Yesterday His Holiness the 17th Karmapa gave his first public teachings on the West coast of the United States, to a crowd of nearly 2,800 at Seattle's beautiful Paramount Theatre. His Holiness taught on a special text he had composed on the preliminary practices (ngondro), which help lay the foundation for a strong spiritual practice by turning the mind towards the Dharma.
His Holiness also spoke of how the world we live in is getting smaller and smaller due to technology and globalization, and people's individual actions therefore have a much greater effect on the global village and the whole of humanity. This era, His Holiness said, is no longer one in which people can afford to cling to their particular views or self-centric identities -- not even the limited notion of "being a Buddhist." We need to think in larger terms.
Karmapa spoke of the preliminary practices as being akin to learning the alphabet and reading/writing -- common forms of learning that lay the foundation for more uncommon or advanced forms of learning that come later in one's educational process. Without the basic knowledge established by the common forms of learning, one could not cultivate a genuine knowledge of a higher order. Continuing this parallel between our spiritual education and our secular education, His Holiness said that we should, in the beginning, approach our spiritual education in the same manner: as a straightforward, simple process of education in which we engage so that we can gradually develop greater knowledge and confidence.
In the evening, His Holiness Karmapa gave a teaching to an assembled audience of members of the sanghas who organized his first visit to the West coast of America. His Holiness answered four questions that had been preselected. One question concerned which Dharma practices and study topics are most important in this age. His Holiness said that due to technology and external advancements, we have obtained the power to cause a lot of changes in the world, but for a long time we were not mindful about how we used this power. Now people are becoming more mindful, but so much damage has already been done, and we are on the verge of destroying our planet and our own ability to live here. In this day and age, His Holiness said, the practitioner's motivation to attain one's own personal liberation is "no longer sufficient whatsoever" -- instead, we need practitioners who can benefit the whole world while also engaging in their own personal practice. The old model of a yogi going off into isolation for many years and then working in a limited way with only a handful of students is no longer particularly practical or helpful -- rather, we need practitioners who are out in the world working for the benefit of the world.
Another question concerned how Western students, with limited time and resources to practice, might establish the genuine Buddhist lineage in our home lands. His Holiness spoke about the need for continuity of practice, which requires firm resolve. We need to remind ourselves again and again of what it is that we wish to accomplish through our practice and refresh that resolve every day to keep the momentum of our practice going. This resolve, the Karmapa said, cannot be a mere thought in our heads, but must be a strong building up of energy and intention within ourselves. His Holiness suggested that we could work with setting one clear goal and working with that goal for an entire month, reminding ourselves of it each day.
Most of us, His Holiness said, are not lacking in pith instructions from our gurus and teachers -- the problem, rather, is that we lack pith instructions from ourselves. We need to learn how to look within, listen to ourselves, and seek out instructions from our own minds.