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It’s like I should be thanking the earth and sky.
HH Karmapa, Sarnath 2011

In the famous cave paintings at Ajanta there are frescoes of street scenes in India during the Buddha’s time: courtesans, beggars, kings, romantic couples, animals. There is a sensuality about these scenes completely different to the idealism of Tibetan tangkha paintings. Not even the famous bodhisattva Padmapani is sitting on a white fluffy cloud. Thousands of years ago the Buddha was out on the streets with the ordinary people of his time, sharing the human condition in all its colourful display. In a memorable close up he is standing next to his wife and son. The image is striking because the Buddha is shown as a gigantic figure next to two very tiny people. He walks the earth like everyone else but his spiritual greatness makes him tower above everyone.

The teachings in Sarnath reminded me of these paintings. The Karmapa was admittedly not in top form for the first day. It seemed like the vicious attacks from the press had naturally affected his spirits. “On the first day I felt like I was talking in my sleep”, he admitted. “So I didn’t feel like I taught you the dharma. But maybe I should thank time. It’s the kindness of time that it always changes. We had four days and so I would like thank time for continuing to change.

As the days moved along, the teachings started to come out through the engagement of the listeners. The first question was about maintaining equanimity in the face of lies and adversity:

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