His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa at Tilokpur Monastery
From February 19-26, 2007 His Holiness Karmapa visited Drubten Pemo Jalpay Gatsal, the newly constructed Tilokpur Nuns' Monastery near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, India. During his visit, His Holiness taught on the life of Tilopa and The 37 Actions of a Bodhisattva as well as bestowed a number of empowerments. His Holiness consecrated a new temple at Tilokpur. He made a short pilgrimage to Tilopa's cave in the morning of February 20.
Notes from a Participant
On the afternoon of the 20th, Sacred Lama Dances were performed by the Tilokpur nuns and many other cultural performances were offered by Tibetans, Indians and foreigners. It was moving and inspiring to watch people pour their hearts into their particular art, out of their love and devotion for the Karmapa.On the morning of the 21st, His Holiness began the week’s teachings by speaking a bit about the life of Tilopa. I will quote him (his translator) here: “Many of us try to get a purpose or a meaning for our life in this world. The time that we have on this earth is quite short and our life is impermanent, very easily destroyed. Because our time in this life is very short and so uncertain and easy to lose, taking this into account, whether we are able to get the essence of or the essential purpose of this life does not depend on whether we can do lots of things. What is the essential purpose of our life? I think if we can give everything that we have for society, everything we have for the purpose of bringing benefit to others, I think that is the essential purpose of our life.
“When I say ‘whatever we have,’ I mean our life, our intelligence, our talents and whatever. When I say ‘etc.,’ it means whatever capacities or things that we have that we can use. When we say ‘to give our life,’ of course, our life is very valuable and very important, but it does not mean that if we give our life that it’s the most beautiful thing. I have seen and many of you have seen, for instance, in Tibet the cattle, yaks and deer leave their lives for human beings, and of course their lives are very important, very valuable, but even then, if they give their lives for us, then the purpose of that becomes only to feed us, to make us not hungry for a while or to give us some strength of our body. It kind of remains limited to that and does not help bring us from unhappiness to true happiness, which brings a great benefit to other beings. It’s very difficult to have this kind of thing, even by giving their lives. Instead, we can offer or give all our intelligence and talents and through that dispel the difficulties in this world, making this an offering. I think it becomes much more beneficial, much more limitless in its benefits and much less negative.
“In this world, there have been many beings, chiefly human beings, but other beings as well, who have produced great benefit by offering their intelligence, their mind, their talents, the same as the subject today. Tilopa was like that. He was able to benefit a great number of beings through his realization, through his understanding and greatness. If medicine that can cure a serious illness, for example, is kept secret and not given to those who need it, then it would not benefit anyone. But if that medicine were spread throughout the world and made available to everyone, then it would be of great benefit and save many lives. So therefore, in order to understand Tilopa’s contribution, it is very important to understand what realization means, the wisdom that Tilopa represents. To understand this, we have to look into the story of Tilopa, how he went through difficulties, how much effort he made, how he attained understanding, wisdom and qualities of loving kindness and compassion. We understand all those things by looking at life stories.”
His Holiness recounted a brief story of Tilopa’s life, childhood, education and his journey to the land of Uddiyana, where he received teachings from Vajrayogini. His Holiness said that it doesn’t really matter whether Tilopa had actually been to the cave that we visited or even the area of the monastery. He told us that what makes a place blessed is our devotion. Quoting the translator, His Holiness said: “The most important thing is that we are establishing a place where we can practice the teachings, the lineage that comes from Tilopa. If we are holding the lineage and establishing a place to practice the teachings of Tilopa, that is where Tilopa would really be. If he hasn’t been there, he will come now. So, it’s not the most important thing to find out whether Tilopa came here or not, rather it is important to hold his lineage and to practice his teachings. Then it is possible that he would actually appear here as well.”
His Holiness then told us that Tilopa gave his clothes to a beggar who was riddled with lice and in exchange took the beggar’s cape and wore it so that the lice in it had the chance to feed on his body and not die. Seeing that Tilopa was getting weaker until he got sick, his students beseeched him to rid his body of the lice. Tilopa responded to his disciples that he had wasted so many lives and told them, “This is the time that I am using this life and this body to help others. My life has become meaningful. Even if I die, I will think that I have used my life in the most beneficial way, so I will not change. I will not give up.”
From the 22nd until the 25th, His Holiness presented teachings on The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. It would take pages for me to even try to convey his wonderful instructions. He emphasized the development and practice of bodhicitta in our daily lives. His Holiness composed a melody for the verses of this most precious text, which we also sang in Tibetan together. During the teachings, we celebrated the birthday of H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche. Cake and sweets were served to everyone, and we were able to offer kathaks to his photo on the shrine. His Holiness spoke about His Eminence with deep respect and devotion, referring to him as his “all-knowing Lama.”
I will simply quote His Holiness’ closing words during his visit to Tilokpur Monastery, as there is nothing I could write that would be worthy. Many people wept openly when they heard him tell us, “My body is male but my mind has many female qualities, so I find myself a little bit both like male and female. Therefore I have great aspirations to benefit all sentient beings, but especially I have the commitment to work for the welfare of women, especially nuns, as long as I live. As long as I have this life, I would like to work one-pointedly and diligently in their cause. I have this responsibility as the head of this school of Buddhism. From that point of view, I promise that I will try to do my best so that the community of nuns receive all necessary practice instructions in order to progress and have the right kind of advancement in their field. I will do my very best.”
His Holiness continued, “I don’t know how much help I have been to you, but I feel that you have been a great help to me. I feel extremely grateful to all of you, for all of you. Sometimes I feel that my life is useless because I feel that what I do does not really help. But by being here, because of all of you, I feel that I have been of some help and been of some use, and that gives me great satisfaction and a great sense of purpose. I would like to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.
“Although tomorrow we leave for different places, I will always keep you in my prayers. All my good and best wishes are always there. And if there is anything I can do to help any of you, I will be there waiting for you.”
Allow me to close with a few words that a friend spoke to describe the incredible experience that the people in this area of India recount with awe when recalling the visit of His Holiness the Karmapa. Paul said something to the effect that His Holiness seemed to wrap the entire area in a warm, loving, comforting blanket. It did indeed feel like I imagine a loving mother’s womb to be. Please forgive any discrepancies and know that they come from my ignorance, and anything that has been helpful comes from the blessings of His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa. – April 2007.
May virtue increase!
(Photo of His Holiness courtesy of Rosi and Rüdiger Findeisen, Hamburg.)