Vesak message from Karmapa

On the eve of Vesak 2020, Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, shares the following message for students:

སྨོན་ལམ། (smon lam) – MONLAM, Aspiration

When it comes to becoming a Buddha, when it comes to blossoming into a Buddha, aspiration is a beautiful way to seed this state of Buddhahood.

To be a ‘Buddha’ is to be awakened.

To be more precise, if we split this method or vehicle of aspiration in half, the two parts can be understood as:

The 1st half is སྨོན་ལམ། (smon lam). Monlam’ is the Tibetan term for aspiration, ‘praṇidhāna’ in Sanskrit.

The 2nd half is བསྔོ་བ། (bsngo ba). Ngowa’  is the Tibetan term for dedication, ‘pariṇāma’ in Sanskrit.

‘Monlam’ is like inhaling and ‘Ngowa’ is like exhaling.

Just like breathing, it is most natural.

This path is known as becoming a Bodhisattva, a child of the awakened one – not to be taken literally, of course.

Right now, we are most probably dreaming.

This state of being human is a balanced dream.

Because we aren’t absorbed in ecstasy.

A being in a higher state, a god being, is in a constant state of rapture so that they cannot see reality (like a life in luxury).

A being in a lower state, a tormented being, is in a constant state of agony so that they equally cannot see reality (like a life in poverty).

Both luxury and poverty are examples that are just relative.

A human state is what is known as a middle state, where we are on the verge of waking up.

Dreaming still as ‘you’ and ‘me’.

But every now and then we doubt, in a way questioning who you are and who I am, or whether we are dreaming or not.

A stream of curiosity pushes us to check.

The appearance of birth and death, and various states of changes, are the cues for our curiosity, which leads us to doubt whether we are really here or not.

So, human birth may not be ideal for pleasure, but it is ideal for waking up.

So, this smidgen of curiosity is a perfect and fertile ground for planting the seed of awakening.

This is done not by forcing something onto the human condition, but by implying that it’s not wrong to doubt whether we are dreaming or not.

And to imply that waking up is not frightening at all.

Either a spiritual guide can do it for us, or we can nudge ourselves to go a little beyond our habitual norm of being content with this dream.

At the same time, we have a kind of knack or instinct to always want to be different from the norm or from others, to stand out, like for example in the realm of fashion. In this case, we shouldn’t fight this habit of wanting to be different, but go along with it.

If we want to be really different and do something ‘out of the box’, it is most interesting to set out on the adventure to wake up.

That’s what Buddhas are saying actually.

Now, coming back to seeding awakening (Buddhahood): being content with dreaming this human dream is alright, but sooner or later this dream will cycle and there is no real guarantee that it will come full circle to reach back to this human state.

That’s why waking up is sensible.

After waking up we can dare to dream any dream we wish.

So, when it comes to seeding awakening, aspiration is the simplest seed.

Because it’s something we do all the time.

It doesn’t require any kind of effort.

All it takes is to aspire continuously, just like breathing or beating your heart.

That’s not an effort, it’s just a rhythm, like dancing.

Lungs dancing in and out, hearts dancing up and down.

Likewise, aspire away day in and day out.

Aspire to wake up, and from time to time look around and see who is still dreaming, and aspire for them to wake up.

Right now their dream is too real, to the point that we can’t really force them and splash water on them to wake them up even if we wanted to, but we can aspire for them.

Most of them are too captivated by their dreams of being themselves, the way they are, the way others are – it’s just so real that if we say it’s a dream they will think we are insane.

Since we aren’t fully awake ourselves, it’s hard for us to convince others too.

So instead we aspire.

Mind you, aspiring is not like empty words or thoughts.

These feelings of ‘Oh, it is just empty words and thoughts’ are habits that have got stuck over time, when we took the easy route for ourselves and demeaned curiosity by saying that it’s just child’s play.

For example, we may do this when someone is enthusiastically in their own rhythm, but we can’t get it, so we say he or she is like a ‘machine’.

Or when someone is taking things easy, we say he or she is like a ‘child’.

This kind of habit of not having understood something or someone completely, and labeling it as a machine or something, is making it easy for us, but it can stick with us, and plant seeds for us to dream deeper and not wake up.

So, aspire in a way that you breathe in, inhale, take in every act and thought, of yours and others, that are in alignment with waking up – namely, virtues and merits, such as kindness.

This has a quality that is not associated with slumbering, and instead it’s associated with awakening.

So take that in, breathe that in.

That’s aspiration.

Now that your lungs are full of the oxygen of virtue and your miracle-like human body has transformed it into CO2, you have to breathe it out.

Exhale it.

Give it away.

Let it go.

Of course, you have to let it go without any real prior decision, just as the lungs do.

Without any religious or political decision, just dedicate.

That’s dedication.

The best example is that of a child breathing in a more profound way than an adult.

Now, that’s karma well owned.

So, dear dharma friends, on this eve of Vesak, please aspire.

And all your dreams will become awakened!

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Words of Wisdom
Normally in life, greed – and in most cases even ambition – are things we need to slowly renounce. But while generating your qualities, such as bodhicitta, you need to be very ambitious, almost greedy