Q: What does His Holiness say about some people seeking to use drugs for spiritual development?
Karmapa: Hashish and LSD strongly influence the mind. However, the effects of the drugs do not last long. They are like a straw fire. Drugs are not an appropriate means and are useless if someone wants to establish a solid foundation for spiritual development.
Q: Some prophecies foretell serious changes, disasters, and even the end of the world within a few years. What do you think about this?
Karmapa: I do not think speculating about the future is helpful. Instead, we should use our time to practice the Dharma so we can become clearer in our minds and can recognize the nature of timeless, primordial awareness. In the same way that pouring cold water into boiling water lessens its agitation, through practice the mind becomes more and more still. Furthermore, this allows us to contemplate the impermanence of all phenomena and thus to use this theme in our meditation practice. We should not get lost with many subjects, but instead allow the fear of threatening dangers to help us understand the impermanence and transitory nature of all compounded things. We will then be applying Dharma’s skillful means. Constantly pondering these difficulties only nourishes them. I hope that things will turn out for the best, but our task is to cultivate a compassionate state of mind and to understand that suffering is inherent in the conditioned world.
I was recently practicing Tārā* very intensively, and praying to this yidam* to intervene in the conflict between China, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union, which was in danger of escalating. During the retreat, China withdrew from the country and both sides fortunately made peace. Thus, praying and especially sending intense prayers to Tārā is recommended as a way to ensure peace.
That aside, I do not believe that a great war will arise. Rather, more and more minor conflicts, unrest, wars, and so on will manifest. We must remember that the reason we think there are more conflicts in today’s world could be because of the media reporting on these conflicts more than before.
Transmission and practice
Q: Tantric Buddhism has always been a secret esoteric system of rituals and transmissions. Why is it so easy today to receive an empowerment from a lama into tantric meditation practice?
Karmapa: Because people ask for it. The lamas give empowerments to make people happy, and everyone can get the blessing of initiation. But they should not explain the inner meaning of the empowerment to them. Authentic teachers only transmit the inner meaning of a practice when people are mature enough to carry it out. Supporting people with the blessing of an initiation is very beneficial, however.
Q: Could His Holiness give us a simple meditation for beginners?
Karmapa: Better ask a lama who knows you. I cannot stress too much the importance of having a teacher. You really shouldn’t meditate on your own, because reliable guidance is crucial. Otherwise the meditation will not bear fruit; you will not know whether you are progressing in the right direction. Especially nowadays people are extremely confused, unstable, and unbalanced. Everyone is completely caught up in their feelings, such as visual sensations or the stimuli of taste and so on, and is constantly busy getting the things they like.
Such attachment to external appearances leads to a restless and distracted mind. We become agitated. We need to purify our minds and let them rest and settle down. This lays the foundation for more powerful practices, such as those of the Vajrayāna, that enable us to achieve enlightenment in a single lifetime. Therefore, it is important not to let the mind wander, but to focus on one point without becoming sidetracked. In order to learn the practical and concrete methods, you should ask a teacher for teachings and then practice them. Doing this, you too will be able to go as far as the yogis in ancient Tibet.
© From: Gerd Bausch: Radiant Compassion. The Life of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, www.edition-karuna.de. Please feel free to share the link, but ask info [at] karmapabiographie.de for permission for further uses. Thanks a lot!
Translated from the German version by Gerd Bausch with the help of Judith Amtzis.