New Years Message from H.H., the 17th Karmapa
When I was little and living in the monastery, on New Year's eve I would be anxious with anticipation waiting for the New Year to arrive. I could barely sleep, perhaps because of the possibilities of new hopes and aspirations. So for this New Year, I also have hope and aspiration. It's a new hope with the coming of this New Year that I might be able to walk on the same soil, the western continent—walk through the same landscape, and open the door to this intimacy. That is my hope for the New Year.
Looking back at this past year, we can recall experiences that have been painful and difficult. There are also joyful and happy experiences that we can recall. Different experiences, be they difficult and challenging or joyful and pleasant—they are landscapes, tapestries in our lives—something to do with attributes, significance in our lives. It's important to recall these joys and sorrows that have marked this last year. The point is, the difficulties one has faced, painful experiences, shouldn’t be left by themselves, put aside, or ignored as too painful. The difficulties and challenges should be attributes in molding and shaping the contours of one’s life and be put to meaningful use.
Personally, I have faced particular difficulties especially in the years 1999 and 2000 [his escape from Tibet], as many of you know. The difficulties and challenges I have faced have become the adornments of my life. Had I not, maybe I would be anonymous—but some kind of recognition can be attributed to those times. Every difficulty can be embraced as a blessing in disguise. They can adorn one’s life. Beneficial results can be found. What would be most preferable is to be able to use whatever problems one has faced for greater development for the coming year. So they become attributes, human dignity, repleteness, fullness—decorated by being able to learn. That would be the most precious thing to do. If one can’t do that, then at least one must put aside, let go. Don’t bring a trail of baggage into the New Year. Come with new life into the New Year.
In 2006, I have come through many challenges, in particular having taken up the responsibility of steering the Kagyu Monlam. It is quite a lot of responsibility, difficulty and considerations. But this eve, all of those challenges, however difficult have been worth it because they have been done for your sake. So why get stuck with those? So I’ve left them behind. Tonight I come to you crystal fresh. I hope that you too can come fresh—decorate and dignify your human life and at least don’t bring a trail of baggage into the your present life. One needs room, so don’t bring a trail of baggage from the past. Say good-bye to last year.
So what we need to consider is that we don’t view that "time" is controlling us—that custom is controlling us. Time is not going to dictate change or custom doesn’t have control, but our willingness does. Feel inspired, motivated to change. We use the occasion of New Year to voluntarily serve as the vehicle of change. We can change anytime we want because it’s not dictated by time or custom. So the principle purpose of Buddhism is to see our conditioned habitual view—fanatical fixation of whatever view of reality that we are holding. The teachings of Buddhism help us to undo those fixations. Help us to understand fixation, rigidity—to not develop another view as we go further on the path—but gradually going beyond any view whatsoever.
When we apply Dharma in our spiritual lives and everyday activities, our attitude is free of extreme fixation. When we live our lives, face challenges and difficulties, there is enough room for movement, for activities to just occur. There’s no need to be stuck, rather, beginning to see room for hope, for possibility, for confidence.
So, on this very night it’s important for us to know that we’re not trying to particularly promote this or that view. We already have enough opinions. What we need is genuine experience of peace of mind, stability of mind, development of depth of capacity for wisdom—not dependent on counting how long one has done such and such, but on a daily basis looking at what’s going on in one’s life. What outlook is one developing from day to day, week to week, month to month.
We could use loving kindness, compassion—we can ask what further enhancement have we been able to develop? What have we cultivated in our daily life for that to occur? One needs two things:
1) Proper guidance; and
2) Examples of what is wholesome to adopt and what is unwholesome to abandon—recognizing by oneself what is unwholesome and giving it up and recognizing what to adopt. Self-help. Help yourself to appreciate, help yourself to develop, not by being dependent upon another to show you, but by embracing the guidelines that you need to follow. In terms of self-help, what do we need to do? We feed ourselves three times a day. Three times or not, we still have the notion to take care of the body. There is this notion of “I” who owns the body. This lingering experience—there is no fixed reference, not a reference to body or entity. Yet there’s some dependency, perhaps consciousness, mind, alertness that we experience. If so, perhaps we need to help that, feed that three times a day. Feed the mind in order to be strong, to be confident, to have a mature mind, like mental vitamins.
To catch a physical cold is uncomfortable, but a mind-cold is even worse. Maybe we should care for our mind more than our body.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that I’ve heard there are about 1,000 of you from abroad. So to me you are like 1,000 Buddhas, 1,000 Bodhisattvas. Actually, I don’t know what a Buddha looks like, what Buddhas are supposed to look like, but this time Buddhas have different shades of hair—blond, black, brown—short ones, tall ones. I’m so amazed at all the variety of ways that Buddhas can manifest.
That you’ve come here and sincerely participated in the Kagyu Monlam—I feel strengthened by your presence. I feel invigorated, like I want to do something. I must do more. So for this strength, I’d like to thank all of you. Thank you.
It has been in the past that my activities are dependent on others, the connection, the gathered strength of others. In the future also, the strength, the gathering of others’ inseparability, linked. And you’re all very important to me, a source of benefit to me, and maybe I’m a little bit to you. This eve I extend full-hearted good wishes for your well being and wishes that we stay connected in the coming years. If experience is happy, we’ll do it together. If experience is suffering, we’ll do it together.
With this I wish you the very best. Happy New Year.
~ H.H., the 17th Karmapa