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Parting from the four attachments

2014 December Kagyu Monlam, Bodhgaya: Teachings by H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche



If You Are Attached to this Life, You Are Not a Dharma Practitioner



Day 1: Teachings on The Four Freedoms from Attachment


Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya

29 December, 2014



In 2012 when the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche was only seventeen, he taught for the first time at the Kagyu Monlam in public. His teaching was from the foremost devotional prayer in the Kagyu lineage, Calling the Lama from Afar, by the First Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, which was recited every night in Rumtek after the tragic passing of the third Jamgon Kongtrul.  This first teaching seemed a response to the heartfelt cries of devotees from around the world.


Now, at the age of nineteen, Jamgon Kongtrul is giving another major teaching at the Monlam, to an audience of over 12,000 people, on an essential Sakya text called Parting from the Four Attachments. He looks composed as he sits on the elaborately carved teaching throne and gazes into space, motionless, at the seemingly endless queue of devotees presenting offerings during the traditional mandala ritual.


The line-up is headed by groups comprising one hundred and fifty people, the first headed by Tulku Rigdzin Gyatson, followed by Lama Rinchen from Hawaii, the Kagyu Office Labrang, and the Kagyu centres from the Philippines and Shanghai.  The procession of offerings continues to the back of the pavilion as far as the eye can see. Devotees hold gilded offerings representing body, speech and mind.  It is forty -five minutes before Jamgon Rinpoche can start speaking.


The small text he holds in his hands is The Song of Experience by Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), son of the founder of the Sakya Lineage, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158). Drakpa Gyaltsen composed it from the root text, Parting from the Four Attachments, which came from  Manjushri  directly in a vision to his father.


When Kunga Nyingpo was twelve, his root master advised him to practice Manjushri in order to attain prajna. After practising for six months he had a vision of Manjushri surrounded by bodhisattvas. Manjushri then spoke these words to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo:


'If you are attached to this life you are not a dharma practitioner.


If you are attached to samsara you don’t have renunciation.


If you are attached to selfish aims you don't have bodhicitta.


If you are attached to grasping you don’t have the view''.


Kunga Nyingpo then had a direct realization of prajna and understood that this four line verse contained the essence of the entire practice of the path of Prajnaparamita. He then taught it to his son Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen, who composed The Song of Experience.  Drakpa Gyaltsen became a siddha who is said to have stopped an eclipse of the sun and could hang his bell and vajra in mid- air when he practised his sadhana. His composition is not a lengthy scholarly commentary but experiential advice and key oral instructions. Before he commences, Jamgon Kongtrul welcomes Gyaltsap Rinpoche and the massive gathering of Lamas and laypeople.  He confesses he is somewhat awestruck to be teaching  in the presence of his root guru, the Gyalwang Karmapa, who sits to his right on a simple throne at the same height as the teaching throne; while Gyaltsap Rinpoche sits closer to the ground. They both focus intently with loving expressions on the youngest heart-son. The Third Jamgon Kongtrul was the closest of the four spiritual sons to the Sixteenth Karmapa, and the Second Kongtrul, Karsey Kongtrul, was both heart son and natural son of the fifteenth.


As a sign of auspicious interdependence, when HH Sakya Trizin came to Bodhgaya, he bestowed on Jamgon Kongtrul the transmission and instructions of the Song of Experience. ''For that reason, I'll try to teach it as best I can''.


The first of the lines, If you are attached to this life you are not a  dharma practitioner


If we are attached to this life and perform discipline, listening, contemplation, and meditation with the focus or aim of this life then it’s not real dharma. We need to have discipline, listening, contemplation, and meditation,  but if it is with a focus on achievements in this life, it is not authentic dharma practice.


The benefits of discipline are many.  It is the ornament of the world, it brings one to the higher realms; it is the staircase to liberation. Discipline is indispensible to become a Buddha. It is also the antidote to suffering.


However if we have discipline that is focused on this life, that is the root of the eight worldly concerns. Also if we keep discipline with this motivation, it then becomes the root of samsara. If we practice discipline only when in the midst of other people and not when we are alone, then this is a cause to fall into the lower realms. Fake discipline is the seed of the lower realms.


The text then describes the benefits of listening and contemplation. An individual who studies and contemplates has the basis of wisdom and a lamp to dispel ignorance.


        Individuals who have meditation have the remedy for affliction, the basis for liberation, and the seed of buddhahood. Meditation is indispensible. However, If you have meditation focused on this life, even if you are in retreat, you will be distracted, you will have pride when you compare yourself to other meditators. The eight worldly concerns will then arise automatically.


       In this way when we’re practicing any type of dharma, with attachment to this life we may say we’re dharma practitioners, but we’re not actually dharma practitioners. We’re seeming or posturing dharma practitioners. In order to stop this attachment to this life it’s extremely important to meditate on the precious human body, death and impermanence


When Jamgon Rinpoche reads the text, he comments, ''In brief, these verses describe the difference between true dharma practitioners and fake dharma practitioners''. (


Time has run out and there is meant to be a meditation session at the end of each teaching.


In a confident, powerful voice, Jamgon Rinpoche instructs the assembly of devotees to sit in the 7 point posture of Vairochana.


Think about how precious the human body is with its eight leisures and ten resources. Think how it is impermanent by nature. Every moment we are perishing. The conditions for living are few, the causes of death are many. There is no reason to be attached. Contemplate this for one minute.

To close the session, the Karmapa places the activity crown on his head as he reads the prayers and dedications for the living and deceased. Eight incense bearers wearing yellow-crested hats, four with elaborate ceremonial brocade draped over their robes, line up in front of the stage waiting to escort the Tulkus from the pavilion. Jamgon Rinpoche stands and waits for the Karmapa and Gyaltsab Rinpoche, before all three, heart-sons and gurus both, from life to life, are led out in procession.




Day 2: Teachings on The Four Freedoms from Attachment - Contemplating the Sufferings of Samsara is the Antidote to Attachment


Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya

30 December, 2014


Once more, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche is led in procession to the carved wooden throne, the second session of a four-part teaching. He prostrates three times, and ascends the throne. In an authoritative but gentle voice, he asks everyone to stand. To the beat of a wooden bell, the sangha prostrates three times in unison, like rising and falling waves of yellow ochre and maroon. Then the chant masters lead everyone in three repetitions of the refuge prayer.


The mandala offering requesting the teachings follows. While the chant masters recite the 37-Feature Mandala Offering, Osel Nyingpo, the Gyalwang Karmapa’s ritual master, puts on his red ceremonial hat and heaps piles of saffron-scented rice onto the mandala plate. The young Rinpoche looks on nervously at the seemingly endless line of people bearing offerings coming towards him. In the Monlam Pavilion, twelve thousand pairs of eyes are watching him, let alone the thousands world-wide watching the webcast.


It’s turned nine o’clock but the morning is still cold and the sangha huddle into their heavy winter cloaks. Today, as well as butter tea, the servers come round ladling out steaming hot porridge into their rich brown bowls, given to each monk and nun at the beginning of the Monlam.  Finally, the ceremonies are over and the teaching can begin.


First Rinpoche reminds everyone of the correct motivation for listening to Dharma:


Think to yourself it’s in order to bring all sentient beings as limitless as space to the unified state of Vajradhara that we must listen to the Dharma today. Thinking in this way, “We must have a pure motivation and pure action,” as you listen.


Then he resumes his discourse on Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen’s text. Today’s focus will be on the second of the four slogans: if you are attached to samsara you don’t have renunciation.  But first, Rinpoche wants to add to what he said yesterday on the first slogan: if you are attached to t his life you are not a dharma practitioner.


Dharma practitioners, he explains, are classified according to their capacity into one of three categories, the lesser, medium and greater individual. However, a defining characteristic of the lesser individual is that they are concentrating on future lives and have given up attachment to this life. Hence, giving up attachment to this life is the very basic qualification for someone to be called a dharma practitioner.


So in order to be even a lesser person you must have full revulsion for this life. If you still have attachment and fixation on this life, you are not even included in the three categories of dharma practitioner.


Rinpoche also has a word of warning for the monks and nuns. At the stupa he has noticed ‘monastic’s’ who recite mantras when people are watching, but when no one’s there to watch either they’re sleeping or talking or counting their money. We might like to think that we’re not like them, he cautioned, but actually there may not be a great difference; it’s hard to tell who is really practising!  Only by honest self-examination can we know. “It’s important to realize although we say we are dharma practitioners, if we are attached to this life we’re not true dharma practitioners.  We are imposters. “


Returning to the text, he began reading from the ‘Song of Experience’ which accompanies the four slogans. It clearly states that in order to attain nirvana, we have to develop renunciation, and the way to do this is by reflecting on the sufferings of samsara.


Wherever we are in samsara, from the depths of the incessant hell to the peak of existence, there’s not a bit of happiness anywhere. Everything is suffering by nature.


First there is the suffering of suffering which divides into two:

The suffering arising from having the 5 aggregates, due to the force of karma and the afflictions; Additional suffering such as heat, cold.

Contemplating the suffering of the lower realms can be very frightening, but, we continue to collect more non-virtues. This is really pitiful. The text says:


…by failing to practise the virtue of restraint,


You keep on tilling the fields of the lower realms,


And there, wherever you find yourself, how dreadful it will be!


The result of non-virtue is the experience of suffering, and this is certain because it is impossible for karma to fail.


Second is the suffering of change. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation states that all of the happiness in samsara no matter what, will in the end turn into suffering. One can fall from the higher to lower realms. 


As it is said, many people fall from higher realms to lower realms. Those who do so are as numerous as atoms in the earth. Those who go from lower to higher realms are as numerous as atoms in a pea.


We can see evidence of this all around us. Someone might be rich, strong, powerful and influential in the early part of their life, but in the second part of their life they have neither power nor influence – these situations are common among humans, Rinpoche commented.  A family may have lots of members but in the end only one is left.


Third comes the suffering of formation or conditioned existence. According to the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, this suffering arises simply from taking the five aggregates of grasping.  As the text reads:


To contemplate the suffering of conditioning,


See how there is never an end of things to do,


And suffering is found among the many and the few,


Among the well-off and the starving alike.


Our whole human life is spent preparing,


And in the midst of our preparing, we are swept away by death;


But not even in death is there any end to preparation,


As once again we begin making ready for the next life.


How perverse they are who keep clinging


To this heap of misery that is samsara!


For that reason if we are attached to samsara it brings us no benefit and causes many difficulties. However, we ordinary people have difficulty appreciating that the suffering of formation is suffering, in contrast to the Noble Ones for whom it is great suffering. We perceive the pervasive suffering of formation like a hair in the palm of the hand, but for the Noble Ones it is like a hair in the eye, a painful irritation.


We experience so much suffering because we do not acknowledge karma cause and effect, what we should do and what we should give up. There are three different types of karma: virtuous, non-virtuous and neutral.  Keeping the ten virtues without mixing them with the afflictions produces virtuous karma. Non-virtuous actions or those with impure motivation, fuelled by the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion, produce non-virtuous karma. Finally, we should do all we can to turn neutral actions into virtuous ones.


The session ends with a one-minute resting meditation, followed by a four minute meditation on the sufferings of samsara and the role of karma, cause and effect, to reinforce what has been said during the teachings.




Day 3:Teachings on The Four Freedoms from Attachment - What is bodhicitta?


Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya

31 December, 2014


This morning Jamgön Rinpoche entered the Pavilion casting a smile at Gyaltsap Rinpoche, as they walked together along the path that curves around to the center of the stage. When Jamgön Rinpoche was seated on his throne, as during the last two days, this morning there was a long line of offerings for his long life.This time it was led by Bokar Rinpoche's monastery while the sangha recited The Aspiration of the Bodhisattva. The head discipline master then read the list of donors interleaved with poetic expressions of their wishes for Jamgön Kongtrul’s well-being and the flourishing of the lineage, its teachers and teachings. Afterward, speaking in a clear and resonant voice that was very reminiscent of his previous incarnation, Jamgön Rinpoche began his explanation of the third of the Four Freedoms from Attachment.


3. Parting from Attachment to Our Self-Interest


Liberating myselfalone does not bring any benefit to


All my mothers and fathers, the beings in the three realms.


How terrible to leave my parents withtheir suffering


While only focusing on myown happiness.


May the suffering of the three realms ripen in me;


May all my merit be carried off by living beings;


And through the blessings of that merit,


May they all come to full awakening.


He began by saying that we should think that we are listening to the Dharma this morning for the benefit of all beings limitless as space; for their sake, we must achieve the state of completely perfect buddhahood, the unified state of Vajradhara. With this pure attitude and motivation, we should listen to the Dharma.


The third of the Four Freedoms reads:


If you are attached to your own self-interest, you have no bodhichitta.


The commentary on the root text continues:


When free of attachment, you pass into nirvana.


When you pass into nirvana, you find happiness.


But the melody of experience, parting from the four attachments,


Has no benefit if it liberates just you.


When we attain true nirvana, we attain ultimate happiness, the melody of experience, the freedom from attachment. It is said that those practicing in the foundational vehicle, the listeners and the self-realized buddhas, seek liberation and peace mostly for themselves. However, as practitioners of the mahayana, we take the path of the greater individual. Atisha describes such a person in his Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment:


          Through knowing their own suffering,


          They are filled with the wish to extinguish


          The suffering of themselves and others―


          Such is the great individual.


Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye (the First Jamgön Kongtrul) writes in his Treasury of Knowledge: "Under the sway of great compassion, they become fully awakened in order to efface the suffering of all living beings."


Jamgön Rinpoche then continues quoting the main text:


Liberating myself alone does not bring any benefit to


All my mothers and fathers, the beings in the three realms.


How terrible to leave my parents with their suffering


While only focusing on myown happiness.


As Buddhists, we accept karma with its cause and effect, so we must also say that all sentient beings in the three realms, not one left out, have been our parents. Due to birth and death, sometimes we have seen them as friends and sometimes as enemies. Yet,as our parents, they have cared for us with great kindness.The Prajnaparamita Sutra in 8000 Linesstates that they gave birth to us, cared for us, raised us, and protected us.If we were to turn our backs on their suffering and immerse ourselves in searching only for personal happiness, that would be dreadful.


The text continues:


May the suffering of the three realms ripen in me;


May all my merit be carried off by living beings;


And through the blessings of that merit,


May they all come to full awakening.


To paraphrase the first two lines: "May I take all loss and defeat upon myself. To all living beings, may I give away all my own merit, all my virtues and all the good things that I have from this life and lives from beginningless times. By the blessings of this merit, may every living beingcome to full awakening."Merely thinking this brings incredible merit in itself.


Explicit in this passage is the result of practice, being able to exchange oneself for others; implicit here is the cause, meditation on love and compassion. "Love" here means wishing to bring all beings into happiness. In his Garland of Jewels, Gampopa explains that gods and humans who have love are protected from all poisons and weapons, are able to accomplish every goal they set, and can be reborn in the realms of Brahma.


"Compassion"means wishing to free all sentient beings from suffering and its causes. It has inconceivable benefits as revealed in the Realization of Avalokiteshvara. If we have just this one quality, it will bring all the Dharma into the palm of our hand. What is this one thing? Great compassion.


If we meditate intensively on love and compassion, we will naturally develop bodhicitta and there are two types: aspirational bodhicitta and engaged bodhicitta. The primary practice of engaged bodhicitta is to exchange self with others. In Maitreya’s Ornament of Clear Realization, bodhicitta is described as wishing to achieve perfect enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.


In general, bodhicitta can be classified in three ways: in terms of examples, stages of the path, and characteristics. Maitreya's text mentioned above gives twenty-two examples, which include the ground, a boat, a treasure, the wish-fulfilling jewel, an elephant, and clouds.


In terms of paths and levels, there are four types: (1) the bodhicitta related to our aspiration or intention; (2) pure intention;(3) ripening; and (4) purifying obscurations.


In terms of characteristics, there are two types: ultimate and relative bodhicitta.The essence of ultimate bodhicitta can be described by three attributes: it has the essence of emptiness and compassion; it never moves from its ground; and it is free of all conceptual complexity. A sutra explains that ultimate bodhicitta is: beyond the mundane world, free of conceptual proliferation, extremely clear, the object of ultimate truth, stainless, and unmoving, like a lamp not stirred by the wind.


And relative bodhicitta is as described above―the wish to attain full awakening in order to benefit all sentient beings―and there are two types, aspirational and engaged, which can be explained in different ways. According to Gampopa's Ornament of Precious Liberation, one tradition comes through Manjushri to Nagarjuna and on to Shantideva, while another comes from Maitreya to Asanga and then Serlingpa.


In the first tradition, aspirational bodhicitta is the wish to go somewhere, i.e., full awakening, whereas engaged bodhicitta is actually going there, actually engaging in practices that bring us to enlightenment. The second tradition holds that aspirational bodhicitta is to think, "For the sake of all sentient beings, I shall achieve buddhahood."It is a commitment to the result. Engaged bodhicitta is the commitment to the cause, the practice of the six paramitas that lead to full awakening.


Developing bodhicitta in these ways is essential. It is said that the distinction between the childish and the noble ones is bodhicitta, so it truly is the gateway into the mahayana. In The Levels of the Bodhisattva, Asanga describes four causes of bodhicitta:(1) belonging to the family, or having the aptitude of the mahayana; (2) being accepted by the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and a spiritual friend; (3) compassion for all living beings limitless in number; (4) having no fear when thinking of the suffering in samsara and of all the difficulties one must undergo plus the willingness to accept obstacles. We should make all the effort we can to create these causes.


After the recitation of The Aspiration for Mind Training, Jamgön Rinpoche gave brief meditation instructions. The first was to sit in the seven-point posture of Vairocana and settle our minds for a while. Then he asked us to contemplate how horrendous it is to leave sentient beings, all of whom have been our kind mother, caged in suffering and seek happiness only for ourselves. Then we should think that we will commit to achieving complete and perfect awakening, doing everything we can to achieve this goal. Rest in equipoise meditating on this, he concluded.


After the meditation, Jamgön Rinpoche read the prayers for the living and deceased. He asked that as he recited the dedication, people especially remember those who perished in the Air Asia flight. Though not originally phrased as an instruction, it was a clear teaching on bringing bodhicitta into our daily lives.


The world also seems to have appreciated the teachings on this Guru Rinpoche day as a bright rainbow touched down next to the Bodhgaya stupa.






Day 4: Teachings on The Four Freedoms from Attachment - The Highest View


Monlam Pavilion

1 January 2015


In a New Year’s treat for the 12,000 participants, this morning the Gyalwang Karmapa begins the year 2015 by returning to the Monlam Pavilion, in time for the fourth and final session of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche’s teachings.


During the morning tea break before the teaching session begins, the Gyalwang Karmapa suddenly heads over to the far edge of the pavilion and mingles with his translators, webcast team, reporters, and TV crews. He unexpectedly gifts a sangha alms bowl to his radiant Vietnamese interpreter, who has recently built the very first Karma Kagyu temple in Vietnam. Next he drops into the media room set aside for the popular Taiwanese dharma TV station, Life TV, who are broadcasting the entire Kagyu Monlam live throughout Taiwan and surrounding countries. There he chats for a few minutes with the crew ,and asks the director for an impromptu lesson on how to use the brand-new control console.


Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche begins his teaching by wishing everybody a Happy New Year. “My prayer this New Year is that all sentient beings who are as limitless as space may develop bodhicitta in their beings. May they be free of malicious intentions and conduct, and bring great benefit and happiness to each other,” he says, to spontaneous applause from the crowd.


He then turns to the fourth of the four attachments in Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen’s ‘Four Freedoms from Attachment’: if there is grasping, it is not the view.


The first three attachments primarily discussed the aspect of means, however the aspect of wisdom—the view—which is explained in the fourth attachment, is also indispensible.


If you grasp at things as being things, then naturally you develop hopes and fears about them and you are overcome by thoughts. If you grasp at things not existing, you’ll not be reborn in higher realms.


The text then traverses through the lower views of the exposition, sutra, and mind only philosophical schools, before arriving at the highest view of the middle way school.


Appearances have the nature of an illusion, and this nature arises interdependently. So all of the phenomena that we see are appearances that have the nature of dreams or illusions. All phenomena arise from the assembly of causes and conditions.


For this reason it is said: there’s no dharma at all that is not interdependent; there’s no dharma at all that is not emptiness.



We should meditate that all appearances are mind and that these appearances are illusory. We need to determine that they lack nature, are interdependent, and are indescribable.


Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche then leads the entire gathering through a short meditation on the unified, non-dual, interdependent nature of phenomena. A profound stillness encompasses the vast hall as first the gathering settles their minds for a minute, and then turns the focus onto emptiness.


In this final meditation session, they are once again offered the very rare and exceedingly precious opportunity to meditate on emptiness in the presence of not only the Gyalwang Karmapa, but also two of the heart sons of the Karma Kagyu lineage. Each member of this trio is, in his own right, an outstanding master and ultimate source of spiritual power and awakening: combined, the intensity of their blessings becomes ineffable.


Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche ends the teachings on The Four Freedoms from Attachment with some golden words of aspiration and advice:


Finally, for us as practitioners it’s very important to strive to make sure our minds become the dharma, the dharma becomes the path, the path dispels confusion, and that confusion may dawn as wisdom.


May His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa and all masters who uphold the teaching have long lives that will last for eons, and may all their wishes be accomplished spontaneously and without effort.