Snow Lion Publishes Book By Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

The following article is from the Autumn, 1992 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


Snow Lion extends its best wishes to His Holiness the XVIIth Gyalwang Karmapa, Ugyen Drodul Trinley Dorje, upon his enthronement at Tolung Tsurpu Monastery, September 27, 1992. May his life be long and his wishes be fulfilled!

Abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (N. American Seat of H.H. Gyalwa Karmapa)



Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche Translated by Ngodup Burkhar and Chojor Radha

Edited by Laura M. Roth

300 pp. approx., $14.95, available January.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche is the well-loved abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery in Woodstock, NY which is the N. American seat of H.H. the Gyalwa Karmapa. This is the first book he has authored and it is an excellent introduction to the Tibetan Buddhist path. The following are some excerpts from the first chapter:


Buddhism is relatively new to the West and is just beginning to become established in this country. Its history, however, goes back twenty-five hundred years to its origins in India. When we encounter the tradition of Buddhism it is natural to be curious about its fundamental nature and the role it plays in people's lives. To begin with, the founder of Buddhism was Shakyamuni Buddha, the fully awakened, fully enlightened one. The teachings of the Buddha are referred to as the Dharma or the path, and those who follow this particular path are known as the Sangha, or the community of practitioners. The Tibetan word for the teachings of the Buddha is cho, which means literally that which straightens or that which cures. The teachings have the quality of straightening out that which is crooked or incorrect, or of curing a kind of sickness we have.

All of us, no matter who we are, share a deep longing to experience happiness, well-being, peace, and harmony, and to experience these continuously. All of us want to eliminate whatever stands in the way of experiencing happiness and peace. Yet only a few people are able to fulfill such aspirations and longings. When we ask what the nature of Buddhism is, and what positive contribution the Dharma can make to our lives, the answer is that Buddhism is a collection of various methods or skillful means. If we understand these methods, apply them, and integrate them into our lives, they can lead us to discover our inherent ability to experience complete happiness and to develop the basic potential of our minds. Those who have the opportunity to encounter as well as to learn and apply these methods will experience the benefit of developing their potential. This is not because these people are in any way unique or special, but because auspicious circumstances have enabled them to encounter and apply the methods.

In Tibetan the term for Buddha is Sangye. Sang means free from confusion and negative emotions, and gye means fully developed, having fully developed transcendental knowledge and wisdom. Gye also means fully ripened: the potential to experience ultimate wisdom has fully ripened. Initially Shakvamuni Buddha was an ordinary person like us. He had the potential to attain a completely sane and awakened state of mind, yet he had habitual neurotic patterns that needed to be removed. However, the Buddha saw the possibility of developing his potential to experience an awakened state of mind and to free himself from habitual patterns. He put this vision and understanding into practice, and he actually gained freedom from confusion and ripened his potential to experience an awakened state of mind. When he experienced complete freedom and ripening through the skillful means of the path, he realized that all people have the same potential, and he began to teach the path by which he attained this state of mind. Thus the Buddhist teachings are based on the Buddha's own experience and insight.

A person who attains the perfect awakened state of mind also develops immeasurable loving-kindness and compassion toward others. This means having a great concern for the well-being and happiness of all beings without exception, and a complete dedication to eliminating their suffering and confusion. Because of this limitless loving-kindness and compassion, an enlightened being such as the Buddha has no hesitation about sharing with others the methods to achieve perfect enlightenment, which are based on firsthand experience. He or she openly reveals to others whatever is necessary, because the means of attaining such an awakened state of mind is not to be hidden or kept secret. Thus the path has been taught and explained with untiring, unceasing commitment and dedication for many centuries.

Such compassion arises from the experience of enlightenment, because an enlightened person sees the confusion and the neuroses that ordinary beings are involved in and becomes aware that they need help. For example, suppose that in a community of blind people there is one person who can see. The blind people have certain purposes and wishes in life, but their blindness may lead to mistakes and confusion. Their sincere desires and wishes may not be fulfilled by their actions, and they may endanger themselves by walking toward cliffs or into fires. If there is a person who can see and who can help them, how could this person resist helping?

The Buddhist teachings are directed toward taming and training the mind. Taming the mind means bringing about mental stability and tranquility through the practice of meditation. After the proper foundation of a stable and tranquil mind is established, the mind is trained to develop greater insight and to begin to remove habitual emotional patterns. This quality of the teachings is often referred to as pacifying and cooling. The chaos and intensity of habitual patterns are gradually pacified through the practice of the teachings. The more such patterns of confusion and restlessness are pacified, the more a state of clarity and joy comes about. It is like a cool breeze coming to soothe someone who is tormented by the heat.

Again using the analogy of the blind people, if these were people whose sight was only temporarily impaired, then giving them a treatment to restore their sight would cause much of their burden to be lifted. They would experience peace, happiness, and ease, because they would not be so vulnerable to dangers and they would have a better sense of direction. In the same way, although all beings have the potential to experience an awakened state of mind, because they are blinded by their confusion, they have not realized this state. Instead they remain trapped in confusion and suffering. Therefore the methods of the Dharma, the true and supreme path, are presented to show a sane way of life.


Q: On the basis of your experience of Western culture, what do you think are the problems that we should be working on? Also, what particular gifts should we be receiving from Buddhism?

A: Frankly, if I am not mistaken, the biggest problems in the United States seem to be a lack of moderation and a sense of competition. To some degree these are problems everywhere, but they are especially strong here. There are many admirable things about this country. Most people are very well educated, intelligent, and efficient, and the country is very advanced materially and technologically. However, in the midst of this, there is a sense of competition and a lack of moderation. Everyone seems to want to get ahead of other people in status, material things, and any other way possible, regardless of their talents.

The contribution Buddhism can make is not any one thing in particular. Buddhist methods are simply a very wholesome way of life, which anyone can benefit from following. Whoever applies the methods, in whatever part of the world, will be able to break through the confusion and cares of the mind and experience greater tranquility and stability, which brings with it greater moderation.

Q: What is the viewpoint of soul in the Buddhist teaching, and what is the aim of the teaching?

A: The Buddhist term for soul might be mind or consciousness. It is the thinking mind, this knowing ability that we have as we are living right now. This knowing ability, this consciousness, is not material or substantial. It has no color or dimensions or form of any kind, yet it is always present. When we die, this consciousness or awareness leaves the body, so it may be soul in the same sense you mean.

As to the aim of Buddhism, we can say that the aim is to experience perfect joy and to develop the complete potential of the mind.

Q: Would you clarify for me what are the differences in the technique of meditation between Tibetan Buddhism and, say, Zen Buddhism, which we have heard about from Japan?

A: Since the practices of the different schools of Buddhism are all in accordance with the teachings and experiences of the Buddha, they are all essentially the same. Both Japanese Buddhists and Tibetan Buddhists uphold the Buddha as the ultimate example and source of inspiration. Yet there are differences in the practices because of the way Buddhism has spread in the world and the way it has been preserved in different countries. For example, the three paths or vehicles of Buddhismthe hinayana, mahayana and vajrayanaare equally practiced, preserved, and emphasized in Tibet, whereas in many Buddhist countries they are only partially practiced. In addition, there are many techniques and practices in Buddhism at all levels, preliminary as well as advanced. Because particular lines of practice have been established, and the practitioners have particular needs, oertain techniques are emphasized more by some schools of Buddhism than by others. Finally, there is the cultural aspect: how a gesture is made, what attire is worn, how certain objects are made and arranged, and so forth. In these areas there may be superficial differences. But essentially there is no difference.

Q: Are there women scholars and teachers in Buddhism?

A: Yes, definitely. As I have already mentioned, differences between people are not made by things like the color of their skin, their sex, or their age, but by whether they can generate a noble state of mind.

Q: If the Buddha was the first person to reach enlightenment, more or less on his own, can any individual arrive at the same point of knowledge by listening to her or his own inner voice, even someone who is not aware of Buddhism as such?

A: Actually there are two ways we can look at this. One is that the Buddha appeared as an ordinary human being but he displayed extraordinary commitment, perseverance, and decisiveness. If you read the life of the Buddha, you will see that he had a good sense of his potential. He was not caught up in the life around him but had a sound judgment about what was real. He was born into a royal family, brought up in luxury, and lavishly entertained. This was a life many people long for, yet he renounced that life. He was convinced that he had something more worthwhile to do than be a prince, so he left the palace, which took a great deal of courage. Then he went into solitary meditation for six years, which was something quite unknown among those people. After six years he had a rather good sense of his mind.

In this explanation, the Buddha was not extraordinary, but what he did was extraordinary. He did something unique, and while everyone has the opportunity and the ability to do the same, most lack the courage and commitment to grasp the opportunity. By following his example, we can reach the point of complete wakefulness even in one lifetime. Based on his experience, the Buddha made the teachings available to other people. Coundess people since then have experienced an equally enlightened state of mind, or some degree of realization.

The other way to look at this is that the Buddha had studied and practiced the Dharma in former life times. This leads to the subject of rebirth, which we will take up later on. The events in the Buddha's life were almost a matter of demonstrating what it is like to be enlightened and how one becomes enlightened. For example, a beautiful flower may open today, but it did not start growing just today. Some time ago the seed was sown, then the plant grew, and today the flower opened. Today it demonstrated its full potential of being a flower.

Q: Would you describe the state of consciousness of one who has achieved an awakened mind? What is that experience like and how is the world seen differently?

A: Not having achieved an awakened mind myself, I cannot tell you exactly what the experience is like. It is probably somewhat like the difference between clear water and muddy water. Looking through clear water, we can see things distinctly. There is something refreshing about it, something very bright and uplifting. Muddy water has none of these qualities.

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