The name “Karmapa” means “the one who carries out Buddha-activity,” and for seventeen lifetimes, a karmapa has embodied the teachings of Buddha in tibet. The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, was born a nomad in Tibet in 1985 and recognized by the Dalai Lama in 1992 as the 17th Karmapa. The young boy was brought to the Tsurphu monastery to live and study for his life as a spiritual teacher and activist.
At age 14, he made a daring flight from Tibet, and now works from a temporary camp in Dharamsala, near his friend the Dalai Lama. (After the Dalai Lama, he’s seen as Tibetan Buddhism’s second-highest-ranking spiritual leader, though the two men lead different schools within the faith.) In 2008, he made a long visit to the United States, where he spoke and taught at Buddhist centers around the country. And in 2009 he toured Europe, speaking about faith — but also about protecting the environment.
Translator: The way I feel right now is that all of the other speakers have said exactly what I wanted to say. (Laughter) And it seems that the only thing left for me to say is to thank you all for your kindness.
Translator: But maybe in the spirit of appreciating the kindness of you all, I could share with you a little story about myself.
Translator: From the time I was very young, onward, I was given a lot of different responsibilities, and it always seemed to me, when I was young, that everything was laid out before me. All of the plans for me were already made. I was given the clothes that I needed to wear and told where I needed to be, given these very precious and holy looking robes to wear, with the understanding that it was something sacred or important.
Translator: But before that kind of formal lifestyle happened for me, I was living in eastern Tibet with my family. And when I was seven years old, all of a sudden, a search party arrived at my home. They were looking the next Karmapa, and I noticed they were talking to my mom and dad, and the news came to me that they were telling me that I was the Karmapa. And these days, people ask me a lot, how did that feel. How did that feel when they came and whisked you away, and your lifestyle completely changed? And what I mostly say is that, at that time, it was a pretty interesting idea to me. I thought that things would be pretty fun and there would be more things to play with.
Translator: But it didn’t turn out to be so fun and entertaining, as I thought it would have been. I was placed in a pretty strictly controlled environment. And immediately, a lot of different responsibilities, in terms of my education and so forth, were heaped upon me. I was separated, largely, from my family, including my mother and father. I didn’t have have many personal friends to spend time with, but I was expected to perform these prescribed duties. So it turned out that my fantasy about an entertaining life of being the Karmapa wasn’t going to come true. It more felt to be the case to me that I was being treated like a statue, and I was to sit in one place like a statue would.
Translator: Nevertheless, I felt that, even though I’ve been separated from my loved ones — and, of course, now I’m even further away. When I was 14, I escaped from Tibet and became even further removed from my mother and father, my relatives, my friends and my homeland. But nevertheless, there’s no real sense of separation from me in my heart, in terms of the love that I feel for these people. I feel, still, a very strong connection of love for all of these people and for the land.
Translator: And I still do get to keep in touch with my mother and father, albeit infrequently. I talk to my mother once in a blue moon on the telephone. And my experience is that, when I’m talking to her, with every second that passes during our conversation, the feeling of love that binds us is bringing us closer and closer together.
Translator: So those were just a few remarks about my personal background. And in terms of other things that I wanted to share with you, in terms of ideas, I think it’s wonderful to have a situation like this, where so many people from different backgrounds and places can come together, exchange their ideas and form relationships of friendship with each other. And I think that’s symbolic of what we’re seeing in the world in general, that the world is becoming smaller and smaller, and that all of the peoples in the world are enjoying more opportunities for connection. That’s wonderful, but we should also remember that we should have a similar process happening on the inside. Along with outward development and increase of opportunity, there should be inward development and deepening of our heart connections as well as our outward connections. So we spoke and we heard some about design this week. I think that it’s important for us to remember that we need to keep pushing forward on the endeavor of the design of the heart. We heard a lot about technology this week, and it’s important for us to remember to invest a lot of our energy in improving the technology of the heart.
Translator: So, even though I’m somewhat happy about the wonderful developments that are happening in the world, still, I feel a sense of impediment, when it comes to the ability that we have to connect with each other on a heart-to-heart, or a mind-to-mind, level. I feel that there are some things that are getting in the way.
Translator: My relationship to this concept of heart-to-heart connection, or mind-to-mind connection, is an interesting one, because, as a spiritual leader, I’m always attempting to open my heart to others and offer myself up for heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind connections in a genuine way with other people, but at the same time, I’ve always been advised that I need to emphasize intelligence over the heart-to-heart connections, because, being someone in a position like mine, if I don’t rely primarily on intelligence, then something dangerous may happen to me. So it’s an interesting paradox at play there. But I had a really striking experience once, when a group from Afghanistan came to visit me, and we had a really interesting conversation.
Translator: So we ended up talking about the Bamiyan Buddhas, which, as you know, were destroyed some years ago in Afghanistan. But the basis of our conversation was the different approach to spirituality on the part of the Muslim and Buddhist traditions. Of course, in Muslim, because of the teachings around the concept of idolatry, you don’t find as many physical representations of divinity or of spiritual liberation as you do in the Buddhist tradition, where, of course, there are many statues of the Buddha that are highly revered. So, we were talking about the differences between the traditions and what many people perceived as the tragedy of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, but I offered the suggestion that perhaps we could look at this in a positive way. What we saw in the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was the depletion of matter, some solid substance falling down and disintegrating. Maybe we could look at that to be more similar to the falling of the Berlin Wall, where a divide that had kept two types of people apart had collapsed and opened up a door for further communication. So I think that, in this way, it’s always possible for us to derive something positive that can help us understand one another better.
Translator: So, with regard to the development that we’ve been talking about here at this conference, I really feel that the development that we make shouldn’t create a further burden for us as human beings, but should be used to improve our fundamental lifestyle of how we live in the world.
Translator: Of course, I rejoice in the development and the growth and the rise of the noble land of India, the great country of India, but at the same time, I think, as some of us have acknowledged, we need to be aware that some aspects of this rise are coming at the cost of the very ground on which we stand. So, as we are climbing the tree, some of the things that we’re doing in order to climb the tree are actually undermining the tree’s very root. And so, what I think it comes down to is a question of, not only having information of what’s going on, but paying attention to that and letting that shift our motivation to become more sincere and genuinely positive. We have hear, this week, about the horrible sufferings, for example, that so many women of the world are enduring day-to-day. We have that information, but what often happens to us is that we don’t really choose to pay attention to it. We don’t really choose to allow that to cause there to be a shift in our hearts. So I think the way forward for the world — one that will bring the path of outer development in harmony with the real root of happiness — is that we allow the information that we have to really make a change in our heart.
Translator: So I think that sincere motivation is very important for our future well-being, or deep sense of well-being as humans, and I think that means sinking in to whatever it is you’re doing now. Whatever work you’re trying to do now to benefit the world, sink into that, get a full taste of that.
Translator: So, since we’ve been here this week, we’ve taken millions of breaths, collectively, and perhaps we haven’t witnessed any course changes happening in our lives, but we often miss the very subtle changes. And I think that sometimes we develop grand concepts of what happiness might look like for us, but that, if we pay attention, we can see that there are little symbols of happiness in every breath that we take.
Translator: So, every one of you who has come here is so talented, and you have so much to offer to the world, I think it would be a good note to conclude on then to just take a moment to appreciate how fortunate we are to have come together in this way and exchanged ideas and really form a strong aspiration and energy within ourselves that we will take the good that has come from this conference, the momentum, the positivity, and we will spread that and plant it in all of the corners of the world.
His Holiness the Karmapa: Tomorrow is my Talk.
Translator: Lakshmi has worked incredibly hard, even in inviting me, let alone everything else that she has done to make this happen, and I was somewhat resistant at times, and I was also very nervous throughout this week. I was feeling under the weather and dizzy and so forth, and people would ask me, why. I would tell them, “It’s because I have to talk tomorrow.” And so Lakshmi had to put up with me through all of that, but I very much appreciate the opportunity she’s given me to be here. And to you, everyone, thank you very much.
HH: Thank you very much.