Newsweek: Tibet’s Holy Man In Waiting

When we are in India, we always talk negatively about the Chinese. But we have to think about the positive side.

Born into a nomadic Tibetan family in 1985, Apo Gaga was 7 years old when he was proclaimed the 17th Karmapa: the latest reincarnation of the head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. That made the child the religion's third highest leader, after the Dalai and Panchen Lamas. He soon began a rigorous training program. Then, at the age of 14, after the Karmapa started to find Chinese control suffocating, he made a daring escape by helicopter and horseback to Dharamsala, India, seat of the Tibetan government in exile. There he's continued his training in earnest. Given the Dalai Lama's age, he's just 73, the length of time it will take to name a successor and the disappearance of the Panchen Lama in 1995 (China was anxious to control the selection of his reincarnation), many assume the young Karmapa could soon become Tibetan Buddhism's most-senior figure. On the eve of his 23rd birthday, the monk spoke to NEWSWEEK's Sudip Mazumdar about his recent trip to America, the global pro-Tibet protests and boycotting the upcoming Beijing Olympics. Excerpts:

MAZUMDAR : How has your recent trip to the United States changed your perspectives on the world?

THE KARMAPA: It was a big change for me, because I had only seen pictures of America. Now I have seen America in real life, and I was amazed. The Western world is so different from the Eastern world. I feel that I can learn so much from the Western world.

What are conditions like inside Tibet today?

I don't have any news. My understanding is only through television. It is difficult to get the real picture. This is a problem not only for me but for the entire world.

What is your view of the recent protests?

The protesters had different views. Some asked for a free Tibet; some talked about a middle path [autonomy within China]. The most important thing is what Tibetans in Tibet think. Their secure future is very important. They should have a good future. The protests have made lives more difficult. They need results. If there are no good results, things will become even more difficult.

How do you see calls to boycott the Beijing Olympics?

China is a big country and does not belong only to the Communist Party. It belongs to the Chinese brothers and sisters. The world needs to give them more chances and opportunities to show their growth and express their views. The Olympics are such a chance. I am not for the boycott, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is also [against it].

Do you think you could become a bridge to Beijing when you get older?

[Laughs.] Fortunately, His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognized me, and the Chinese also have a little bit of support [for me]. Not that I want it, but if they give me a chance, then I hope [to play that role].

You have now lived for about eight years near the Dalai Lama. What have you learned from him?

I am a spiritual disciple of His Holiness. I need to learn spiritual practices from him, I need to train and be educated. During these years, I've learned many things from him.

For example?

For example, patience. His life is very hard. He must be patient, and he has lots of patience. This is an important lesson. Sometimes if I am a little bit sad or I have problems, I go see him. And after meeting him, the problems disappear and I forget them. There is a spiritual power in him. Every time I see him I come back happy.

Can Tibetans live under Chinese rule?

It is difficult to say. When we are in India, we always talk negatively about the Chinese. All information about Tibet and the Chinese is negative, nothing positive. But the situation needs to be examined and investigated thoroughly. We need more information. We have to think about the positive side for the future of China and Tibet.

Do you see any positives right now?

It is difficult to say. Maybe you journalists should investigate.

Chinese government officials continue to attack the Dalai Lama, accusing him of fomenting trouble. What would you like to tell them?

They should examine and investigate themselves. However much we try to explain, it never fulfills their wishes. They never trust. They get more doubtful. So they should investigate themselves.

Is it true that you criticized patriarchy in some Buddhist communities?

Not criticism, just an observation. In some Asian countries, men have all the control and power. From a Buddhist point of view, men and women are equal. All sentient beings are capable of attaining enlightenment, so obviously women can. But sometimes some traditional cultures hold the wrong view, that men are more powerful. That is not correct.

What would you like to tell the Tibetans living in Tibet?

It is difficult to express in words. I hope that just my living in this world should be for the benefit of all sentient beings, including all Tibetans. If it is not, then also it is OK. But I always hope that my life benefits all Tibetans.




The Gyalwang Karmapa Celebrates his 23rd Birthday. The celebration began at 8 am in the main shrine hall of Gyuto monastery, His Holiness presided over the puja which was attended by His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche, Gyutoe Khen Rinpoche, Drozong Rinpoche and Mr. Sonam Damdul (Member of Parliament) of Tibetan Government in Exile, Mr. Sonam Topgye, Rinpoches, Lamas and international devotees.
The representative of Dharma centers offered Mandala, Gyuto Monastery and Tsurphu Labrang offered Tenshug (Long Live) to His Holiness to mark the celebration.
In the afternoon, His Holiness left the Gyuto Monastery for Trilokpur Nunnery accompanied by His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche to give two days teachings at the request of international devotees. His Holiness cut the birthday cake at Trilokpur.

2008.6.26 法王噶瑪巴歡度二十三歲生日!HH Karmapa's 23rd Birthday
Photos of His Holiness Karmapa's 23rd Birthday, 2008



As requested by Tsurphu Labrang (Karmapa's Office of Administration) His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche arrived at Gyuto Monastery on June 22nd, 2008. Tai Situ Rinpoche is engaged in teaching and Initiation to His Holiness starting from June 23rd, 2008.



June 5th, 2008

At around 3 in the afternoon His Holiness landed at Gaggal airport and walked through array of Serbangs keenly waiting for his arrival. The chairman of the Assembly of Tibetan people's Deputy Mr. Karma Chomphel offered welcome scarf to His Holiness along with many more;
Ven. Dorzong Rinpoche
Ven. Choegyal Rinpoche
Ven. Taklung Tulku
Tsewang Dakpa General Secretary of Palpung Sherabling Monastery.
General Secretary of Gyuto Monastery.
Decheng Damdul. Representative of Tsurphu Labrang (KOA)
Gyuto Monastery
Sherab Ling Monastery and Institute
Khamtrul Monastery
Chogling Monastery
Dorzong Monastery
Trilokpur Nunnery
With heavy rainfall His Holiness was welcomed at the main shrine hall of Gyuto Monastery. Tsurphu Labrang ( Karmapa's Office of Administration ) and Gyuto Monastery offered traditional Mandala offering to His Holiness and had Tea and Rice ceremony.


Welcoming dinner reception (June 4th, 2008)

The Tsurphu Labrang (Karmapa's office of Administration) joined by all Kagyu Monasteries from India and Nepal offered a welcome dinner reception in the honor of His Holiness at the Radisson Hotel. The large reception included many prominent people:
  1. Mr. Tempa Tsering, Representative, Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, New Delhi.
  2. Rev. Lochen Rinpoche, Chairman, Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association and Spiritual Head of Kaza Monastery.
  3. Ven. Chomphel Zopa, Member, National Commission of Minorities of Government of India.
  4. Mr.Tsering Samphel, Member, National Commission for Schedule Tribes, Government of India.
  5. Ven. Bayul Rinpoche
  6. Ven. Ayang Tulku Rinpoche
  7. Mr. Karma Tobden, Former Member of Parliament, Former Indian Ambassador and retired IAS
  8. Mr. Sherab Tharchin and Mr. Sonam Damdul, Kagyu Member of Parliament, Tibetan Govt. in Exile Dharamsala.
  9. Mr. Tamdin La and Mr.Topden Tsering,Welfare Officer, Tibetan Samyeling Colony, Majnukatilla, Delhi.
  10. Mr.Gaden Lhari, President, Denzong Lhadey Tsogpa, Sikkim.
  11. Representative of Joint Action Committee of all Sikkim Buddhist Organizations.
  12. Mrs. Tseten Norbu, Manager, Air India.
  13. Dr. Manoj Kumar, General Secretary, India Tibet Friendship Society, Delhi.
  14. Col. V.S.Verma, General Secretary, Tibet Study Group. Delhi.
  15. Mr. D.S. Negi, Retired IAS.
  16. Representatives of Kagyu Monasteries in India and Nepal:


  1. PhulhariKhenpo Sherab Gyaltsen
  2. Phenchen MonasteryLhakpa Chophel
  3. Thrangu MonasteryKhenpo Lobzang, Tashi Tsewang
  4. Dilyak MonasteryKarma Rabgye
  5. Palngya MonasteryLama Obug
  6. LegshyelingKhenpo Namgyal
  7. Chakme MonasteryKarma  Sonam
  8. Samtenling MonsateryZamling
  9. Tsongni MonasteryNamdul
  10. Techenling MonasteryKarma Zopa
  11. Thrangu Tara NunneryAni Tsomo, Ani Karma Dolma, Ani Pema Dolma, Ani Kardo
  12. Thechokling NunneryAni Dechen Palmo, Ani Samten Tsentsok
  13. Karmapa Sewa SamitiKarma Phuntsok, Tashi Galay


  1. Lhaday TsokpaLhari Gaden
  2. Joint Action CommiteTashi Dadul, Bharat Tenzing
  3. Palchen Choeling MonasteryChazod Sherab Tarchen, Chutrimpa Karma Dawa
  4. Rumtek SangaDr. Drubgye
  5. Nalanda InstituteNagwang Woden
  6. Rumtek Lay CommitteeDaychang Lama Chap
  7. Phodong MonasteryChutrimpa Lama Jigme
  8. Ralang MonasteryLama Jyamtso
  9. Rumtek Monastery (old)Lama Wanchuk
  10. Bermek MonasteryLama Orgen
  11. Kalu Rinpoche Monastery
  12. Bokar Nadon Chokhor MonasteryOmzi
  13. Palpung Sherab Ling MonasteryOmzi Kalzang Yeshey
  14. Gyuto Tantric UniversityChazod Jampe Gayatso
  15. Kagon Thupten Shedrub JanglhublingAyang Rinpoche
  16. Ripa Barma Samdrub Choekhor LingBakyod Rinpoche, Khandro Chime, Lhatso Ani Kunga, Gamo
  17. Nalanda International InstituteOgyen Samten Lingpa Rinpoche, Thamchoe Phuntsok
  18. Dupkar Thoesam DhargyelingMr. Tshering Dorje
  19. Jang Tara Norbu ChoelingKarma Zopa
  20. Dechen Choeku LingTrue Lhamo,  Achi Palmo Gerutshang
  21. Karma Shedup Phelgay LingLama Passang Dorjee
  22. Karma Drubgyu Dhargya Ling Trilokpur Nunnery 


Homecoming Welcome at Airport(June 3rd, 2008)

In the late hour at night, the New Delhi (Indira Gandhi International Airport) is jostling with many people eagerly waiting with scarf and banners expressing their warmest "home coming" welcome to the Gyalwang Karmapa from his successful historic first visit to America.
His Holiness was received by a large reception at the airport which includes many prominent persons;
  1. Ven. Chomphel Zopa, Member, National Commission of Minorities of Government of India.
  2. Mr.Tsering Samphel, Member, National Commission for Schedule Tribes, Government of India.
  3. Ven. Bante Vishwa Bandhu, Indian Buddhist Leader.
  4. Mr. Karma Tobden, Former Member of Parliament, Former Indian Ambassador and retired IAS.
  5. Mr. Sherab Tharchin, Kagyu Member of Parliament, Tibetan Govt. in Exile Dharamsala.
  6. Mr. Tamdin La and Mr.Topden Tsering,Welfare Officer, Tibetan Samyeling Colony, Majnukatilla, Delhi.
  7. Mr.Gaden Lhari, President, Denzong Lhadey Tsogpa, Sikkim.
  8. Representative of Joint Action Committee of all Sikkim Buddhist Organizations.
Later His Holiness retired at Radisson Hotel.

2008.6.3-5 結束圓滿成功的訪美之旅,法王噶瑪巴已平安返抵印度!His Holiness Karmapa's Return to India from America
His Holiness Karmapa's Return to India from America 


Buddhadharma: The Power of Unbearable Compassion

When we can no longer bear the suffering of sentient beings, says the Seventeenth Karmapa, we unleash our full potential to help others and ourselves.

Practices of loving-kindness and compassion are indispensable elements of all religious traditions. These are qualities everyone can practice, regardless of their religious affiliation or ancestry. In fact, training to develop loving-kindness and compassion provides a bridge between all religions and all the many parts of our global society.

I am a Buddhist, but I still have to live my life as a member of the larger world community and take full part in society, where Buddhism is not the only spiritual tradition. There are many different forms of religion and spirituality, and there are also many different types of people, including those who are inclined toward religious or spiritual approaches and those who are not.

Since our world community is so very vast and diverse, it is important for us to respect the entire range of religious and spiritual traditions, not setting ourselves up as “opponents” of any other tradition. The way to accomplish happiness in the world is to do meaningful work in one’s own life, with a positive motivation that sees all people and all traditions as equal.

Humans are set apart from other types of sentient beings by their ability to naturally connect with sharp intelligence and with nonviolence, loving-kindness, and compassion. From the moment we are born, we are constantly chasing after happiness, thinking of ways we can become happy and free from suffering, and we actively try to bring those desires to fruition. The propensities toward loving-kindness, compassion, and nonviolence we display in following this quest for happiness demonstrate what makes human beings unique.

For any species of sentient being to continue existing, the members of that species must have affection for each other and they must support each other. In order for our human community to survive, we must nurture and sustain connections of love, compassion, nonviolence, and altruism. These connections are what will allow us not only to survive, but to make our lives meaningful. If we concentrate on ensuring that these connections are present, that in itself will be enough.

All of the Buddha’s teachings are based on refraining from harming others and engaging in helping others. It is therefore of great importance for Buddhists to have these two principles as the ground of their practice. The roots of Buddhist practice are the attitudes of altruism and non-harm. In other words, the roots of Buddhist practice are loving-kindness and compassion.

Of these two qualities, compassion is foremost: in general, we develop loving-kindness by relying on compassion. In the beginning, therefore, compassion is more important. Our compassion must have a broad focus, not only including ourselves but all sentient beings.

Why must our compassion include all sentient beings? Because all sentient beings—oneself and others—want to be happy and free of suffering. This basic desire is the same for everyone. Nevertheless, most of the sentient beings we see experience only suffering; they cannot obtain happiness. Just as we have a desire to clear away the suffering in our own experience and to enjoy happiness, through meditating on compassion we come to see that all other beings have this desire as well. Other beings are not only worthy of our compassion, they are also what cause our meditation on compassion to be possible at all.

According to the Mahayana teachings of Buddhism, all sentient beings are our parents of the past, present, and future. This means that, of all sentient beings, some have been our parents in the past, some are our current parents, and some will be our parents in the future. There are no beings who are not, in the end, our parents. For this reason, all sentient beings have a connection of affection toward us. They have a connection of kindness toward us. But these affectionate and kind parents are trapped in a state of suffering, unable to actualize their desire for happiness. So it is crucial for us to begin meditating on compassion for them, in this very moment.

When we practice various kinds of meditations on compassion, it is not enough for us simply to feel a compassionate sensation in our minds. We must bring our meditation on compassion to the deepest level possible. To make our compassion as deep as possible, we must reflect on the suffering of sentient beings in all six realms of samsara, the wheel of cyclic existence. These sentient beings who are undergoing such intense suffering are the same beings who are our kind parents of the past, present, and future. In short, we are intimately connected with all of these sentient beings.

Therefore, since we are connected to all of these beings, it is possible for us to further our connection to them by bringing them benefit. The most excellent connection we could possibly make would be to cultivate the heart of compassion for them and to think of ways we can reduce their suffering. Reflecting on our connection to these beings, we must engender a level of compassion that cannot bear their suffering to endure any longer. This great, unbearable compassion is extremely important. Without it, we might be able to feel a compassionate sensation in our minds from time to time, but this sensation will not bring forth the full power of compassion. It cannot form the basis of a comprehensive practice.

On the other hand, once unbearable compassion takes birth in our hearts, we will immediately be compelled to altruistic action. We will automatically start thinking about how we can free sentient beings from suffering. Therefore, the way to develop altruism is through meditating on compassion. When our compassion becomes genuine and deep, our actions for the benefit of others will be effortless and free from doubt. That is why it is so crucial for us to deepen our practice of compassion until our compassion becomes unbearable.

Unlike our usual kind of compassion—meditating now and then on the general notion that sentient beings experience suffering—unbearable compassion penetrates and moves our heart. If we were to see someone trapped in a raging fire, we would not hesitate to assist that person. Right then and there, we would immediately begin thinking of and engaging in ways to extract him or her from the fire. Similarly, with unbearable compassion, we witness the suffering of all sentient beings of the six realms and immediately seek ways to free them from that suffering. Not only do we genuinely try to free them from suffering; we are also completely willing to endure any obstacles we may encounter on our path to freeing them. We are unfazed by complications and doubts.

All sentient beings have basic compassion. Even people we would generally consider ill-tempered have compassion; they simply have not brought their basic compassion to a refined level. If ill-tempered people did not have any compassion at all, it would be impossible for them to develop compassion by practicing on the path. All beings have compassion, but their door to the mastery of compassion has thus far been locked. So even though it may seem that some people have no compassion whatsoever, everyone has at least a small seed of compassion. That small seed can grow into great compassion; the potential we all have for great compassion can be made manifest.

Though the great, noble beings can let the full extent of their potential for compassion shine through, we ordinary beings cannot. Though we have the seed of compassion, we do not have the compassion we want. Precisely when we need compassion the most, we cannot access it; the door of our compassion is closed.

Even as we understand that loving-kindness and compassion are so important, we will also find it is quite difficult to fully and genuinely incorporate them into our experience. What prevents us from cultivating our heart of loving-kindness and compassion further is the mental afflictions, especially anger. Emotions such as anger inflict the greatest harm on our path to authentic compassion. For this reason, we must take an honest look at our emotions and ask ourselves, is this emotion benefiting me? Or is it of no benefit at all? We need to engage in a detailed, introspective analysis. If our investigation reveals that these negative emotions are of no benefit, the vital next step is for us to take a similar outlook toward our emotions altogether, all the time; we must see problems as problems, shortcomings as shortcomings.

Let us consider the example of anger. The Buddhist teachings contain rich descriptions of the shortcomings of anger. They describe how anger and aggression produce a slew of unpleasant results, both in the immediate future and in future lifetimes. While some of those teachings might seem to apply only for those who actually believe in the existence of future lifetimes, the buddhadharma’s descriptions of the shortcomings of anger are still relevant for those who do not hold this belief. When we become angry, our face changes and we take on a frightful appearance. We become unattractive to others; even those who are close to us find it difficult to be around us. Since anger in us instills fear in others, it greatly hinders our relationships.

When we clearly see the shortcomings of anger and the positive qualities of loving-kindness, our practice of loving-kindness and compassion becomes strong and we feel delighted about training in these qualities. When we are delighted about training in these qualities, we exert ourselves all the more strongly. When we exert ourselves more, the results we experience also become much more powerful. Being able to discern what is beneficial and what is faulty, therefore, is very important.

Without such discernment, our compassion can become susceptible to the same old habits. Perhaps, when trying to practice compassion, we are treated angrily by someone. We habitually respond by looking at that person in a negative light and resenting him or her. But if we have a deep understanding of the problematic aspects of our negative emotions, and can see them to be like illnesses, we will no longer see aggressors who harm us as bad in themselves. Rather, we will understand that these aggressors are not acting out of their own free will; they are afflicted by the illness of their own negative emotions. Once we are freed from resentment in this way, we are free to grow our loving-kindness and compassion limitlessly, without obstacles.

There are many other obstacles that can prevent our practice of compassion from reaching its full power. From among all of these adverse conditions, one of the foremost is jealousy. Jealousy can rob us of our freedom and interrupt loving relationships between people. Jealousy occurs when we cannot tolerate others being happier than we are. When we continually feel we need to have others below us and have no one equal to us, that is jealousy. When we are controlled by jealousy, we only feel comfortable when others come to us for assistance; we only feel at ease when others are looking to us with hope. We cannot stand being in situations where others have something that we need.

Moreover, in this era many people in society feel that these manifestations of jealousy are justified. Many people seem to believe that when we have competitive attitudes toward others, and when we want to vie aggressively against others for some reward, this is not only acceptable but to be encouraged.

To make our compassion strong and to make our seed of compassion ripen, we need the path. When we enter the path of compassion, we begin to connect with the compassion we need in order to help others, and beyond that we begin to develop the compassion we need in order to attain enlightenment. We already have compassion, wisdom, and many other positive qualities, yet our mental afflictions are far stronger than all of these most of the time.

It is as if the afflictions have locked all of our positive qualities away in a box. One day, we will open that box and all of our good qualities will spring forth. We will see that we do not have to go looking for our compassion, trying to get it or buy it somewhere. It is not available for purchase anywhere in any case. What we will discover is that compassion is present in our minds spontaneously. At that point, a wealth of excellent qualities will become immediately available to us.

One of the ways that people in Tibet generate compassion is by visualizing the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, and reciting his mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM. I have memories of my mother’s mother from when I was young reciting the mantra of Avalokiteshvara all the time. Even though she was blind, she continued to recite mantras with great diligence. She always had a cheerful demeanor and smile, as if she didn’t have any problems at all. She always maintained a graceful and dignified presence, and the gaze of her eyes was like that of a normal, seeing person. Such is the power of practicing loving-kindness and compassion. The great affection for and continual supplication to the bodhisattva of compassion was a binding force for our family. My grandmother passed it to my mother, and my mother passed it to me, and I am passing it to you, like an heirloom or an inheritance. My family was not wealthy in a material way, so this is what I have to offer as my main family heirloom.


Buddhadharma: On Becoming Karmapa

In anticipation of his historic first visit to the West, I had the honor of traveling to India to interview His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa. I met him at his hotel in New Delhi, as he was en route to his home in McLeod Ganj. Since I had received instructions and transmissions from his predecessor, the Sixteenth Karmapa, in my early days as a Buddhist practitioner, this interview had great meaning for me personally. I found the Seventeenth Karmapa to be a young man of extraordinary self-possession. Striking physically, he was direct but self-contained, and his smile had a touch of wryness. Our interview was conducted through an interpreter, and though His Holiness did not speak any English during the half hour or so we were together, he followed carefully and seemed to comprehend my questions as I asked them. This interview affords us a rare insight into the style, priorities, and aspirations of this young teacher and lineage holder who is now beginning what I’m sure will be a long and important role in Buddhism in the West.
—Melvin McLeod, Editor-in-chief

Melvin McLeod: Could you tell us about the Buddhist training that you are receiving?
His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa: Since I was young, I have had the opportunity to study and practice dharma. I have been fortunate to receive dharma teachings from many qualified masters. As a result, I can say that I now possess some small understanding of the dharma and its many facets. What is most important is to use one’s study of dharma texts to bring oneself closer to the dharma itself. This is something that each person must do for themselves, and it is what I am concentrating on, what I am putting my main effort into. First, you feel that there is some gap between yourself and the dharma. Then you strive to make that gap smaller, to bring yourself nearer and nearer to dharma.
What do you feel you have to do to fulfill your role as the present Gyalwang Karmapa? Is it to achieve this unity between yourself and the dharma that you are talking about?
In the past, I made the effort through dharma practice to bring together the one known as Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje and the one called Apo Gaga, my given name as a child. When I was younger, I was not able to unify them perfectly. Now, however, I believe that for the most part, Karmapa and I are one. At least, what is connected with Apogaga has lost its strength, while Karmapa’s enlightened activity has grown stronger. So now, whatever I think and do, for the most part it is from the perspective of Karmapa and fulfilling his purpose.
However, when you ask, “What is it precisely that the Karmapa must actually achieve?” that is a difficult question to answer immediately. The reason is that the Karmapa has made aspiration prayers to bring comfort and happiness to all sentient beings, and how a Karmapa actually does that is difficult to describe in any concise or limited way. What I can say is that I try to refrain from thinking of my own benefit, and instead, I try in whatever way possible to bring comfort, happiness, and good qualities to others.
Do you feel that as a teacher you will focus on the traditional teachings and practices of your lineage, or will you try to play a wider role by promoting values such as peace and compassion to a more general audience?
In the twenty-first century, if a dharma practitioner only thinks about things from a Buddhist perspective, it is a sign that one has not analyzed the situation well. That is not very beneficial. It is very important that dharma be harmonious with the larger society in which one lives, that it be humanitarian. Therefore, I do not rigidly confine my own dharma practice to the rules dictated by any one particular tradition. Instead, I practice whatever from different traditions is clearly beneficial. I believe that others should practice in this way as well. I do not have the personality to be able to practice dharma only according to one tradition’s rules and regulations.
What, then, is the message you will bring to the wider audience?
I think that we need to take a good account of the seeds that we sow. When a farmer plants seeds that produce a good harvest, everyone is happy with that result. Similarly, we must consider the importance of the seeds that we plant. We must have respect for that process.
In general, we human beings work in different ways. We have different religious and philosophical traditions, and we put them into practice in different ways. So there may be one particular set of rules that a certain group of people follows, and we must accord them respect. However, looking at it from the perspective of there being many different kinds of people with many different backgrounds, we can see that it would be very difficult to make everyone follow one single set of rules.
Therefore, I believe that we must respect the traditional approaches, but at the same time we can look at each person individually and see what practice would be best for them. We have a wide range of practices to select from, so it is certainly possible to find the way of practicing that best suits a particular individual and is in harmony with their own goals, situation, and culture.
That is the best way to go. Different people are like different pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. People are made differently, appear differently, and think differently. We have to find what fits each individual; we cannot just force each person into one general style or way of doing things.
As well as your traditional Buddhist training, are you also studying modern secular topics, such as world history, geography, languages, science?
I’ve noticed that you often speak directly to young people, people of your own generation. Do you feel a special mission to address their spiritual needs?
I have not really thought along those lines before, of saying something exclusively to young people. Nevertheless, one could observe that youth is a major period of development. It is the time when people grow, both physically and mentally. Some of that development might go in a positive direction and some in a negative direction, but whatever development it is, it is difficult to put a stop to it. At the same time that people grow, however, they also take on responsibility. People may think and act in different ways, but if we can all take responsibility for things, that is very good.
Do you mean responsibility in the Mahayana sense, taking responsibility for the well-being of all sentient beings?
Yes. One must start by taking responsibility for oneself, then for those who are close to oneself, then for one’s community.
In addition to the broad spiritual and social issues that you intend to address, will you also be performing your traditional role of transmitting the teachings of the Kagyu lineage to committed Vajrayana practitioners?
This is something that proceeds from the lineage. When we have a lineage for these teachings, things go very well. Therefore, I am endeavoring to do this in the context of our lineage of these teachings.
Your Holiness, thank you very much.

We would like to thank ARI GOLDFIELD for his help in retranslating and editing this interview.

Sunday: Final Day of Public Events(Sunday, June 1, 2008)

His Holiness Karmapa in America (Journal Entries)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Today was the final day of public events for the historic first visit to the United States of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje. In the morning, His Holiness bestowed the empowerment of Avalokiteshvara upon a gathering of nearly 3,000 people at Seattle’s Paramount Theater and offered a riveting teaching on love and compassion. In the afternoon, His Holiness gave an equally inspiring talk on saving the world and respecting the environment through understanding the interdependent condition of all members of the global community. Also in the afternoon, His Holiness granted a blessing audience to Seattle-area children and their parents. The last event of the day was a farewell ceremony at Nalanda West at which His Holiness expressed his heartfelt gratitude to all who made his first visit possible. His Holiness expressed his great delight at what he commended as a highly successful and well-organized first visit. After thanking the government of India, the government-in-exile of Tibet, and the government of the United States, His Holiness expressed his sincere aspiration to return in a timely way to the United States so that he may continue fulfilling the wishes of his many students here.

Buddhadharma: The Karmapa in America

This May His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is making his historic first trip to the United States. Unlike the Dalai Lama, another teacher whose position has been inherited through the ancient tulku system of reincarnate lamas, the Seventeenth Karmapa is not yet well known in the West, even in the Buddhist community, although his daring escape from Tibet eight years ago was widely covered in the Western press.
Since the Karmapa is only twenty-two years old and has not yet traveled extensively, his relationships with the wider world are just beginning. Those who are familiar with the line of the Karmapas, and those who met his predecessor, the Sixteenth Karmapa, during his visits to America, feel this visit will be historic and meaningful for Buddhism in the West. They expect the Seventeenth Karmapa, like his predecessors, to be a teacher who makes an impact.
According to Robert Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and founder of Tibet House, “The Seventeenth Karmapa will represent Tibet and Buddhism in a really wonderful, twenty-first century way. He will expand the contribution that Tibet makes to the world in a time of conflict, nationalism, racism, and religious fanaticism.”
The Karmapa’s role, Thurman says, is twofold: he is charged with carrying on one of the four major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, the Kagyu, and, like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he is also a spokesperson for the message of Buddhism altogether.
Mick Brown, a reporter for The Daily Telegraph in London, is delighted that the Karmapa has finally been able to leave India and travel to the West. Brown sought out the Seventeenth Karmapa in the summer of 2000, not long after his arrival from Tibet in January of that year. A book about the Karmapa and his journey, The Dance of 17 Lives, emerged from the conversations Brown undertook with the then fifteen-year-old Karmapa and a number of Kagyu teachers.
“I was knocked backwards by his presence and his composure,” Brown told me of his first meeting with the Karmapa. “It was arresting and kind of nervous-making, really. He was certainly unlike any fifteen-year-old I’d ever met. Of course, part of that can come from the expectation you have of meeting him and the protocol that surrounds an important figure, but nevertheless he definitely had a gravitas beyond his years.
“On our third or fourth meeting, though, he showed me some of his paintings, which were colorful and playful, not religious depictions of bodhisattvas, and I was charmed by that. He was childlike in that instance, and I was charmed by this one moment when he didn’t seem like someone so much older than his years.”
His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, could be quite playful and childlike, as many discovered when he visited the United States in 1974, 1976, and 1980. He was first hosted by Kagyu teachers who had begun to take students in the West, including Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche, and then by Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, in Woodstock, New York, his North American seat. These visits were whirlwind affairs, with large groups of monks and fellow teachers journeying to Disneyland, the Capitol Building in Washington, Hopi Indian lands, pet stores (the Sixteenth Karmapa was very fond of finches), and untold numbers of venues large and small.
Thousands of people, including Buddhists from a variety of traditions, took part in the renowned Vajra Crown, or Black Crown, ceremonies held in a variety of cities. The Vajra Crown’s shape, color, and ornamentation represent a variety of dharmic principles, and it is said to be modeled after a crown seen in a vision over the first Karmapa’s head. At the moment when the Karmapa places the crown on his head, it is said that the transmission of the Karmapas’ realization is shared by everyone taking part.
These events were glorious, festive, and ordinary. When I took part, I was a young student of the dharma—equal parts impressionable and skeptical—and what struck me about the Karmapa was how he carried himself as an ordinary person, and how he greeted you as if you were his long-lost friend. I could tell that he knew and embodied all the elaborate dharma I had been studying, and yet he was so easygoing, and wore his great understanding so lightly, that I surely could have introduced him to my mother, for whom Buddhism was the pinnacle of all that was exotic and strange.
Michele Martin, a Tibetan translator and Buddhist author, knew the Sixteenth Karmapa well and has been getting to know the Seventeenth since he moved to India. In 2002 she wrote Music in the Sky, a book about his life, art, and teachings. “What’s quite amazing about the Karmapa,” Martin told me, “is his ability to be deeply rooted in a traditional Buddhist world and to nurture those traditions, and at the same time relate to the modern world in a very skillful way. He’s able to be in both worlds at the same time. This is vital, because we need the depth and the wisdom that’s passed along in the lineage, but we also need it to be adapted to a modern context, and he’s uniquely qualified to do that.”
To understand the kind of responsibility the Karmapa holds, it’s helpful to place his role in the context of Buddhism in Tibet. The current Karmapa is regarded as the embodiment of the very first Karmapa, who lived in the twelfth century and traced his practice lineage back to the tenth-century Indian yogi Tilopa. How did we get from there to here?
For thirteen centuries, Buddhism developed, expanded, and flourished in the high elevations and protected valleys of Tibet and the surrounding Himalayan region. Imported from India, the Vajrayana, or tantric, yogic form of Buddhism that took root there seemed to suit the rugged nomadic culture. Tibet became home to thousands of monasteries and mountain retreats. Traveling tent cities carried the dharma across the countryside, and the equivalent of universities of Buddhist studies developed intricate commentarial traditions. The variations in the path were, and are, manifold, owing to differing Indian sources and the crazy-quilt landscape of Tibet, which fostered powerfully independent communities.
Over the centuries in Tibet, Vajrayana Buddhism established many systems to ensure that its teachings and practices would reliably continue from generation to generation. The Vajrayana gives paramount importance to transmission from teacher to student by word of mouth and direct instruction. So each of the many schools and sub-schools passed their teachings on through an intricate hierarchy. In many cases authority was vested in tulkus, reincarnate lamas whose rebirth was chosen with the intent of carrying on a tradition. After the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, the most well-known tulku is the Karmapa.
The Gyalwang (“Victorious”) Karmapa is responsible for ensuring that the teachings and practices of the Kagyu remain intact and that what is practiced today leads to realization as surely as it did for those who practiced it a thousand years ago. According to the history that every Kagyu practitioner knows, the lineage began with the spontaneous insight of the wild Indian yogi Tilopa, who passed his realization on to his principal student, the scholar Naropa, who passed it on to the Tibetan translator and farmer Marpa.
Marpa’s principal student was the cave-dwelling ascetic and Tibetan national hero, Milarepa, whose principal student was Gampopa, a monk and physician who established the first Kagyu monastery. Gampopa had many students and is the source of several lineages, but his most significant student was Tusum Khyenpa, the founder of the Karma Kagyu, whose contemporaries gave him the title Karmapa, meaning “the man of Buddha activity.” He dubbed the lineage he founded “the practicing lineage,” to emphasize that without vigorous application, no amount of learning will bring about results.
Tusum Khyenpa established many monasteries, including Tsurphu, near Lhasa, which was to become the seat of the Karmapas for more than seven hundred years. It was also Tusum Khyenpa who decided that the best way to ensure the continuation of the lineage was to give a letter to his principal student instructing him how to find his future incarnation, who would be installed as head of the lineage after a period of regency. The second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, became the first formally recognized tulku, creating a system for maintaining continuity of the teachings that became widespread.
The various Tibetan lineages are not isolated from one another. Teachers from different schools study with each other, and students are encouraged to be familiar with teachings from a variety of sources. What lineage supplies is a systematic path and methods of training, rather than an ideological home to reside in. The various Karmapas throughout history were supported in their work by many other teachers within the Kagyu family, as well as a number from other lineages. In that way, they developed a rich textual and liturgical tradition, containing many cross references and quotations from multiple sources.
The most prominent of these great spiritual works expound the teachings of Mahamudra, the “Great Seal,” which is said to be both the pinnacle of the Kagyu path and the thread that runs through it from beginning to end. While explanations of the meaning of the term “Mahamudra” abound, it is said to refer to the fact that since all of reality is buddhanature, it is “sealed” with the mind’s true nature, luminosity-emptiness. The experiential meaning of Mahamudra is beyond words, but Tilopa offered a pithy summation: “Mahamudra mind dwells nowhere.”
Such simplicity is born from extensive training, study, instruction, and practice. It is the Karmapas’ role to ensure that the transmission of the practicing lineage remains fresh and intact, not so much by being a good leader, though this is important too, but mainly by embodying the spirit and realization of Mahamudra’s true meaning. The stories of the many Karmapas—who were variously poets, artists, scholars, musicians, and calligraphers—demonstrate that the Mahamudra realization can manifest in a great variety of guises.
The twentieth century tested the strength of the Karmapa lineage as never before. The Sixteenth Karmapa was born in 1924 and recognized shortly thereafter according to instructions from his predecessor. At the age of eight he was enthroned at Tsurphu, but before long it became clear that political trouble would threaten the way of life that had been sustained in Tibet for a thousand years. As it says in Empowerment, a book created to commemorate the Sixteenth Karmapa’s first visit to the United States, he “had the heavy task of sustaining the meditative legacy of the Kagyu order through the dissolution of the society which supported it for hundreds of years.”
In 1954, the Sixteenth Karmapa accompanied the Dalai Lama to China. The Karmapa was becoming very concerned about Chinese activities in Tibet, and in 1958 he made the bold decision to escape to India through Bhutan, bringing with him a large party of monks as well as many precious ritual objects and texts. In 1962, at the invitation of the royal family of Sikkim, he founded Rumtek Monastery, near Gangtok, as the seat of the Karmapas. He spent much of the rest of his life consolidating the position of the Kagyu lineage on new soil and helping to expand it throughout the world. He returned to the United States in 1981 to be hospitalized in Illinois, where he died.
The Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, was born on June 26, 1985, to a nomad family in eastern Tibet. His given name was Apo Gaga. At the age of seven, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the Sixteenth Karmapa. In 1992, the Dalai Lama officially confirmed this recognition, and in an unusual move, the Chinese government issued an official certificate accepting the Karmapa as a reincarnate lama and head of the Kagyu lineage. As has happened in the past, this tulku recognition was not without controversy. Since 1994, another claimant for the title of Seventeenth Karmapa has received some support in the Tibetan Buddhist world and from some Western Kagyu adherents.
From 1992 to 1999, the Karmapa underwent traditional training and education at Tsurphu and also oversaw the rebuilding of the monastery, which had been severely damaged during the early period of Chinese occupation. Despite the apparent support, it became clear over time that the Chinese government would not allow the Karmapa access to the teachers and teachings he would need to fulfill his role as the Karmapa. So he resolved to leave Tibet.
On December 28, 1999, the Karmapa pretended to go into retreat, but instead he dressed in civilian clothes and began a trip by car, foot, horseback, helicopter, train, and taxi. Seven days later he arrived in Dharamasala, India, and was greeted by the Dalai Lama. Yet another Karmapa had emerged into the wider world.
Since that time, the Karmapa has been living at Gyuto monastery, near Dharamsala, where he has continued his training and education, including studies in English, Chinese, and traditional Western subjects. Tibetan teachers put great store in the training system for a tulku. Recognizing a child as an incarnate lama is only to recognize the potential for development and realization believed to reside there. The proof of a tulku’s power and influence comes from his own developing realization, which is aided by the work of many teachers, most of whom have studied with the previous incarnation.
In addition to his studies, the Karmapa has begun to take on many aspects of the Karmapa’s leadership role. He has been interested in reviving traditional forms of monasticism, so he has brought back the practice of monks carrying begging bowls and not eating after noon. He also recently declared that Kagyu monasteries outside of Tibet would change to a vegetarian diet. As well, he has also taken a strong interest in publishing and in seeing that the full range of the liturgical tradition of the Kagyu is practiced, which has made it necessary to reinstate some practices that had fallen into disuse. Meanwhile, the continued existence of another claimant to the title of Karmapa remains the source of legal proceedings in the Indian courts. At stake is the ownership and control of assets of the Kagyu lineage, including Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim and sacred objects brought by the Sixteenth Karmapa from Tibet. However, the overwhelming majority of senior Kagyu teachers and Kagyu practitioners internationally recognize Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the Seventeenth Karmapa.
Since coming to India, the Karmapa has welcomed many visitors from around the world and is offering teachings on a regular basis. Michele Martin, who has had many opportunities to meet with the Karmapa, says that “The Karmapa knows the Western frame of mind very well and understands that the circumstances and time commitments of Westerners differ from what he was familiar with. He also speaks from a personal perspective, which is very common for Westerners, but quite atypical for Tibetans. He directs his answers to the context of the person he’s speaking with. He is also attentive to the nuances between different English words.”
Mick Brown feels the Karmapa is getting ready to fill big shoes. “It seems apparent,” Brown says, “that the Karmapa eventually will have the same kind of leadership role as the Dalai Lama. Whether he will fill it in quite the same way as the Dalai Lama, or have quite the same purpose as the Dalai Lama, remains to be seen. But from my small encounter with him and from what everybody else says, he’s clearly a very charismatic figure and is emerging as an eloquent and wise teacher. That will be projected onto a much wider stage, the world stage. That’s why it’s significant and exciting that he is now finally allowed to travel the world. It’s time for him to come to America.”
Robert Thurman agrees with Brown’s assessment and thinks the Karmapa is well-suited to the task that lies ahead. “Many dharma students in the West will be interested in the Karmapa,” Thurman says. “For one thing, he’s a great lama, but also many people knew his previous incarnation. He had a great impact, and this Karmapa will grow into someone capable of communicating to the larger world, as the Dalai Lama has done. He also has to reach way beyond people who are simply interested in Tibetan Buddhism. The new Karmapa can do that. He strikes me as someone who is inspired by non-sectarianism and dialogue with all sorts of people, not with signing people up to become Buddhists.”
Martin says that the Seventeenth Karmapa also has great concern for young people and the world they will inherit. But the most striking feature, according to Martin, is that he is willing to be blunt. “What’s really quite wonderful,” Martin says, “and what will appeal particularly to younger people is that he’s very honest and he’s very direct. When there are faults, he just points them out. He’s so straightforward that there’s a sense of really being able to trust his word. It’s what the Tibetans call danzig, or speaking the truth. In an age of double talk, cynicism, and spin, he’s just totally the opposite, and I think that will really be a magnet for people.”