Lama Kathy’s Dharma Blog: The Value of Great Masters

The Buddha Shakyamuni is well-known for encouraging his students to think for themselves; to try out his teachings about meditation and self-awareness for themselves and test them like a precious metals merchant weighs and assesses gold.

But he also described The Three Jewels – the Buddha as the teacher, the Dharma as the path and the Sangha as the community, or guide – as being essential to our spiritual journey, and encouraged us to take Refuge in them.

How do we reconcile these two famous views?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the example (often quoted in Buddhist texts) of a person aspiring to make a journey. A person who wishes to make a journey first thinks of her destination, and then chooses a route and a guide to make the journey.

A destination without a route means a very long journey, as one wanders without a path; and a route without a guide might mean extra time spent losing one’s way and needing to find it again.

In other words, having a destination (in this case, Awakening or Buddhahood) is not the same as arriving at that destination. One needs a route, and a guide.

In the example of the Three Jewels, the Buddha is our destination, the Dharma is how we get there, and the Sangha are our companions and guides for making the journey. To finish the journey, we really need all three.

The teachings say there are two types of Sangha: ordinary beings like ourselves are our companions on the journey, and awakened beings are our guides. Good guides can help us understand the teachings, answer our questions when we feel lost, and help us correct errors in our path. The best teachers are those who know us well and want only for us to accomplish awakening, and who will do whatever they can to help facilitate that accomplishment for us.

So, to reconcile these two teachings of the Buddha, we use the Three Jewels as our destination, path, and guides, and approach the teachings, path, and guides with intelligence and enthusiasm, testing what we’ve heard for ourselves and trying them out in our own lives to see what benefits they bring.

At KTC, we have a good container for the Three Jewels – the Buddha is our destination, the Dharma is our path and the sangha are our companions. And our guide is the Gyalwang Karmapa, a bodhisattva who has returned generation after generation to hold the highest teachings of our Karma Kagyu tradition.

The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, speaks very humbly of his position, saying he “carries the weight” of the “name” of the great Karmapa. He says he wants to benefit all beings and will dedicate his life to giving the teachings and blessings we need so that we can take the path of the dharma and try the teachings out in our own lives.

He has spoken about the need to bring the teachings into our everyday lives, he has spoken about (and worked to improve) the status of women in monasteries around the world. He has spoken passionately about saving the Earth and improving our environment. And he has taken time to speak to college students about ways they can take responsibility for the Earth and the world’s societies and make them better.

We are very lucky to have such a teacher in our world, and to have such a person as our connection to the teachings of Mahamudra meditation – a tradition of awakening that goes back 1000 years.

When His Holiness Karmapa lived in Tibet, it was difficult to travel and visit him; then, when he escaped over the Himalayas in 2000 and settled in India, it became easier to see him, but still a bit difficult for most people. When he began traveling a few years ago, many more in the US could see him.

Meanwhile, His Holiness’ staff has arranged for his teachings to be broadcast around the world through the miracle of webstreaming. Now, no matter where we live, we can have his teachings available to us.

THIS Coming Sunday, Jan. 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., His Holiness will be bestowing a Long-Life Empowerment in New York, and while we may not be able to physically be there, we can observe the empowerment online and join our aspirations with his.

At KTC, we want to help connect folks to the teachings of His Holiness, so we are sharing with you this announcement from Khenpo Tenkyong about this Sunday’s webcast, so you can watch it at home.

Here is the announcement we received this week from Khenpo Karma Tenkyong, the president of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery:

Sunday, January 28th


Tomorrow, Sunday, January 28th, the Gyalwang Karmapa will bestow the Thangtong Gyalpo Longevity Empowerment to the Himalayan community of New York and New Jersey. The event will be webcast live at the address below and available in Tibetan, English, Chinese and Spanish.

Please click the video on the next page to set a reminder for your timezone.

Sunday, Feb. 4th

Additionally, His Holiness will give a teaching on “The Eight Verses of Mind Training” – a great teaching about the bodhisattva attitude and practice – on Sunday Feb. 4, also in New York.

For this event, KTC will have a “watch party” at the home of Cathy Lhamo Jackson, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The address is
205 Sunset Cove, Columbus, OH 43202.

To register for this FREE event, please write to Cathy Jackson at

We are fortunate indeed to have such a wonderful teacher as His Holiness Karmapa, and through the miracle of technology we can see him teach anytime and anywhere. May all beings have connection to such teachers – and may all beings benefit!