The Karmapa: Tibetan Buddhism's Next Great Leader? --Huffington Post

Posted: 07/30/11 08:00 AM ET  

Photo by: Rysiek Frackiewicz

At first look, His Holiness The Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa is intimidating. Well built, self possessed, and with a keen glance, he walks more like a middle weight boxer than one of the most venerated religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism. As the twenty-six year old moves around the room, his sly and playful side flashes occasionally as he teases his capable translator and raises an eyebrow with interest at an hors d'oeuvre nervously presented to him. Later, as he begins to share his perspective on individual spirituality and global concerns, a fully formed figure emerges - that of a powerful young man who is rapidly becoming a world religious leader.
HH the Gyalwang Karmapa is the 17th incarnated head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, that began slightly over 900 years ago. The Karma Kagyu school is one of four in Tibet, represents approximately 20% of Tibetan Buddhists, and has hundreds of monasteries and centers all over the world. All four schools of Tibetan Buddhism recognize the leadership of HH the Dalai Lama who the Karmapa recently joined in Washington D.C. for the Kalachakra gathering for World Peace. However he bristles at any talk of him being the next Dalai Lama: "I will not be the next Dalai Lama, That Is Impossible."
While it is impossible for the Karmapa to become the next Dalai Lama for the obvious reason of lineage, he has begun to command the spiritual resonance and political heft associated with his elder Tibetan spiritual leader. In the years to come, the Karmapa may play a crucial role in the central concern of Tibet - China. The Chinese government recognizes the Karmapa's legitimacy which may make him a powerful negotiating partner in that ongoing struggle.
The Karmapa frames the issue as a question of human rights:
"One of the things that the Chinese do not understand is that the Tibetans are seeking basic human rights - freedom of speech and freedom to practice our religion. The Chinese frame it as a political issue, but the Tibetans are not a political people."
His Holiness the Karmapa is quick to point out: "I am not anti-Chinese. I am a spiritual teacher and am working for the welfare of all sentient beings. I am not anti anything, including China. But I will advocate for the truth and I want the truth to be known."
Care for all sentient beings extends beyond the issues of the Tibetan homeland for the Karmapa. He has spoken about the need for equalizing the status between women and men in Tibet and within Buddhism, and is engaged in the conversation between science and Buddhist thought. But perhaps nothing has defined him so clearly as his interest in the environment. At a gathering of over 2,000 Tibetans in New York he surprised his audience by veering into a discussion around environmental concerns, a consistent topic of conversation for him which has earned him the moniker by some of 'The Green Buddha.' In 2009, the Gyalwang Karmapa convened two conferences on environmental protection for Kagyu monasteries and nunneries. The outcome of these conferences was a commitment from over 40 monasteries to put environmental protection into action by planting trees, protecting wild life, conserving water, organizing waste management, and adopting renewable energy sources.
When asked about what it is about Buddhist teaching that inspires his environmental activism, the Karmapa says that is an easy question:
"In Buddhism we aspire to benefit all sentient beings. If we have any opportunity to give happiness or well being then we take it with delight and enthusiasm. The environment is the source of life for not only human beings, but all living creatures in the world. Therefor if we respect and protect the environment we bring benefit to countless sentient beings. This is what in Buddhism we call practicing the perfection of skillful means. While we might be able practice generosity by giving a donation to a person in need, that is a very finite act of altruism. But if we protect areas such as the snow mountains of the Himalayas and the rivers that flow from them then we will be nourishing a source of life and vital support for countless fish, and humans and other beings. Caring for the environment is a wonderful opportunity for Buddhists to care for sentient beings - one simple action can benefit so many and is the essence of practicing the Mahayana quality of great compassion."
The Karmapa's role as a spiritual teacher is of special interest to the growing number of people in the West who are seeking Buddhist wisdom and Dharma, or teaching. A major question for many of these Buddhist practitioners is how to authentically understand and practice a tradition in the West that has such deep roots in the Tibetan plateau. The Karmapa does not gloss over the challenge:
"The Buddha's teaching were allowed to take root in Tibet in an isolated context, undisturbed, and almost in secret for over 1,000 years. Because they were not distracted by external busyness, the Tibetans were able to deeply immerse themselves in the teachings and develop very strong habits of the practice. The broad and open spaces of Tibet offered an environment where people could rely on the spiritual methods in a strong way. The West is different. In the distractions and crowds of the cities there is not as much time to practice spiritual traditions in same way, and so maybe there is a challenge to allowing the teachings of Buddhism to take root here in a deep way."
Following up on this discouraging remark, The Karmapa continued:
"On the other hand, maybe the busyness that we all contend with can be employed in a skillful way to help us lead more spiritual lives. In Buddhism we speak of the symbolic teacher of appearances, and that means that the phenomenon that we witness in our day to day lives can actually teach us deep lessons about the way things are and the inter-connectedness of all things. So if Tibetan Buddhism was the tradition that emphasized the quality of faith and derived great benefit spiritually cultivating that quality of faith, then perhaps Buddhism in the modern world and the western world will be a Buddhism that derives benefit from the quality of discernment and intelligence. So perhaps we will benefit more from relying less on faith and relying more on our intelligence. If we do that then I think that there is hope that the spiritual teachings of Buddhism can take root deeply in the modern world and in the West."



July 29, 2011 - Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, NYC

His Holiness the Karmapa's last public talk of His second overseas trip was held in Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, New York City, on July 29. The admission tickets were taken up quickly on opening day of the online ticket sale. On the day of the talk, many arrived at the lecture hall two hours early, intending to find a good seat in their designated area. Some arrived without a ticket, hoping to be lucky enough to attend the talk at the last minute. An article in that day's New York Times, "A Young Tibetan Lama Prepares for a Greater Role," no doubt stimulated interest in the talk among the public.
Before 7:00 p.m., the seven hundred seats of the two-story lecture hall were filled completely. There were also about two thousand and five hundred viewers on the live webcast, waiting eagerly for this concluding talk of His Holiness's visit. In the enthusiastic audience were Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Drupon Rinpoche, Tsewang Rinpoche, the president of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra,Tenzin Chonyi, the resident lama of Karma Thegsum Choling – New Jersey, Lama Tsultrim, Lama Tsultrim Allione, and other representatives from various Dharma centers. All were looking forward to this last opportunity of listening to what the Karmapa was about to say on the eve of His departure for India.
The following is His Holiness' speech:
Well, tomorrow I'm off to India once more, and so that makes tonight my last night in New York City, and I am very happy to see you all. It's wonderful that so many of you were able to gather here with such short notice and such little advertising of this event. I'd like to welcome you all and say, " tashi delek."
The current trip is my second visit to the United States. When I first visited this country I was very excited to be here, so much so that I wanted to come back as soon as possible. But it turns out that I had to wait about three years for the second opportunity to come here, and who knows when the third opportunity will arise? Nothing is definite, but still I have the sense that my third visit overseas will again will be to the United States of America.
In both cases of my first and the present visit, I have been very warmly welcomed by both the American government and the American people. I have a feeling of being around old friends when I am in the United States. There is a great feeling of warmth and friendship, and I am very grateful for this connection.
And in both the first visit and the second visit I have met with many people who have a connection with the previous Karmapa: the 16th Karmapa. So there is a feeling within me of reuniting with people with whom I had established a heart connection. There is a sense of continuity between the connections made by the 16th Karmapa and those made by the 17th Karmapa, and what this symbolizes for me, what this conjures for me in my mind, is some type of real confidence that love and friendship are very powerful forces that can remain from lifetime to lifetime. The connections and relationships that we make with other people through love and friendship don't just last for one lifetime alone but can endure from lifetime to lifetime and become evermore deepened. So this is the kind of confidence that meeting with you all has given me.
As Long As Space Endures, May We Too Be There For Beings
In traditional Buddhist practice there are ways of talking about the practice of great compassion and great love for sentient beings in which we use the metaphor of the sky and the planets, the stars, the sun and the moon to illustrate our commitment to be there with a heart full of love and compassion for sentient beings. We aspire that for as long as space endures, for as long as the sun and the moon remain in the sky, may we too be there with the heart of loving kindness and compassion to help sentient beings. May this connection between us and sentient beings remain.
And in my own personal contemplation, I often think of the moon as the keeper of love. So the moon becomes the metaphor or the symbol of the enduring quality of love and the connection between beings of loving kindness and compassion. Even though one may not be physically present with other sentient beings, those beings can look up into the sky and see the moon, and through that connection be able to feel the love that you have for them. We mutually can feel the love that we have for each other regardless of whether we are physically present, regardless of how much time has passed since the last time we saw each other.
So these are the types of aspirations that we make in the Buddhist practices of loving-kindness and great compassion, and I think that if we make this aspiration with a completely pure motivation, then this type of aspiration can really have an effect. It's no longer just a symbolism that you are working with, but it's really true.
When I was asked to give a talk here tonight, I told the organizers to simply select whatever topic they wanted me to speak about, and then I would then speak about that. And I was doing this with the thought in mind that they would go easy on me and select an easy topic. But the topic that they selected was "compassion and the true nature of mind," which is a very difficult topic. So I thought they would take it easy on me but they gave me a hard topic instead. I really should be looking around the room at the organizers so that I could give them a dirty look right now, but in any case I will do the best I can to say whatever comes to mind about this.
Emptiness Is An Opportunity, A Gap, Or A Space In Which Anything Can Occur
From the time I was young onwards, I have always had certain admiration for the way that Americans approach life. I've always regarded the United States as a place where in a very unique way relative to other countries and regions in the world one can really chose one's future path, that one has a great amount of choice over what one will do in the future and a great amount of permission to do whatever one is inspired to do with oneself and one's future path. There is a great sense of self-determination and discernment and intelligence in this American approach to choosing one's future.
And I think that this is really harmonious with the Buddhist views in general of emptiness and dependent origination or dependent arising. When Buddhism talks about emptiness, it is not talking about a type of non-existence whatsoever, but rather the teachings on emptiness point to the notion of possibility, that anything can happen. The teachings on emptiness are about a fundamental sense of opportunity that is a part of reality, a fundamental presence of a gap or a space in which anything can occur. So this is the basic notion behind the Buddhist teachings on emptiness and dependent arising. And these teachings on dependent arising are present in all of the different vehicles in Buddhism, both the greater vehicle and the foundational vehicle.
Appreciate Sentient Beings, And Be Concerned About Their Happiness
At the same time none of us can live our lives independently without depending on others at all. None of us have complete control over what will happen in our lives, because everything is interdependent upon everything else. So all the phenomena in our lives are dependent upon other things and are interconnected with other things, whether we are thinking about our own happiness versus our own suffering or whether we are thinking about becoming famous or gaining more freedom and control over our lives. All of this is dependent upon other phenomena.
So at each stage of relationship that we enter into with other things in our lives, there is an opportunity for us to establish a positive connection in that relationship. Since all of the things that we relate to are mutually dependent, then it's very important for us to try and establish positive connections, harmonious connections that will bring about improvement towards the good.
And because these interdependent connections exist between ourselves and all sentient beings, in particular it's very important for us to try to develop the heart of love and compassion in relationship with others. In our relationships with others, there is both benefit and harm. We could concentrate on the harm that has been done to us by other sentient beings, but there's really not much profit that we can gain from that if we focus exclusively on the harmful relationships that we have or the ways in which others have harmed us.
Conversely, if we focus on the beneficial connections between us and other sentient beings, then that's something that can really bring a profit or benefit to us. It can help us increase our appreciation in our heart, increase our loving kindness and compassion. So, I think it's very important for us to focus on our interdependent relationship with others from a positive angle, appreciating the benefit that other sentient beings provide us and also paying attention to the happiness of other sentient beings.
Respond In A Positive Way With The Motivation Of Love And Compassion
One example that we can look at is to see how interdependence can play out in a relationship. The exchanges that happen between partners——maybe there is one partner who has a particularly strong habit of getting angry, and they may get angry very frequently and express this anger to their partner. Due to that, their partner may develop a habit of becoming angry at their partner's anger. And then they return anger to the anger that is expressed to them, and as a result the anger just increases and increases and increases and things get more unpleasant.
So what we should try to do in moments like that is to shift our response and try to transform our response so that it becomes a response that is more intentional and more directed in a positive way with the motivation of love and compassion. We can try to look at things from a different angle in order to do this.
Actually, your partner who is showing this anger to you is not in a situation of being in full control of themselves; they are controlled by their own disturbing emotions. They are in a certain kind of situation, they come from a certain kind of background that has led them to this point of responding in this way emotionally. So there are various reasons why they come to express anger towards us, and they are not in full control of themselves when they do. That's an important point we can keep in mind. This can help us do something different in our response to that.
If someone were to hit us over the head with a stick, we wouldn't get angry at the stick, we'd get angry at the person who hit us. And in the same way if our partner expresses anger towards us, we shouldn't get angry at our partner because they are under the sway of disturbing emotions and ignorance towards the true nature of things——that is the root of that anger. So thinking in this way, we can gear our response in a fresh way from a more positive angle and see these moments of anger as opportunities to teach our partner something new, as opportunities to shift the trajectory of the relationship in a more positive way. If we can do that, respond in new ways like that, then I think we can really stand a chance of transforming our relationship in a positive way.
Seeing how the other person really is powerless, really is in a state of having no freedom and no control, we can become more concerned about their welfare than our own temporary comfort, and we can be in the moment with that.
So becoming more concerned about the other person's welfare is very simple, it's not complicated, it's simply reflecting on how this other person who is behaving in an aggressive way is actually powerless, they are actually under the power of something else. If they were doing this completely of their own free will and being in complete control of themselves, then maybe we could blame them. But that's really not the case.
When we see this, we can come to value the welfare of others more and more. This is very important for us to try to invest a lot of energy into looking at things in this way and into seeing relationships in this way, and it's also very important to be relaxed when we do so. If we can relax and take a calm look at the background that's making the person behave in this way, then this is very important and can help us to transform our response.
In sum, the heart of compassion is when we give rise to a desire or a state of mind that wants to free sentient beings, to extract sentient beings from a state of suffering, and at the same time, compassion is a readiness to expand upon whatever happiness sentient beings already have, so that they can enjoy more and deeper forms of happiness.
Cultivation of Compassion Involves Practices in Stages
And we work on these mental attitudes in stages, so that they can increase further and further. We start by reflecting on how in terms of our own desires, we only desire to be free from suffering and enjoy our own happiness. And just starting with that simple acknowledgement, we can expand the circle of that awareness further and further, in stages.
The first step is to acknowledge to yourself that your own parents and family and immediate friends also have the same desires to be free from suffering and to enjoy happiness; that is their most fundamental desire. And then in stages you can expand the circle of your attention beyond that to recognize how everyone connected with your family and friends also wants only to be happy and free of suffering, and eventually you can become aware of all sentient beings having this same desire.
In this way, your contemplation and your level of attention can become very vast in relation to sentient beings and can give rise to a strength of heart that wishes to free sentient beings from suffering and nurture the levels of happiness that sentient beings can enjoy.
It's Situation By Situation In Developing Further The Readiness To Help
We may set too high of a bar for ourselves when we contemplate Buddhist teachings about working for the benefit of all sentient beings. I don't think it's really possible to arrive at a time when you'll be able to say to yourself that you are now accomplishing the benefit of all sentient beings. It's more a matter of dealing with what's directly in front of you in terms of the experiences of happiness and suffering that you——and the sentient beings you are connected with——are going through.
I think you can meet situations of suffering with an open heart and a readiness to do whatever you can to reduce the suffering of sentient beings, to free sentient beings from suffering. Or in the same way, be ready to do anything you can to further the happiness of any given sentient being that you meet and to engage in this kind of conduct with a heart of joyfulness, cheerfulness and delight. This is really the meaning of accomplishing the benefit of all sentient beings.
So it's basically situation by situation and developing further the readiness to help, developing further this heart of wanting sentient beings to be free of suffering and to enjoy happiness in whatever situation they are in at the present. I think that's what 'accomplishing the benefit of all sentient beings' really means. I don't think that phrase means we are going to accomplish the benefit of every single sentient being at the same time.
True Compassion Is Always On The Move, Always In A State Of Readiness
Therefore compassion is actually a moving thing. True compassion is something that is always on the move, and something is always in a state of readiness. We usually think of compassion as something that sometimes moves, sometimes is responsive, and sometimes is dormant. We might see a very serious situation of a sentient being suffering, then we think that our compassion rises to the occasion and performs some tasks. And then, after that situation has passed, our compassion goes back to a dormant state.
But true compassion isn't really like that. Of course compassion is not a physical thing, but I think it's appropriate to say that compassion is always on the move, it's always ready for action or ready to accomplish the mission, if you will. Compassion is there in any occurrence of happiness or suffering that might be before us, whether it's directly before our eyes or whether it's simply in our heart and in our mind. If we can stay with this type of ever moving, ever active compassion at all times, then I think that's what the meaning of true compassion is.
We Don't Recognize The True Nature of Mind Because It's So Simple
Then in terms of the nature of mind, the true nature of mind, I don't know what I could say about that. It's just there. Usually we think of the true nature of mind as something really high, and although I haven't done a lot of practice in relation to the true nature of mind, if I speak from my own experience of this, I could say that eventually we will return to what we were bored with in the beginning and discover that was it.
So we start off by thinking that what we have right now is too simple, too ordinary. The true nature of mind must be something special, something high, something prettier than what we have now. And what we have now doesn't really satisfy our desires, it's not very attractive to us, but if you put some serious effort into your practice, then eventually I think that recognizing the true nature of mind means returning to that place where you started with——your boring unattractive, not new, not high, mental state——and actually recognize that it has been what you're looking for.
Recognizing the true nature of mind isn't a case of getting something new, it's a case of recognizing what is old in some ways, what has been with you this whole time and recognizing that it is nothing other than that. So it's not like getting some new possession. Maybe there has been a past model of the iPhone, and we wait for the next model to come out. There has been iPhone 3, now there is iPhone 4, and we are all waiting for Iphone 5 to come. We are all waiting with great hope for the iPhone 5, but I think the practice of working with the true nature of mind is one of recognizing what our current iPhone can do, appreciating the iPhone that we have now.
Not only that, but learning how to use the iPhone that we have now. Sometimes we don't take the time to learn how to use the iPhone, and then because of our lack of knowledge of how to use it, we think that it is boring, we think that it is unattractive, and we wait for the next iPhone to come out. We think that would be much better. So if we approach the nature of mind with an attitude that thinks it has to be something new, it has to be something high, it has to be something that's prettier than what's going on now, then maybe, just maybe, that's a mistake.
When we talk about the true nature of mind, when we say "nature," it means the actual state, the actual situation that the mind is in. It's simply a matter of recognizing what is there, what is actually there. So sometimes what is tricky for us to understand is that the reason we have not recognized the true nature of our mind is not because it is too profound, or too difficult. It is because it is too simple or too easy. The masters of meditation of the past say that we fail to recognize the true nature of mind because it is so simple that we fail to trust it.
So the true nature of mind is simply what we are right now, it is our uncontrived natural state. Since we are in such a habit of living our lives in contrived states, and states where we are always adding concepts onto things, it's difficult for us to return to the way we naturally are.
For example in the animal kingdom, human beings have this unique ability to smile and laugh. This seems to be a unique trait of human beings that they can smile and laugh. Other animals don't really have that capacity, they can wail and cry, but they can't really smile, laugh. So this our natural ability, we possess this ability to smile. But sometimes when we try to force ourselves to smile, when we take group photos for example, then it doesn't work. (People usually tell me that I'm serious ——do you think I am serious? ——and when taking photos, people tell me to smile. But I can't smile on demand in that moment because I'm not someone who smiles frequently.)
It's Really Essential To Give Ourselves Time To Just Be Who We Are
All of us have a lot to do in our lives, we are very busy, we have to allocate our time in order to do various things in order to assume various roles. We have to perhaps give ourselves time to be a doctor, we have to give ourselves time to be an assistant to someone, we have to give ourselves time to be all kinds of different things, take on all kinds of different roles, but what we often forget is to give ourselves time to be just ourselves. And that's what meditation is.
Meditation is giving yourself time to just be yourself. There is nothing to it other than that, it's nothing really special, just allowing yourself to relax and be yourself without worrying about what has happened in the past, or without worrying about what's going to happen in the future. Just to simply relax and rest in your own natural state is all that you need to do, giving yourself the opportunity to do that. When you give yourself that opportunity, you'll find that presence extends to the other parts of your life as well. You don't lose your own true nature as you go about all of your other activities, even if your day-to-day life is busy.
What sometimes happens in our day-to-day lives when we get so busy is that we spend the whole day doing various things, completely caught up in the tasks before us, but when we get to the nighttime, we look back on the day and we can't even remember what we did. So we remember we did something but we just can't remember what it was.
And the reason that this happens is that when we get caught up in that busyness, our mind is only following after the things on the outside. It has lost its appreciation for who we ourselves are. So it's lost the mindfulness and awareness of itself and has engaged in activities only focusing on things on the outside. In that way we come to lose ourselves in the midst of all our activities, and therefore I think it's really essential and important to give ourselves time to just be ourselves.
To Know Who We Are In A Completely Perfect Way Is The Recognition Of The True Nature of Mind
In America especially we invest a lot of importance in the notion of identity. The concept of identity is very important to us. We often peg our identity on the type of work we do. If someone asks a doctor "who are you?" they'll say, a doctor. So there is a very strong sense of identity related to the type of work that we do. The identity is based on the outer world and not on what's happening inside, on oneself becoming a basis for one's identity.
When that orientation becomes too fixed in the outside world, then serious hardships can arise. Maybe we lose our job, maybe we lose an opportunity to work as a professional in the way that we have been trained, and our response can become so extreme that we might feel compelled to take our own lives.
This kind of thing happens to people sometimes. I think this illustrates the importance and the really essential need for us to turn our attention to the inside and be able to form some sense of identity on the basis on just who we are, not on the basis of what we do, externally.
So when it comes to the true nature of mind, this isn't something that we get from a spiritual tradition or religion. It's not something that we need to seek from a guru or that we need to find by going to a sacred place, but it's a matter of recognizing who we are, whatever that it is. When we see this completely clearly, when who we actually are becomes completely evident and obvious to us, and we recognize it and appreciate it in a completely perfect way, then that I think is what is called recognizing the true nature of mind. Then we fully make this a reality for ourselves.
His Holiness Answers Questions From the Audience
You have sat here through this talk, and it's passed nine o'clock. I don't think it would make much sense for me to continue my lecture, but perhaps if you have any questions, and if the questions are easy, I can answer them. And then if the questions are difficult, then I can say we have run out of time. Maybe we can have five questions.
Question 1: The level of our study and the level of our practice may be different from our experience. Until our experience catches up to our understanding, how do we work with the gap between our intellectual understanding and the evolution of our experience?
HHK: I don't know, simple answer. This is the answer. I don't know what the answer is. If I were just another person I could say, "I don't know," but since I am the Karmapa, I should say, "I know, but I don't want to say." (I'm joking.)
This is a difficulty that we all experience trying to make our experience achieve the same level as our intellectual understanding. So I think what's most important is to recognize that practice is about relating with where we are right now, relating with our current situation and the truth of our current situation, and it's not good to let too many ideas get in the way of that.
If we let too many ideas get in the way of our current situation, then what happens is that in traditional language, we would say that the dharma and the person have become separate things. Whereas we want the dharma and the person to be one thing; we don't want there to be a gap between the dharma and the person.
So that's why the dharma has different stages. There are different stages in the practice of dharma because there are different levels in our experience as people. If there weren't different levels in our experience as people, then all dharma already would be the most profound dharma. But the dharma is not what needs to attain enlightenment; it's the person that needs to attain enlightenment. That's why your practice should match the level of your current experience. That's very important.
And then of course from the side of study or hearing and contemplation, it's fine for us to study all kinds of presentations of various philosophies like the view of emptiness, the journey through the paths and bhumis, and so on. But we need to stay mindful that this is study, we need to recognize philosophy as philosophy and have that be in its proper place in our understanding. It's fine for us to study the view of emptiness, but we should also be mindful if our experience hasn't reached that level. And if we can't make that distinction then there is the danger of falling into the extreme of pride.
For example, some people who have heard some teachings about Dzogchen or the Great Perfection might adopt an identity of being a practitioner of the Great Perfection, even though their experience hasn't reached that level. So if someone asks them, "who are you?" and they say, "I'm a practitioner of the Great Perfection." They think they are most perfect being, excellent being. They think that actually the most perfect thing is themselves, so they fancy themselves as being a great piece of perfection. When they talk about themselves and their practice, their voice deepens, and they take on very handsome physical demeanor, but it's very dangerous if their experience hasn't reached that level. Then they are just left in a state of confused pride.
Question 2: Are you personally aware of the connection that we actually have from moment to moment, or is it just your aspiration? Is your awareness of sentient beings present in every moment of your experience?
In my experience, my awareness comes and goes, but is your connection with us always present? Is it that all I have to do to connect with you is tune in to your continuous awareness of me? HHK: I don't purport to be continually aware of all the connections that I have with all sentient beings, not like speaking to each telepathically on the telephone. Maybe when someone thinks of me, it does change of the way I feel, but I might not be aware that is the case.
Your question seems to be mostly framed around connection and relationship as an action that takes place, but I think that the way I was talking about the contemplation of the moon as a metaphor for love was more pointing to the natural state of relationship that already exists between beings, between us and between all sentient beings. I am not always directly aware of the connections I have with sentient beings, and sometimes connections are strange and hard to understand. Sometimes people tell me that I show up in their dreams even though they have never met me before or have never even met a Tibetan lama. So connections in this way are strange, and I don't perfectly understand the phenomena of connections.
What I was saying is that there is a natural connection of love and compassion, and I always have a consistent aspiration to have this connection of love and compassion with sentient beings from lifetime to lifetime, for the long haul. It's not just a temporary presence of loving kindness and compassion between us but a continual presence of loving kindness and compassion. I wasn't trying to imply some sense of clairvoyance or higher cognitive powers but that the presence of loving kindness and compassion is stable and sincere, and it is always in a state of readiness.
Question 3: I want to ask about a method we can use to directly dissolve the perception of the self and others as different and separate.
HHK: From a certain perspective, we can say that others and ourselves are separate entities, but on a more fundamental level, as I mentioned earlier, we all equally desire to be happy and we all equally desire to be free from suffering. That's really the fundamental reality that makes us equal, that makes self and others equal. I think that's the fundamental reality that is important for us to reflect upon and remember.
What is out of touch with reality is the thought that others don't want to be happy as much as I do, or others don't happiness at all. That's a really distorted view. So I think that in order to get to the point of your question, the advice would be to practice meditation on self and others.
Question 4: In light of what you said about not be able to benefit all beings simultaneously at all times, is it then unrealistic for us to take on the Bodhisattva vows, which ask us to make such aspirations? Will there ever be a time when all sentient beings achieve liberation?
HHK: Well actually, sentient beings are limitless, are truly infinite in number; the number of sentient beings has no end, so there actually will not come a day when there are no more sentient beings. The other side of this is that the Bodhisattva aspirations are infinite and limitless, and there will never come a day when the Bodhisattvas' aspirations end.
So there is never a time when the Bodhisattvas will say "bye-bye, it's the end of the world. I'm out of here," because sentient beings are endless, and the Bodhisattvas' aspirations are endless, and furthermore, Bodhisattvas are unafraid of the fact that sentient beings are limitless. They don't lose heart. In fact, that makes their strength of heart grow even stronger, their desire to benefit others and practice the conduct of Bodhisattvas becomes even stronger, and this is actually a good thing.
If we ran out of sentient beings, that means the Bodhisattvas would lose their jobs. And that wouldn't be good, and so it's not really a bad situation that there is no end to sentient beings. The important thing is how we approach the endeavor of wanting to accomplish the benefit of sentient beings. (Ironically, it's approaching the time for me to say "bye-bye" for the night.
Question 5: Can His Holiness please give us a practical method that will enable us to return right to the spot of the present moment and realize our true nature in the very midst of being in the middle of busy activities?
HHK: Well, in general as I mentioned before, it's very important to remember basically who you are and not be overwhelmed by whatever situation is taking place currently. Usually we do the opposite, and we allow the situation to overwhelm us, but we can situate ourselves so that our mindfulness and awareness are actually hovering above whatever situation we are in, so that we are not completely overwhelmed with or drawn into the situation itself.
I think it's very important to have that sense of space or gap between ourselves and the content of the situation we find ourselves in. For example, someone who knows how to swim found themselves tossed into a pool of water all of a sudden. If they didn't keep their calm, then they wouldn't be able to bring forth the ability to swim. They would instead splash around in the water in a state of panic, But if they were able to relax on the spot, then that situation would become like an ornament or an adornment to them. So having some sense of spacious gap in any situation is very important.
The teaching is finished. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
In closing, I'd just like to say that I am very grateful to you all for taking the time to come here tonight. I extend my prayers of auspiciousness to you, and I hope that we can meet again and again in the future. In particular, I hope that I can come to the United States again and again to see you, and that may entail some difficulty, but I am going to try.

2011.7.29 法王噶瑪巴離美前夕於杭特學院演講「悲心與心的真正本質」HHK at Hunter College



‘Personal feeling of connection’ The Karmapa lama speaks to Woodstock Times(Hudson Valley Times)

by Andrea Barrist Stern
July 28, 2011 12:49 PM 

A long overdue summer rain washed out the public appearance by Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa lama, that had been scheduled at the Comeau property on Monday afternoon as an opportunity for lama to meet the people of Woodstock. But if the lama won’t come to the people, it seems the people will come to the mountain. A small crowd, including several town councilpersons, took a chance they might meet the Karmapa and drove to the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) monastery on Overlook Mountain, the monastery that was built for him and is his North American seat.

There, the crowd swelled to some 80 to 100 people who waited in the main shrine room until the Karmapa learned of their presence and came downstairs from his residence area to greet them. Sitting on an elaborate throne decorated with Tibetan designs and with one of the largest gilt Buddhas in North America as his backdrop, the Karmapa said he appreciated the support of the local community for KTD, according to Tenzin Chonyi, president of KTD. “Regardless of the physical appearance of a monk’s robes or lay clothes, we all seek peace and happiness and want to avoid unpleasantness,” Chonyi said, paraphrasing the Karmapa’s spontaneous 15-minute address. “We have a sense of common desire and we should [all be able to live in peace]. We usually feel we are independent of each other but we are all interdependent and part of the same community.” Chonyi has served the Karmapa lineage in America since the mid-1970s when the present Karmapa’s predecessor, the 16th Karmapa, Rangiung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981), originally considered building a monastery on a donated site in Putnam County before deciding on Woodstock.

Although the public appearance at Comeau was cancelled, the Karmapa met with Woodstock Times for a private interview as previously planned. It was the paper’s first interview with the present Karmapa, although this writer interviewed the previous Karmapa for Woodstock Times in 1980 shortly after the sect’s purchase of KTD. The Karmapa is currently studying English and clearly understood the questions posed to him but he spoke through a translator, Lama Yeshe Gyamtso, choosing his words carefully.

WT: Why did the Karmapa lineage choose Woodstock as its North American seat?

I think that what happened was when my predecessor, the 16th Karmapa, visited this county he was first offered a piece of land in Putnam County that was fairly large, around 300 acres. And, in spite of the considerable size of that parcel, he must not have felt an intimate connection with it. At the time this center was founded here, the only major building on the property was the old Meads Mountain House, but evidently the 16th Karmapa felt that this site was more appropriate, in part because of its relative isolation, also because of a certain holy energy that he felt in this place and because of the personal feeling of connection.

WT: It seems that Tibetan Buddhism is a good fit for the United States and there are a lot of followers here. Why do you think that is?

One reason is the United States of America is very international or we would say polyglot, both racially and religiously. For one thing, this is a country where everyone has the freedom to choose their form of spiritual involvement, if any, and because of the religious freedom and the emphasis on religious choice. Even in a relatively small town such as Woodstock you find a large variety of spiritual traditions represented. Probably, the appreciation on the part of many Americans for Tibetan Buddhism comes in part from the fact that for more than 1,000 years, Tibet, because of its topography, was quite isolated from the rest of the world and therefore concentrated or focused on spirituality and spiritual practice. This becomes all the more appreciated now in the 21st century when, in general, we have come to have a strong focus on material prosperity and technology. [The Tibetan focus on spiritual practice] becomes a source of inspiration which enables us to appreciate all the more the preciousness of spirituality and gives us the desire to share it.

WT: With everything that is happening in Tibet, do you think the United States is important to the survival, preservation and nurturing of Tibetan Buddhism?

The events that have occurred in Tibet have placed not only Tibetan spirituality but the Tibetan culture and Tibetan identity in danger of destruction. Led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a considerable exile community has been created in India and the main goal of this community is the preservation of Tibetan spirituality and culture. Although in Tibet freedom to practice spirituality and to maintain the culture is very limited, in India we have the freedom to maintain both the spirituality and the culture. Our goal in this preservation, however, is not primarily political. It is the survival of Tibetan culture, ethnic survival, and spiritual survival. It is also a search for justice. As for the United States of America, there are many Tibetans who have emigrated to this country; but there are also great differences between mainstream American culture and Tibetan culture so it would be very difficult for this country to have to bear the burden of the primary preservation of Tibetan culture. But the essence of Buddhism, the Buddhist outlook, Buddhist spiritual practice which is beyond culture, even beyond any tradition, that essence not only can be preserved in this country, it is being preserved in this country. That will, in turn, also ensure the future of Tibet.

WT: What would you like to tell the people of Woodstock?

Woodst-ahhhk? Ahh.

WT: Your home here.

The 16th Karmapa passed away in the United States of America. Before going, he told someone that in his next life, he would return here. So, therefore, the town of Woodstock was a home for the 16th Karmapa and is a home for the 17th Karmapa as well. And both he did and I do consider it to be our home. The great natural beauty of this place and the tremendous warmth of the people here have created an environment that has facilitated the preservation of our vision for this place so I want to thank all of the people of Woodstock. I want to say thank you to all of them. I think of you all as our neighbors and I care for all of you greatly.

Departure for New York City

The Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism has millions of followers worldwide, according to Chonyi. KTD has 900 members but several thousand individuals have “taken refuge,” the initial Buddhist vow, with Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, the abbot of KTD, who immigrated to the United States in 1976 at the request of the 16th Karmapa, to establish and guide the development of the local Tibetan monastery. The lineage, which traces its roots to the Buddha, has been headed by a succession of reincarnations of the Gyalwa Karmapa. The line of the Karmapas is said to be self-announced, because each incarnation leaves a letter predicting his next rebirth. The 16th Karmapa died in 1981 and the current Karmapa was born in Eastern Tibet in 1985.

During his first visit to KTD in 2008, the 17th Karmapa said he would visit the local center as often as possible during the next decade, bringing advanced Tibetan teachers here to carry on the teachings, according to Chonyi. At that time, he said he might be in residence for a few months at a time.

Accompanied by a U.S. State Department security detail, the Karmapa left KTD on Tuesday morning for New York City, where he will appear at Hunter College on Friday evening, July 29 before returning on July 30 to northern India. He currently resides at a temporary residence at Gyuto Monastery, not far from the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala. The Karmapa left Tibet for India in 1999 at the age of 14 in a clandestine and heroic seven-day journey by car, foot, horseback, helicopter, train and taxi that made newspaper headlines throughout the world.++

Photo by Andrea Barrist Stern

Photo by Andrea Barrist Stern

Photo by Andrea Barrist Stern

Photo by Andrea Barrist Stern

Read more: Hudson Valley Times - ‘Personal feeling of connection’ The Karmapa lama speaks to Woodstock Times

New York Times: A Young Tibetan Lama Prepares for a Greater Role

Librado Romero/The New York Times

Ogyen Trinley Dorje, 26, the man deemed to be the 17th reincarnation of the Karmapa, one of the most revered figures in Tibetan Buddhism, recently visited a monastery in Woodstock, N.Y.


Home sweet home: Karmapa lama returns to KTD and plans Woodstock appearance on July 25(Hudson Valley Times)

by Andrea Barrist Stern
July 21, 2011 12:36 PM 

What a difference three years can make. A visibly matured Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa lama and at the age of 26 the head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, visited a vastly changed Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD), his North American seat, for the second time last weekend.

With only 11 days of notice because of visa restrictions imposed by India, which has given him sanctuary since his flight from Tibet in 2000, KTD marshaled a small battalion of volunteers, staff members, security personnel, shuttle van drivers, parking attendants, greeters, cooks and other recruits to do the thousands of things necessary to make the visit possible, according to Mark Rothe, KTD executive director. Following the lama’s arrival on Friday, the visit’s first leg included teachings on Saturday and Sunday for some 1000 ticketed followers in a specially erected tent on the property along with various other smaller ceremonies and audiences for individual groups. After a several-day visit to Karma Thegsum Choling in Shamong, New Jersey, one of some 40 KTD affiliate centers nationwide starting on Wednesday, the Karmapa is expected to return to Woodstock on Friday or Saturday in time for a public appearance at Woodstock’s Comeau property at 3 p.m. on Monday, July 25. The Karmapa will speak about “Caring for the Earth,” sharing teachings on “caring for ourselves as human beings and for the earth we call home,” said Rothe. The appearance is intended to give local residents an opportunity to meet the Tibetan teacher.

At KTD last weekend, where followers assembled from around the world to hear his remarks, the Karmapa began his teachings by emphasizing the importance of cultivating human goodness and compassion, cautioning students against permitting a self-consciousness of their Buddhist practice to obscure the basic importance of always acting first as a human being. “Sometimes we skip the necessary first step,” he emphasized in Tibetan that was translated into English, although the lama said he is currently studying English. “It is not sufficient for the dharma [teachings] to embody perfection; it is also important for the individual practicing it to be perfect.”

In monks robes, with a shaved head, and wearing his ever-present wire-rimmed glasses, the lama segued to Buddhist teachings by stressing the importance of coordinating one’s actions, speech and thoughts to alleviate the so-called “suffering” that is the human condition. “It is our own mind that hurts us,” he said. “What hurts us is our own anger and ill will. We can run away from that which is physical but it is harder to run away from that which is the mind.”

We tend to identify ourselves based on outward, physical attributes and skills, he noted. An individual may be a physician but that person is actually “so much more.” What is truly authentic and at the core of our essence is “our innate capacity for love and compassion,” he emphasized.

In today’s technological society, we are constantly being bombarded by “an unprecedented amount of information that actually increases our self-fixation” and “leads us further and further from the truth,” the Karmapa said. Even our software refers to “my computer, my documents.” Added the lama, “We need to think about not only our bodies, speech and mind but also the interconnectedness between ourselves and others...The concept of ‘mine’ imprisons us and places us in solitary confinement.”

The Karmapa’s visit to Woodstock followed a 10-day gathering in Washington, DC “Kalachakra for World Peace,” with the Dalai Lama, spiritual head of the Tibetan people. Beginning on July 6, the 76th birthday of the Dalai Lama, the event was intended to amplify his commitment to the values of love, compassion, wisdom and interfaith harmony.++

At KTD. Photo by Andrea Barrist Stern.

At KTD. Photo by Andrea Barrist Stern.

At KTD. Photo by Andrea Barrist Stern.

At KTD. Photo by Andrea Barrist Stern.

Read more: Hudson Valley Times - Home sweet home Karmapa lama returns to KTD and plans Woodstock appearance on July 25