My warmest greetings and tashi deleks to all of my Dharma friends who are hearing these words today!
Today we are beginning the retreat that we do for a few days at the beginning of every year. It is a time when many people enjoy celebrating, saying Happy New Year! to each other. If we really think about it, what it actually means is that another whole year of our life has passed! The passing of a year and the passing of our life are just the same. Our human lives are very precious and sacred and it’s like we’re celebrating that a portion of our life is gone. I’m not saying it’s a bad custom, just that that’s the reality if you really think about it. If we celebrate the sublime Dharma then it will be truly meaningful. That is why we organize our yearly retreat to coincide with New Years. Although we can’t actually gather together because of Covid I am really so happy to be able to gather with all of you online. I want to thank everyone.
2020 was a very hazardous year for the whole world; great numbers of people have died, gotten sick, and have mental and physical difficulties; business, work and finances are also very difficult for so many.
However, the past is the past; whatever happened, good or bad, is done. Learning through our experience from past difficulties it’s up to us to prepare for the future to be better.
According Buddhism in general, outer and inner things do not truly exist in the way they appear as objects to our senses. They are said to be impermanent, in a constant state of change. Buddha also said that the end of birth is death; the end of gathering is dispersing; the end of accumulation is exhaustion; the end of rising is falling. This is not something that Buddha newly made up for Buddhism. He was just observing and commenting on things as they are; we must learn to accept it.
Today we are gathering together and for a short time we will practice the Dharma. This is something very important. To me, I don’t see anything at all in human life that surpasses the practice of Dharma. We have come together for the practice of Dharma. Practicing Dharma does not necessarily mean becoming a Buddhist. Since we want happiness we seek paths to happiness and there are many profound explanations for this in the Buddhist scriptures. But happiness transcends the boundaries of any single religion; it is the indispensable cherished wealth of the whole world. Real happiness must be found within our own mind; it is a big mistake to seek it outside ourselves.
In brief, we must take good care in our actions of body, speech, and mind; especially our mind. The mental problems that many of us have are a result of not taking care of our minds. Everyone hopes for happiness but our actions and hopes go in different directions by mistake. As I said in the Dharma Song, a Gong to Wake Us from the Sleep of Ignorance,
Nobody takes care
of the wish-fulfilling jewel of their own mind.
Everyone chases after objects
of the five senses, one after another.
Thus, we should realize that the real purpose of our coming together for these days is to take care of our mind. Taking care of our mind might be very easy; or it might not be at all easy. This is because we don’t usually take care of our mind. Not taking care of our mind causes us many difficulties. As I said in the Gong to Wake Us,
If we took care of our mind
like we take care of our body,
we would not much longer have to experience
mental difficulties as we do now.
Don’t be like a mother, searching in the West,
for a child she has lost in the East!
Having turned the mind inwards,
don’t seek happiness outside!
Let’s all seize this good opportunity to act in ways that are different from before. We always hope for happiness but our actions lead in another direction. If we want happiness, what will be the cause for that? Attitudes discordant with happiness such as anger and pride must definitely be abandoned. For example, if we would like to see beautiful flowers with fruit in a garden, we must first give them water and fertilizer. Likewise, if we always rely on love, compassion, mindfulness, alertness, conscientiousness and so forth, we will soon experience happiness arising within our mind.
Buddhist scriptures explain that effects correspond to their causes. If we always have a mind of virtue we will experience happiness, and from non-virtue will come suffering; it’s just natural.
As we encounter serious difficulties from the pandemic this year, don’t think only of the bad side of it; there are also benefits we can derive. For example, as we fall prey to suffering regardless of our status and have to depend on others, we can finally understand how interconnected we are. Also, because of the pandemic, many become more aware of impermanence and as a result attachment and anger diminishes; in the future, thinking of our one earth, people have to come together in unity and harmony. In particular, if we are someone striving to practice Buddha’s teachings we must definitely be able to see bad conditions as helpful; as good conditions for practice. These days it is especially beneficial to have Dharma on the internet; that is something we can all be happy about.
Starting now, over the course of three days, according to my knowledge I will explain and emphasize some of the instructions of Gampopa’s Precious Garland of the Supreme Path. As you listen, think, and meditate, keep in mind that the teachings are more important than the person giving them. If we strive every day to take care of our mind, our new year will become truly meaningful; that is my hope and prayer. Finally, like the incomparable Gampopa, I pray that the minds of all who attend these teachings may turn towards and become the Dharma. That’s all for now. Thank you.
Originally written on January 16th, 2021, the first day of the Manjushri Dharma Center retreat by Khenpo Karten Rinpoche, posted to Khenpo Karten’s Blogspot on January 19, 2021.