The Karmapa: Tibetan Buddhism's Next Great Leader?
HUFFINGTON POST: Culture
by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
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 he moves around
the room, the sly and playful side of his twenty-six year old
character 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
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
The Karmapa frames the issue as a question of
"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 sentiment beings. I am not anti anything, including
China. But I will advocate for the truth and I want the truth to be
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
"In Buddhism we aspire to benefit all sentiment 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
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
"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
"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."
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More Karmapa Foundation News
Saturday, July 30, 2011
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 he moves around the room, the sly and playful side of his twenty-six year old character 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.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
NEW YORK TIMES -- WOODSTOCK, N.Y. - At the age of 7, he was deemed to be the 17th reincarnation of the Karmapa - one of the most revered figures in Tibetan Buddhism - and whisked from the yak-hair tent of his nomad family in the Himalayas to be groomed in a monastery for leadership.
Now 26, his mere appearance on the stage alongside the Dalai Lama at a major ceremony in Washington this month sent a flutter of excitement through the Tibetans in the crowd . . .
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
His Holiness the Karmapa departed his North American seat in Woodstock, NY, for a visit to another Dharma center under his spiritual guidance-Karma Thegchen Choling center of New Jersey (KTC-NJ). In this rural setting in southern New Jersey, the Gyalwang Karmapa offered Dharma teachings to a large gathering of students.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Woodstock, NY: Early in the morning, shuttle buses discharged a steady stream of people, arriving from all directions to receive teachings from the Gyalwang Karmapa at his North American seat, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. By 10 am, an estimated 800 people were joyfully awaiting His Holiness' arrival.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
On the last day of the Kalchakra event in Washington DC, His Holiness the Karmapa attended the morning session which began at 7 am with prayers led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who then proceeded to give the White Tara long life empowerment to all those gathered in the hall.
Friday, July 15, 2011
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje was interviewed today by Radio Free Asia and Voice of America. These were the first ever live television interviews with the Karmapa, broadcast into Tibet and around the world. Both interviews were conducted in Tibetan.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
For several years now, His Holiness the Karmapa has been very interested and active in environmental protection and ecology. Today he had the opportunity to meet with senior scientists and environmental leaders at the World Wildlife Fund headquarters in Washington DC.
Saturday, July 09, 2011
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, arrived on the West Lawn of the US Capitol this morning. In the afternoon, His Holiness attended the Kalachakra ceremony for World Peace at the Verizon Center given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Karmapa will be engaged in further religious activities throughout his stay. This is the first time that His Holiness has returned to the United States since his historic first visit in 2008.