By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, ET Bureau | 3 Apr, 2014, 05.54AM IST
"It is quite possible that political situation in China will change considerably, which will result in a rethink on Tibetan issue within Chinese Communist Party."
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa or head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, has for the first time slammed Beijing’s totalitarian rule in Tibet and come out in open support of Dalai Lama’s middle-path approach, or ‘meaningful autonomy’ to resolve the Tibetan crisis. In an interview with ET’s Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury in New Delhi, the Karmapa who has lived in exile in India since 2000 when he was just 14, expressed hope that a change in political situation in China will soon make the communist country change its policy towards Tibet, Edited excerpts:
There has been a fresh round of self-immolations in Tibet in protest against China’s rule and in demand for more rights. Do you support this method of protest?
Tibet is under Communist China’s totalitarian regime. Unlike democratic India, there is no religious freedom there. Many Tibetans, including the illustrious heads of the different sects of Tibetan Buddhism, had to flee to India following the Cultural Revolution.
The spate of self-immolations reveals the the underlying tension that has been simmering for decades due to China’s misguided policies in addressing the grievances and resentments of the Tibetan people. These are symptoms of a broken and wounded people desperately crying out for the restoration of their cultural identity, and religious and human rights.
Do you support the Dalai Lama’s call for meaningful autonomy for Tibet, or the ‘middle-way approach’? Do you think Beijing will heed the demand?
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, is my spiritual and temporal leader and has been like a father figure for me in Dharamsala. I unequivocally support the middle-way approach advocated by the Dalai Lama.
He is the one and only leader who would provide leadership in this momentous task, not just in this life but in future lives as well. It is the shared responsibility of all Tibetans to preserve the Tibetan religion and culture and uphold the Tibetan identity. I am committed to the well being of the Tibetan people. I regard it as my duty and responsibility to support the religion and culture of Tibet.
I am totally committed to the middle-way approach. It is quite possible that the political situation in China will change considerably, which will result in a rethink on the Tibetan issue within the Chinese Communist Party. Additionally, the power of the aspirations and compassion of the Dalai Lama is virtually limitless.
It is the hope of all Tibetans to see the Dalai Lama return to Tibet safely and for Tibet to enjoy peace, happiness and the freedom to practice religion and culture.
You have been living in India for more than 13 years now. How do you feel in exile?
India is my second home. The Tibetan culture and religion has flourished in India’s open, free and welcoming atmosphere. India has given refuge to the Dalai Lama and to many Buddhist lineage heads that have set up monasteries around the country when many other nations did not have the courage to do so.
Tibetan Buddhism, culture and the Tibetan way of life thrive in India. India has not only saved Tibetans and their way of life from extinction but also enabled us to draw inspiration from this holy land of the Buddha and take Buddhism to distant parts of the world. I have nothing but gratitude for the Government of India since my arrival.
Could you please elaborate on the historical linkages between Tibet and India for our readers?
Tibet was as independent nation from ancient times right up to 1951. During this period Tibet was in full control of its external and defence policies. It maintained strong religious, cultural and trade ties with India. The common border was open and peaceful, allowing not only the free movement of goods and people but also the flow of some of the finest thoughts of human civilisation.
Hindus and Jains revere Mount Kailash and Mansarovar Lake in Tibet as places of holy pilgrimage. Tibetans regard India as the Holy land of Lord Buddha and aspire to make a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya. Buddhism came to Tibet from India. Along with Buddhism came much of the Tibetan language and the Tibetan script, which was derived from ancient Indian scripts.
What made you flee to India when you were just 14?
I had to receive oral teachings of the Karmapa Lineage which have been passed down in an unbroken chain from India since the time of Lord Buddha. The origins of my lineage are in Nalanda whose great scholar, Naropa, received the teachings from his teacher, the Mahasiddha Tilopa. The Karmapa lineage is deeply rooted in India.
1600 - 1699 Tibet Buddhist Lineage 21.50cm (8.46in) high Metal Collection of Private
In the right hand he holds a garland of beads across the knee. In the left hand he holds a flower blossom. In a relaxed posture Avalokita sits on the back of a cow - also depicted as if resting atop a grassy knoll. This sculpture was created by the 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje based on a night time dream. There is no Indian or Tibetan textual model for this form of Avalokiteshvara. It is simply the creation of a work based on the inspiration of a dream.
On the occasion of Kyabje Jamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche’s 60th birthday, His Holiness Karmapa, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, monastics and lay practitioners gathered on the lawn in front of Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnath to celebrate with long life prayers for Tai Situ Rinpoche followed by tea and cake. It was a gentle and joyous afternoon party. Kyabje Jamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche’s main birthday celebration took place on the same day in Bodh Gaya.
The International Buddhist Confederation invited the Gyalwang Karmapa to give a day of teachings on Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi, in the lovely and intimate theater of the Sri Sathya Sai International Center. On the stage, a painting of Milarepa hung behind the Karmapa’s chair, flanked by bouquets of lush white flowers. After a welcome by Lochen Tulku, the well-known Buddhist singer, Vidya Rao, sang the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit, the Buddha’s words arising and sinking back into silence, evoking the ancient link of Buddhism and the land of India.
In the beginning, the Karmapa emphasized that since it would be difficult for us to imitate the life style of Milarepa, we can emulate Milarepa’s great qualities of complete renunciation, a sincere motivation, and great determination. We should not leave Milarepa’s life example on the page of a book, but incorporate it in our lives, making it present in our own experience.
Engaging a more scholarly discussion of the dates for Milarepa, the Karmapa explained that they are calculated based on the dates for Gampopa, which are clear and certain. Then dividing Milarepa’s life story into two parts, the worldly and the spiritual, the Karmapa began with the first one, narrating the early life of Milarepa: how his aunt and uncle stole his inheritance; how he, his mother and sister were forced into servitude; how Milarepa learned and practiced magic; and how he had remorse for the killings and destruction he had perpetrated. The Karmapa noted that in sending her son off to learn sorcery, Milarepa’s mother was following the worldly custom of supporting your friends and relatives and defeating your enemies. In turn, Milarepa was fulfilling his worldly duty by accomplishing the wishes of his mother. Further, he accomplished his spiritual goal of full awakening through his deep devotion, his one-pointed conviction, and his unrelenting determination.
Milarepa’s determination is legendary as he remained steadfast on his chosen path through tremendous difficulty. The Karmapa told the story of how Milarepa’s sister Peta came to see him in the wilderness and was ashamed of his destitute condition. But Milarepa was not concerned about how others saw him. Knowing what he had to do, he was uncompromising: No one could draw him away from his intention. Similarly, we should know what the essence of our life is and follow it without swerving: We must travel our own path.
If we do not, we could wind up like the elderly couple with an old donkey. First, both of them were riding it, but people said, “The poor old donkey! Look how they are mistreating it.” So the elderly man rode while the wife led the donkey. But people said, “Look how he makes his wife walk while he rides.” So they both walked. Then people said, “How stupid they are! Both are walking when they have a donkey to ride.” If we live in a society, we have to be aware of others and our surroundings, but if we try to please everyone, we won’t be able to live our own lives.
Milarepa’s spiritual journey began when he felt remorse for the destruction he had caused and wished to purify himself. First, he went to a Nyingma teacher, but was not able to benefit from his teachings. The lama told him, however, that he had a karmic connection with Marpa the translator and that he should go to look for him. When Milarepa finally found Marpa, he did not welcome his new student with open arms, and further, set before him a series of very difficult tasks, building and rebuilding a series of towers. Today, we could not even imagine going through such emotional and physical hardships and would probably wind up hiring a lawyer and taking Marpa to court. It was Milarepa’s unswerving faith and devotion that allowed him to accept Marpa’s way of teaching.
The morning’s talk was followed by a question and answer session. One woman asked: “We are told that mind is everywhere, and we are also told that there is no mind. How to reconcile these two statements?” The Karmapa replied that from one perspective, the wisdom (yeshe) of the Buddha is all-pervasive. There is not one phenomenon that it does not pervade. Expanding this thought, the Karmapa said in English, “The Buddha is not a person or individual. He is a kind of quality or wisdom.” From another perspective, mind (sem) apprehends what is appearing to our ordinary senses. When we say that there is no mind, it does not mean that nothing happens or that things do not appear. It means that things are not truly existent. In our confusion, however, we take what appears to us, the mind and its objects, to be real. But actually what manifests is illusion-like, mere appearances; there is no truly existent mind.
After a lunch break, Neten Chokling’s film, “Milarepa” was screened and then the Karmapa unveiled and released two new books: The Kangra Valley, My Spiritual Journey, by Rinchen Wangchuk and Northern Frontiers of Buddhism, by Benoy K. Behl.
The Karmapa began his afternoon talk by reprising the theme of faith and devotion, which were so powerful in Milarepa. Even though he might have been depressed or upset at times, Milarepa’s core devotion did not falter; he never gave up. And he also questioned himself: Is it that Marpa lacks compassion? Or is it my negative actions that have created this situation?
Some people have called Tibetan Buddhism “lamaism” because of its focus on devotion to the teacher. But we should remember that a special characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism is that it incorporates all three vehicles, the hinayana and mahayana as well as the vajrayana, which are practiced in sequence. That said, the role of the lama is key and we should know why. “Lama” is how the Tibetans translated the Sanskrit word “guru,” which means weighty with qualities, the way a tree is laden with ripened fruit. In brief, “lama” means a spiritual guide or master.
But the words are not as important as the way we experience a teacher. Do we sense that the Buddha is far or near? Is he some mythological figure in a distant land? Actually, the Buddha was born as a human being some 2,500 years ago. It’s important to remember this, and also to know that since we cannot meet the Buddha now, we can relate to our teacher as the Buddha in a human form. We can appreciate their qualities and know that they are acting for our benefit.
The Tibetan word for devotion, mogu, is made up of the two first syllables of two words: mo pa, which means “longing” or “yearning” and gu pa, which means “respect” or “eager for” and refers to devoting not only our mind, but the movements of our body and speech to the goal of becoming fully awakened. This is not half-hearted, thinking, “It’s OK if I get enlightened, and if I don’t, well, that’s not so bad.” We should have the constant longing and the steadfast courage of Milarepa. It is not enough to just offer incense to the Buddha; we must have the goal to become the Buddha ourselves.
Tomoe along the path of practice, it is crucial to know who we are. Are we good or bad? We may not know for sure. Pretending to know who we are when we don’t is a real difficulty. We may think we are a good person, but that may not be true. We could be like someone who is watering a flower, and from the outside, this looks like a good thing, but actually, the person is pouring hot water on the flower. For ourselves and others, this fake good person could be more dangerous than someone, or some part of ourselves, that we know to be negative. So it’s important to examine ourselves carefully.
The Karmapa concluded his talk with a summary. We do not need to imitate the life style of Milarepa, but through training, we should seek to develop his qualities of perseverance (or determination), discipline, patience, and wisdom, so that the example of his life does not remain a fiction but becomes an integral part of our lives. This is the inner meaning, the essence of Milarepa’s life story.
After I graduated from college in 1971, I had the good fortune to travel overland from London to India. I had celebrated at Woodstock and marched on Washington, but that first Asian pilgrimage was the real turning point of my life. Over time, I would find and meet many -- if not most -- of the saints and enlightened masters (Hindu and Buddhist) of that era.
One day in 1973, in the foothills of the Himalayas at a hillside monastery outside Darjeeling, one of my friends surprised me by asking, "Have you seen your picture in the window of the photo studio in town?" I hadn't. He encouraged me to go see it: "It shows your first meeting with the glorious Sixteenth Karmapa, and his thousand-watt smile."
The next day, with the snowy Kanchen-junga (Five Sisters) mountain range filling the Northwestern horizon; I took a thrilling 90-minute jeep ride on the narrow, winding, landslide-prone, potholed road linking the Indian plains at Siligiri to the tea plantation-hill station of Darjeeling. The Das Photo Studio in town provided photos of various Buddhist teachers as well as colorful deity and mandala paintings. In the shop's window was a beautiful, framed color photo of His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa (Buddha) Karmapa, beaming like the sun, his golden-crowned head and smiling face right before mine, face-to-face, tilting toward me in a fatherly way and blessing me with his hand atop my head.
There was just one small but significant problem. My bushy "Jewfro" and sixties beard intruded directly on what Mr. Das ironically called "the perfect smiling Karmapa portrait -- except for your big head!" He did kindly give me a copy of the "ruined" photo, which I still keep pressed flat in an old Darjeeling Dharma-notebook. It remains one of my cherished possessions.
That was my first encounter with the legendary and miraculous Sixteenth Karmapa (1924-81), Rangjung Rigpai Dorje -- which translates as "the Self-Existent Diamond Thunderbolt of Innate Wisdom-Awareness." He was the grand lama of the Kagyu lineage and the 16th incarnation in the oldest line of reincarnated spiritual masters -- an unbroken line stretching back 900 years. He had escaped from Tibet, along with many monks and followers, just before the complete Chinese conquest of that beleaguered country in 1959. His Holiness Karmapa took up residence in Sikkim, renovated an old monastery at Rumtek, and soon became renowned as one of the most extraordinary spiritual masters of the twentieth century. He established meditation centers, monasteries, nunneries and study institutes all around the world, as well as hospitals, schools and infirmaries.
HH played a crucial role in bringing the ancient tantric Vajrayana (Diamond Way) teachings to the western world and was the spiritual guide to hundreds of thousands of people during his lifetime. He was known for his miraculous powers and psychic abilities as well as his remarkably powerful presence and inspiring example. He was truly an enlightened Buddhist meditation master, a sage, saint, teacher and abbot, all in one. His followers said that he could talk with birds and other animals. He appeared and blessed, taught and empowered, healed and helped us in countless ways: in dreams, in visions, in meditation and in reality. He precipitated enlightenment experiences and other epiphanies and spiritual breakthroughs in the hearts and minds of his disciples, me included.
His Holiness rarely gave detailed text-based teachings, at least to us Westerners, although he and was always a powerful, edifying and empowering influence. He radiated such marvelous awakened energy and sacred presence that he helped to forever transform my life. He seemed to directly pour some elixir-like "piece" of himself into each of us, without allowing that sacred spiritual energy to be adulterated by our conceptual minds, personalities or other such obstacles.
Through the realization of his innate Buddha Nature, the Sixteenth Karmapa reflected our own innate Buddha-ness. So many people, including the most erudite Tibetan scholars, were astonished by his direct, intimate, irresistible and inexpressible mind-to-mind, heart-to-heart spiritual resuscitation -- so rare in this world today, so subtle, esoteric and even legendary, if not mythical. I believe that is precisely why almost everyone he knew or ever met seemed to instinctively look up to and be awestruck by him, regardless of their tradition, beliefs or background. Most people, including important lamas, felt that he could see right through them. Some even felt intimidated.
His Holiness was a world teacher of timeless universal truth in the modern world. Many of his well-developed disciples helped bring Buddhism, meditation, Tibetan yoga and mindfulness to the Western world during the Sixties and subsequent decades, such as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the pioneering lama and founder of Naropa University. In 1981, during one of his several world teaching tours, the Karmapa passed away at a hospital in Illinois, which only affirmed his heart-full embrace of all beings, East and West, as his family. The attending physician cried when he saw the marvelous signs and omens around the Karmapa's body for the three days following his last breath. His Holiness continues his universal mission of compassion and enlightenment as the youthful Seventeenth Karmapa as well as via his many students and other emanations.
I can never forget my Lama. He is always with me, in me, of me, closer than my own breath, blood, heartbeat. We are all Karmapa (Buddha) at heart. It's so close that we overlook it; seems too good to be true, so we can't believe it. Our only mission? His mission: To recognize and awaken to this fact, to our true Buddha-nature, for the benefit of one and all -- for a better world and future to be possible, right now, right here.
Experiencing the awakening presence of a sacred master is difficult to comprehend and harder to explain. I feel I "meet" him in my morning meditation practice, through the chants and prayers he taught. The true guru never dies: He or she is a principle, an archetype -- not limited by mortality. I carry him in my heart; he carries me and us all in his. Thus, he never died.
One night in 1981, not long after he departed from this dewdrop-like world, the Sixteenth Karmapa appeared to me in a luminous, clear light dream when I was in the middle of a three-year, three-month, three-day retreat. He softly proclaimed, "I am always with you. Each of you will be with me through all my lifetimes. I belong to you, and you belong to me. We shall never be parted."
Returning today to his temporary residence at Gyuto Monastery, close to Dharamsala, the Gyalwang Karmapa successfully ended a period travel in North India where gave many teachings and led various dharma activities, including at some of the holiest Buddhist sites in the world.
Beginning in November 2013 he taught students in Delhi at the request of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and then later presided over the 5th annual Khoryug conference on environmental protection. Moving across to Bodhgaya he then took up residence at Tergar Monastery for over 2 months, where he first led the 17th annual Kagyu Gunchö debates for monks, including daily teachings for several weeks.
For an intense two weeks in early January 2014, still in Bodhgaya, he next led over 10,000 people through the 31st Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, including giving two sets of teachings, and personally performed in an unforgettable Guru Rinpoche lama dance. In late January 2014 the Gyalwang Karmapa historically presided over the 1st Arya Kshema Winter Gathering for Kagyu Nuns, teaching for a further 10 days.
After giving several empowerments and teachings to the Tibetan and Himalayan communities of Delhi during early February 2014, the Gyalwang Karmapa then spent 1 month at Vajra Vidya Monastery in Sarnath, near Varanasi, the seat of his main tutor Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. There he spent Losar or the Tibetan New Year, gave a Spring Teaching and led numerous pujas, including special lamp prayers for the wellbeing of all those connected with the missing flight MH370.
Returning to Delhi in late March 2014, the Gyalwang Karmapa taught there in early April at the request of the International Buddhist Confederation, the peak umbrella body representing Buddhists worldwide.
The Gyalwang Karmapa’s various activities over this period reflect both his stature as a respected Buddhist leader, as well as his personal commitment to environmental protection, the promotion of full opportunities for nuns, and his deep connection with the Buddhist peoples of India.
Historically the Karmapa incarnations are well known for travelling constantly throughout Tibet and surrounding areas, choosing to spend much of their lives on the road and meeting with their many disciples in the places they lived.
The Gyalwang Karmapa now resumes his regular daily schedule at Gyuto Monastery, with audiences for the general public taking place at 2.30pm each Wednesday and Saturday afternoon.
Gangtok: As the lone Lok Sabha constituency in Sikkim goes to poll on April 12, the Buddhist minority want their Karmapa to his seat in Rumtek monastery while the Nepali communities, which form almost half of the populace, seek tribal status.
With less than 30 per cent of the population, Buddhists are the largest minority in the Himalayan state. All the six candidates for the seat are promising to try to enthrone the Karmapa in Sikkim.
Karmapa is a spiritual leader of the Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism and is waiting to be enthroned in Rumtek monastery, the largest and most important seat of Buddhism in Sikkim.
Citing security concerns, the union Home Ministry has restricted Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the Karmapa, to travel to Sikkim.
"He is our guru and should be here with his disciples. No one should politicise religion and stop Karmapa from coming here," Sonam Dorjee Lama of Rumtek monastery said.
The ruling Sikkim Democratic Front's (SDF) candidate and sitting MP Prem Das Rai has promised to pursue the issue with the Centre and bring the monks their guru.
Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM)'s Tek Nath Dhakal says the people of the state have given enough time to SDF.
"We want the right Karmapa to come here," he says but refuses to comment on the controversy whether Ogyen Trinley Dorje or Trinley Thaye Dorje should be regarded as the 17th Karmapa.
Although they are not being considered as strong contenders, the Congress, BJP, Trinamool and Aam Aadmi Party have also fielded candidates for the seat.
There are 3,70,731 voters in the constituency including 1,79,650 female voters. None of the six candidates are however women.
Polling would be held in 538 booths with the Election Commission deploying more than 3,200 polling personnel. Lok Sabha and Assembly elections would be held simultaneously on April 12. Granting of tribal status is also an issue here.
As per the recommendations of the Burman Committee, the SDF government is on a mission to make Sikkim a tribal state. They have already accorded tribal status to Tamang and Limboo community.
This time they have also promised reservation of seats for them in the State Assembly. 12 seats are already reserved for the Bhutia-Lepcha community.
All the remaining communities of Sikkim like Bahun, Chettri, Rai, Gurung, Newar, Manger, Bhujel, Jogi, Sanyasi, Sunuwar, Yakha, Dewan, Mukhia, etc will be accorded scheduled tribe status as per the Burman Commission recommendation and Sikkim would be granted a tribal state status, promises sitting MP Prem Das Rai who will be defending his seat.
Emptiness and interdependence—they’re more than concepts; they’re key to realizing real-world benefits in our lives. HIS HOLINESS THE KARMAPA helps us put our wisdom into practice.
How do you relate to this infinite ground of possibility that your life is built on? How can you create a meaningful life within whatever shifting circumstances you find yourself?
Buddhist thought devotes a great deal of attention to these questions. The view that life holds infinite possibility is explored using the concepts of “interdependence” and “emptiness.” When you first hear the term “emptiness,” you might think this suggests nothingness or a void, but actually “emptiness” here should remind us that nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything is embedded within a context—a complex set of circumstances. Those contexts themselves are endlessly shifting. When we say that things are “empty,” we mean they lack any independent existence outside of those changing contexts. Because everything and everyone is “empty” in this sense, they are capable of endless adaptation. We ourselves have the basic flexibility to adapt to anything, and to become anything.
Because of this, we should not mistake emptiness for nothingness. On the contrary, emptiness is full of potency. Understood correctly, emptiness inspires optimism, rather than pessimism, because it reminds us of the boundless range of possibilities of who we can become and how we can live.
Interdependence and emptiness show us that there are no fixed starting points. We can start from nothing. Whatever we have, wherever we are—that is the place we can start from. Many people have the idea that they lack what they need in order to start working toward their dreams. They feel they do not have enough power, or they do not have enough money. But they should know that any point is the right starting point. This is the perspective that emptiness opens up. We can start from zero.
In fact, emptiness can be compared to the concept and function of zero. Zero may seem like nothing, but as we all know, everything starts from it. Without zero, our computers would collapse. Without zero, we could not start counting from one up to infinity. In the same way, from emptiness, anything and every- thing can manifest itself.
Anything can come into being because there is no fixed way for things to be. It all depends on the conditions that come together. But this fact that anything is possible does not imply that life is random or haphazard. We can make anything happen, but we can only do so by bringing together the necessary conditions. This is where the concepts of “emptiness” and “interdependence” come together.
Every person, place, and thing is entirely dependent on others—other people and other things—as a necessary condition for its existence. For example, we are alive right now because we are enjoying the right conditions for our survival. We are alive because of the countless meals we have eaten during our life. Because the sun shines on the earth and the clouds bring rain, crops can grow. Someone tends to the crops and harvests them, someone else brings them to market, and yet another person makes a meal from them that we can eat. Each time this process is repeated, the interdependence of our lives links us with more and more people, and with more and more rays of sun and drops of rain.
Ultimately, there is nothing and no one with whom we are not connected. The Buddha coined the term “interdependence” to describe this state of profound connectedness. Interdependence is the nature of reality. It is the nature of human life, of all things and of all situations. We are all linked, and we all serve as conditions affecting each other.
Amid all the conditions that affect us, in fact, the choices we ourselves make and the steps we take are among the most important conditions that affect what arises from our actions. If we act constructively, what comes into being is constructive. If we act destructively, what results is destructive and harmful. Everything is possible, but also everything we do matters, because the effects of our actions reach far beyond ourselves. For that reason, living in a world of interdependence has very specific implications for us. It means our actions affect others. It makes us all responsible for one another.
Living this Reality
I realize this presentation might initially seem abstract, but emptiness and interdependence are not abstract principles. They are very practical, and have direct relevance when you are thinking about how to create a meaningful life.
You can see interdependence at work by looking at how your own life is sustained. Is it only through your own exertions? Do you manufacture all your own resources? Or do they come from others? When you contemplate these questions, you will see very quickly that you are able to exist only because of others. The clothes you wear and the food you eat all come from somewhere else. Consider the books you read, the cars you ride in, the movies you watch, and the tools you use. Not one of us single-handedly makes any of these things for ourselves. We all rely on outside conditions, including the air we breathe. Our continued presence here in the world is an opportunity made possible entirely by others.
Interdependence means we are continually interacting with the world around us. This interaction works both ways—it is a mutual exchange. We are receiving, but also giving. Just as our presence on this planet is made possible by many factors, our presence here affects others in turn—other individuals, other communities, and the planet itself.
Over the past century, we humans have developed very dangerous capabilities. We have created machines endowed with tremendous power. With the technology available now, we could cut down all the trees on the planet. But if we did so, we could not expect life to go on as before, except without trees. Because of our fundamental interdependence, we would all experience the consequences of such actions very quickly. Without any trees, there would not be enough oxygen in our atmosphere to sustain human life.
You may wonder what this has to do with the choices we make and how we live our life. That is simple: We all need to take interdependence into account because it influences our life directly and profoundly. In order to have a happy life, we must take an active interest in the sources of our happiness.
Our environment and the people we share it with are the main sources of our sustenance and well-being. In order to ensure our own happiness, we have to respect and care about the happiness of others. We can see this in something as simple as the way we treat the people who prepare our food. When we treat them well and look after their needs, only then can we reasonably expect them to take pains to prepare something healthy and tasty for us to eat.
When we have respect for others and take an interest in their flourishing, we ourselves flourish. This can be seen in business as well. When customers have more money to spend, businesses do better. If we wish to flourish individually and together as a society, it is not enough for us to simply acknowledge the obvious interdependence of the world we live in. We must consider its implications, and reflect on the conditions for our own welfare. Where do our oxygen and food and material goods come from, and how are they produced? Are these sources sustainable?
Relating to Reality
Looking at your experience from the perspectives of emptiness and interdependence might entail a significant shift in how you understand your life. My hope is that this shift can benefit you in practical terms. Gaining a new understanding of the forces at work in your life can be a first step toward relating positively to them.
My purpose in raising these issues is certainly not to terrify you by confronting you with harsh reality. For example, I have noticed that some people are uncomfortable when they are told that change is a fundamental part of life, or that nothing lasts forever. Yet impermanence is just a basic fact of our existence—it is neither good nor bad in itself. There is certainly nothing to gain by denying it. In fact, when we face impermanence wisely, we have an opportunity to cultivate a more constructive way of relating to that reality. If we do so, we can actually learn to feel at ease in the face of unexpected change, and work comfort- ably with whatever new situations might occur. We can become more skillful in how we relate to the reality of change.
The same is true of interdependence. Seeing life from this perspective can help us develop skills to relate more constructively to reality—but just knowing that we are interdependent does not guarantee that we will feel good about being so. Some people may initially find it uncomfortable to reflect that they depend on others.
They might think this means they are helpless or trapped, as if they were boxed in by those dependencies. Yet when we think about being interdependent, we do not need to feel it is like being stuck in a job working for a boss that we did not choose but have to deal with, like it or not. That is not helpful. We should not feel reluctant or pressured by the reality of our interdependence. Such an attitude prevents us from having a sense of contentment and well-being within our own life. It does not give us a basis for positive relationships.
Interdependence is our reality, whether we accept it or not. In order to live productively within such a reality, it is better to acknowledge and work with interdependence, wholeheartedly and without resistance. This is where love and compassion come in. It is love that leads us to embrace our connectedness to others, and to participate willingly in the relations created by our interdependence. Love can melt away our defenses and our painful sense of separation. The warmth of friendship and love makes it easy for us to accept that our happiness is intimately linked to that of others. The more widely we are able to love others, the happier and more content we can feel within the relations of interdependence that are a natural part of our life.
In 1999, at the age of fourteen, the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, made a dramatic escape from Chinese-controlled Tibet. As leader of the Kagyu school of Vajrayana Buddhism, he is unafraid to talk about the environment, vegetarianism, and the role of women—and how Buddhist institutions can align themselves more with the modern world on these issues. Since his escape, the Karmapa has made two trips to the West. Gyuto Tantric University in Dharamsala, India, is his home base. http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4036&Itemid=0
The bodhisattva’s commitment to the benefit of others manifests in the practice of the six perfections. But as the 17th Karmapa explains, even the ultimate virtues have a dark side we must be wary of.
The classic text The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva belongs to the Mahayana (the Great Vehicle) tradition of Buddhism and is based on the Madhyamaka (the Middle Way) school of philosophy, which advocates the use of analysis to attain clear understanding and omniscient wisdom. It encourages the practice of the sixparamitas, or perfections: generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and deeper knowing or superior intelligence. But when misunderstood, these perfections can have a darker side, which is metaphorically called a “demon.”
If those aspiring to enlightenment give even their body away, What need is there to mention outer objects? Therefore, without hope of return or a good result, To be generous is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The first of the six perfections is generosity. Many religions and spiritual paths agree on the importance of giving, because we can all see that this benefits others directly. For Buddhism, in particular, being generous is important because it directly counteracts our attachments.
When we help others, we should do so with an intelligence that is able to analyze the situation. True generosity requires some wisdom—a clear understanding of ourselves who are giving, what we are giving, and to whom we are giving. If we give using our intelligence, then generosity benefits both ourselves and others. We should not give just for the sake of giving or from an old habit. Further, in the process of giving, we should not become distracted, for losing our focus diminishes the scope and effect of our activity. When we are generous and wise, our giving benefits others and also helps us to deepen our practice as we move along the path.
If lacking discipline, we can't even help ourselves, Wishing to benefit others is just a joke. Therefore, to maintain a discipline Free of desire for samsara is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The downside of the perfection of discipline is called "the demon of austerity"—taking on discipline as a hardship and making it into a struggle. Done right, discipline is taken on joyfully and with a clear understanding of why engaging in it is good. For example, many people nowadays have given up eating meat. Why would we do that? We should not become vegetarian just because someone says we should, or because the Buddha taught that we should not eat meat, or because it is the custom where we live, or because giving up meat would give us a good reputation. If we give up eating meat for these reasons, it might be better not to do it at all, because our decision is not sincerely motivated.
In the beginning, we have a certain feeling about not eating meat. Then we can ask ourselves questions, such as what are the real benefits? After careful consideration, we become certain that this is the right thing to do. Our answer has to come from within, inspired by real conviction, so that when we do give up eating meat, it does not become a hardship or a struggle but something we do with joy and intelligence. It is the same with any discipline in spiritual practice. Whatever we give up or whatever we do, we should first feel a connection to the practice and then be very clear why we are doing this and not something else. When we act this way, our discipline becomes very inspiring.
For bodhisattvas aspiring to a wealth of virtue, Anything that harms is a treasury of jewels. Therefore, never turning aggressive or angry, To be patient is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The third perfection is patience, which also has an obstacle, called "the demon of too much struggling" or "too much forbearance." Patience, like generosity and discipline, should not be too extreme, but should arise freely through our understanding. When we have love and compassion, we naturally understand why the afflictions occur and do not struggle to be patient.
For example, when sick, some people keep on struggling with the illness and refuse to take any treatment. That is excessive forbearance. In general, we should not put up with everything or do everything that anyone asks us to do. Enduring too much has the drawback of giving others the opportunity to do negative things. We could also be too patient with our own afflictions. Excessive forbearance is also a problem because we must clearly know the reasons for what we are doing and not just blindly continue without reflection, especially if it concerns something we find objectionable. Otherwise, if without reason a person told us to eat something obnoxious, we would do it without thinking. It might not be easy for us, but we can immediately say, "I will not do that." This is not a problem but the proper way of practicing patience. It must be a response that comes from deep within.
If Hearers and Solitary Realizers for their benefit alone Practice diligence as if their heads were on fire, To develop diligence, the wellspring of all qualities That benefit every being, is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The demon of diligence is struggling or pushing too hard. This is a problem, for true diligence means taking joy in doing positive things. Whatever practices we do should be done in a spontaneous and natural way. Essentially, meditation practice is about entering into the nature of suchness. It is not about beating ourselves up and forcing ourselves to do something. There is no need to strain and think, "I don't want to do this, but I have to." It should be a natural reaction, as if a fire were burning on our head. (This example in the verse refers to practitioners from the Foundational Vehicle, who are thought to have the more limited aim of freeing only themselves from samsara.) If our hair catches fire, we do not say, "I should probably get rid of this fire, but I don't want to." Nor do we turn it over in our minds, consult our teachers, conduct research, or send off a stream of letters. Without thinking, we immediately jump up and extinguish the fire effortlessly. True diligence happens with a lively interest and joyful spontaneity. We do something because we see clearly that it is important and essential.
A while ago, the BBC broadcast a program about birth, old age, sickness, and death. Watching it, I saw many people who were suffering and thought how much they could be helped by dharma if they really understood it. When I see millions of people suffering, I feel completely energized to do something about it. It is not a struggle or a matter of coercing myself to do something I don't want to. Diligence is really about our motivation: we feel totally absorbed and joyful in wanting to do something.
Knowing that deep insight fully endowed with calm abiding Completely conquers all afflictions, To cultivate a concentration that transcends The four formless states is the practice of a bodhisattva.
Meditation, the fifth perfection, has a demon called "attachment to experience." It is not easy to fully understand meditative experience. The verse refers to formless states of meditation, which are categorized as follows: limitless space, limitless consciousness, nothing whatsoever, and neither existence nor nonexistence. Much has been written about these, but they lie outside the main point here. What we need to know is that when we meditate, all sorts of experiences will come, both good and not so good. These experiences, however, are not important. Here, the key is the extent to which our meditation serves as an antidote to our afflictions. How many obscurations and how many afflictions have been subdued or cleared away? This is the true test of meditation, not what wonderful or special experiences we might have. In fact, if we become attached to these experiences, that is a problem.
Without wisdom the five perfections Cannot bring forth full awakening. To cultivate wisdom endowed with skillful means And free of concepts in the three domains is the practice of a bodhisattva.
Wisdom is the sixth perfection and its demon is the obstacle called "the demon of increasing poison." This obstacle is very serious, even monstrous, like an immense beast with nine heads. It comes up after studying, reflecting, and analyzing, when we reach a certain conceptual understanding and our afflictions are not too active. We find something our conceptualizing mind can seize upon and take pride in. One way our mind does this is through "concepts in the three domains," which relate to the three aspects of any activity: a subject, an object, and an action. When our mind conceptualizes like this in a very solid and concrete manner, our view becomes extreme. We are convinced that we have found the "right" way and we are proud of it.
This process resembles how the rigid views of people caught in the mundane world are developed. Nowadays, these stubborn positions are a great problem. And they also contradict progress as it is understood in the dharma: As we move along the path, inferior views are gradually surpassed by superior ones, until finally there is no view at all, nothing to be seized upon. Therefore, we should not go to an extreme and cling to one position as the truth. Our view of how things are is not something to grasp with a tight fist.
We might think, "I'm a Buddhist, and my Buddhism is the best. I can look down on others." When our intelligence takes this form, instead of reducing aversion and attachment, it increases them. We should not relate to others in such a way that we put them down and raise ourselves up; rather, we focus on developing our wisdom through listening, reflecting, and meditating. If it causes our afflictions to increase, wisdom turns into a demon. When our view or practice harms others, they run contrary to Buddhist teachings, for their very basis is to cherish all living beings in our heart. Developing wisdom through listening, reflecting, and meditating is central to Buddhism, but more important are living beings.
From Traveling the Path of Compassion: A Commentary on the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva by His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa (KTD, 2009), translated by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche and Michele Martin. Reprinted with permission from Karma Triyana Dharmachakra and Michele Martin.
In order to adequately care for the complex needs we humans have, ultimately what is needed is to be able to see into their inner dispositions and aptitudes. For this, nothing short of omniscience is required. However, His Holiness cautioned that we ought not to think that omniscience implies achieving a lofty birds-eye view of the world, or the ability to determine the exact number of insects on the planet at any given moment. Rather, omniscience is directly related to benefiting others. As such, the Gyalwang Karmapa suggested that we can aspire to attain a sort of omniscience within this life—an omniscience in which we come to know all the necessary topics, or know all that is directly needed to serve the purposes at hand.
Karmapa Lama, the third highest ranking Lama, speaks during an interview with Reuters in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala March 2, 2009. The Karmapa is a "living Buddha" with an iPod, a 23-year-old possible successor to the Dalai Lama who may bridge the gap between Tibet's elder leaders and both an alienated Tibetan youth and a suspicious China. REUTERS/Abhishek Madhukar
(Reuters) - He is a "living Buddha" with an iPod, the 23-year-old possible successor to the Dalai Lama who may bridge the gap between Tibet's elder leaders and both an alienated Tibetan youth and a suspicious China.
For the Karmapa Lama, who fled Tibet nine years ago to Indiaand is now the third highest ranking Lama, it is time for Tibetans to modernize to survive.
"Tibet ... has developed over many generations its own way of thinking, a way of living which is pretty much outdated," the Karmapa told Reuters in a rare interview at his home in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, the base of Tibetan exiles.
"There is a gap between the old Tibetan mentality and the youth of today ... that is a huge problem," he said through a translator. "I definitely feel I can be the bridge between the two."
This year, as the 73-year-old Dalai Lama marks the 50th anniversary of his flight from Chinese rule into exile, there is speculation he could pave the way for a successor.
It is the Karmapa, mixing youth, intellect and charisma, who is most talked about. Despite his classical Tibetan education, he stands out from his elders. He says he has an iPod, a play station and he enjoys "Indiana Jones" movies.
The Karmapa is also recognized by both Tibetans and Beijing, in contrast to the Dalai Lama who China criticizes as fomenting violent revolt.
"He's worked with the Chinese. The Chinese are not foreign to him," said Jeremy Russell, the Karmapa's English-language teacher. "He's not burning with resentment. He sees them as part of the landscape."
Monks searching for signs of a Lama rebirth chose this son of nomads as the 17th reincarnation of the Kagyu sect when he was seven. Many Tibetans see him as a living deity who passes on wisdom and teachings through generations.
His daring escape from a Tibetan monastery to cross the Himalayas by foot and horseback to India has also earned him the respect of exiles, including some radicals frustrated at the Dalai Lama's failure to win Tibetan autonomy.
"(He) chose to give up the privileges he would have enjoyed under the Chinese. His flight from Tibet made him a hero to the Tibetans and is seen as a deliberate act of opposition to the Chinese," said Tsering Shakya, a leading Tibetan scholar.
His followers say he is forbidden from talking about politics by the Indian government. But the Karmapa sees a growing role as an advocate for Tibetan rights.
"We are under a huge power, under the suppression of a huge power and the suppression is so extreme that sometimes we have no right, liberty to breathe in and out," the Karmapa said, referring to China.
During the interview, he occasionally rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders when the translator tried to direct talk away from politics, a sign perhaps of a young rebel under his maroon-colored robes.
Before he dies, the Dalai Lama traditionally will inform monks of his reincarnation and they will seek the child Lama. But Tibetans fear China will elbow in their own successor, as they did in the 1990s with the Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking Lama.
The Dalai Lama has suggested the idea of a regent, a spiritual leader who could take his place while a new Lama was groomed.
But the Karmapa -- again in a hint of rebelliousness -- said he might not want the job.
"Tibetan society today is a democracy, so each individual has rights and reasons to say what he feels and thinks. It is not compulsory for someone to follow what someone has said."
The Karmapa's upbringing -- he speaks fluent Chinese and writes Chinese calligraphy -- may allow him to mend bridges with Beijing.
"These learnings can help in creating a cordial understanding, relationship and providing a sort of situation for peaceful coexistence," said the Karmapa.
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After resting well for the past few weeks, in a sign of his steadily improving health the Gyalwang Karmapa presided over the first session of an annual Milarepa puja at Vajra Vidya Monastery.
The day marked the parinirvana anniversary of Milarepa, Tibet’s most celebrated cave-dwelling yogi, and one of the most important Kagyu lineage masters. His extraordinary life, famously spent meditating in remote caves and composing spontaneous songs of realization, continues to inspire practitioners to this day.
At around 8.30am, golden statues of the Kagyu founding masters Milarepa, his teacher Marpa, and his disciple Gampopa—together known as ‘Mar Mi Dag Sum’—were led in a procession around the shrine hall. A long, slow-moving line of monks, nuns and laypeople followed behind the statues as they completed a single circumambulation.
The Gyalwang Karmapa then entered the shrine hall, accompanied by Kyabje Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, and took his seat facing the same direction as the gathered sangha. With the sangha arrayed behind him, including students from the nearby Central University for Tibetan Studies, the Gyalwang Karmapa led those gathered through the sacred Milarepa guru yoga puja.
After the session the Gyalwang Karmapa retired to take further rest, on his doctor’s orders, while the rest of the day’s activities continued. They included a lunch feast for all, Milarepa ganachakra tsog offering, and afternoon tea offered by the Kagyu Relief and Protection Committee from the Central University for Tibetan Studies.
Face and voice of 21st century Tibetan Buddhism visits Europe
It is with great joy that Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike await the arrival in Europe of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.The young and charismatic leader of the Tibetan Buddhist Karma Kagyu school will visit Germany between 28th May and 9th June, 2014, on his first ever journey to Europe. The most important stops on this tour will be the European seat of the Karmapas in Langenfeld/Eifel, and the German capital, Berlin. The guiding theme of his fortnight-long programme is “The future begins now!”
During his German tour his programme will include both traditional Buddhist teachings and secular events concerning current social issues such as Buddhism and the environment, the significance of compassion in a globalised world, and an encounter with artists exploring the theme of freedom of thought. This youthful and charismatic Lama wants to address the young people of his own generation, in order to engender hope and faith in their future, at a time when the problems facing the world may often seem insurmountable and solutions rare.
The Karmapa is far from seeing himself as a religious missionary; rather he sees himself as a voice representing a source of ancient wisdom from the East in an intercultural dialogue with the modern world.
The 17th Karmapa is regarded by many as the future hope of the Tibetan people. He is venerated as the third most significant representative of Tibetan Buddhism, after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. Granted refugee status and hospitality by the Government of India, the 28-year old Karmapa lives in the immediate vicinity of the 14th Dalai Lama’s exile seat in Dharamsala, North India, and shares a very close relationship with the Tibetan spiritual leader . Fully supporting the Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way’ policy of keeping dialogue open with China, the Karmapa himself maintains an apolitical stance, taking no part in active politics. His focus, rather, is on how Buddhist principles such as wisdom, compassion and interconnectedness can be brought to bear on everyday life in the 21st century. He is critical of the culture of consumerism which dominates much of the world today, urging personal responsibility and active engagement for sustainability, and protection of the environment in light of climate change. He is an advocate of social justice and gender equality and a commentator on other pressing issues in society at large. Having heard of its reputation as an environmentally conscious country, he is especially eager to visit Germany. He is also looking forward to an exchange of views and experiences on major issues confronting society with members of other faiths, particularly Christian leaders. He hopes to exchange views and share experiences that could be beneficial for the daily lives of Tibetans, in exile as well as in Tibet itself.
Throughout the world, the Karmapa has attracted respect and support because he is known to be someone who “walks the talk“, not only advocating change but taking active steps towards the realisation of his vision. He has spoken out frankly about the destruction of the environment and the effects of climate change in his homeland, urging the international community to work together to protect Tibet’s fragile environment, since at least a third of the world’s population depends on water from the Himalayan region. This active commitment earned him the title of ‘Green Buddha’ when he visited the headquarters of the WWF in Washington in 2011.
As leader of one of the most important lineages in Tibetan Buddhism, the17th Karmapa embodies 900 years of tradition, yet his focus is increasingly set on the global challenges of the 21st century.
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