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|May 29-June 4, 2008
The peaceful struggle
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa brings his message to Boulder
by Ben Corbett
When a Tibetan lama touches down on American soil, it is no small affair. Especially if it’s a Karmapa (which means: he who performs the activity of the Buddha), and especially if it’s been 27 years since his previous visit, which happened to be in a previous incarnation. So when it was announced in March that the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, would be coming to Boulder to teach the dharma during his first journey to the western hemisphere, naturally people were ecstatic about this historic event. Over the weekend, old and young, from near and far, they came by the hundreds, and walked away forever changed. For many of the fold, it was the first dharma teaching led by the lama, while others had had the privilege of receiving the words and blessings of his previous incarnation, the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, during one of several visits to America and Boulder in the 1970s.
At the Sunday event held at Macky Auditorium, a short film preceding the teachings described to new initiates how the 17th Karmapa was discovered. After the 16th Karmapa’s 1981 death in Chicago, a group of four regents (assigned by the Karmapa himself) set out to find his reborn incarnation through visions and using a letter and clues that the previous Karmapa had left behind. In 1991, with the Karma Kagyu Buddhist community still unable to discover his whereabouts, Tai Situ Rinpoche remembered a protection amulet that the Karmapa had given him right before his death, not to be opened until 1992. He opened it early, and inside was a poem describing more vividly the area of Tibet where he could be found. Finally, in June 1992, 7-year-old Ogyen Rinley Dorje was recognized as the 17th Karmapa. Having fled Tibet to India just after the Dalai Lama in 1959, the 16th Karmapa took the black crown (woven from the hair of the dakinis, or female dieties: guardians of the historic teachings) with him to Sikkim, India. The reincarnation in Tibet thus moved the seat of the Karmapa back to the Tsurphu monastery, where the 17th Karmapa resided until fleeing in December 1999 over the Himalayas and arriving in India in January 2000, meeting immediately with the Dalai Lama. Having received refugee status from Indian 2001, the Indian government denied an exit visa for an American visit last year, and in a letter to the American Karma Kagyu community, the Karmapa wrote, “No obstacle will prevent me from coming to America.” Permission was finally granted this year for the Karmapa’s travels to America, including visits to New York, Boulder and Seattle. The day at Macky Auditorium consisted of three events — two public lessons, and one private for the sangha (dharma devotees).
Sequencing into the second session of the day, the translator began relaying the Karmapa’s message: “So this afternoon I will continue discussing the interdependent connection between the outer environment and the inner world…” The Karmapa, who speaks English quite well, stopped him and corrected him. “Sorry,” continued the translator, inspiring laughter from the audience. “His Holiness said, ‘This morning we talked about the connection of interdependence between the outer world environment and the inner world of the mind.’”
This trickster sense of humor has become a trademark method in the 17th Karmapa’s teachings, and throughout the day he would interject thoughtful jokes, sighing loudly during tough questions, evoking laughter and requesting that the curtains of the auditorium be opened to allow more light so that he could see everyone’s face.
“Now is the time for us to start thinking about what kind of imprint we are leaving in the world, in particular what we can do for the planet,” he continued in his day-long lesson called Healing the Environment Through the Mind of Enlightenment. “Because largely up until now, we’ve been on the receiving end of the world’s kindness. The world has given us so much. So many of the advantages and harmonious conditions we enjoy were given to us by the world. But what we need to do is think about what we can give in the other direction.”
The 17th Karmapa, who is computer savvy and helps maintain his website, tailored his message to the West in terms of the issues we deal with today and the neutrality of technology that can be used for good or bad ends. Using an analogy of the world’s citizens as artists painting portraits of their respective environments, the 22-year-old visionary went on to explain that it’s necessary to come together positively and create the painting as a “global village,” each person depicting the place he lives in the most virtuous way.
“If we take things too seriously and only think about the problems, sometimes that drains the sense of enthusiasm from our relationship... This era in which the world is so small is a great opportunity to realize that there really is no difference between us. We might live in different places, but aside from that, we all care for each other and love each other. Therefore I feel that to live in this present era is a very fortunate thing. But even though it’s very fortunate to live in the present era with these situations, you can still think about it in a negative respect. You might think that the time in which we live is a time of great fear, conflict and a lot of adversity. You might feel that it’s unfortunate to live in the present time... There are positive opportunities of this present era and there are negative opportunities, as well. Therefore we need to know what to adopt and what to reject. We have a choice about what opportunities we want to take.”
During the third session, a more private affair for the sangha, the Karmapa spent more time focusing on questions of meditation and practice, soon completing his message about how important his visit has been, and how important Boulder was to Naropa University and Shambala Center founder, the late Trungpa Rinpoche and vice versa.
“Trungpa Rinpoche was very important to the West. He placed great confidence and trust in his Western students. I trust you in the same way,” the Karmapa continued, again with humor. “I’m just a joker man and very young, and I have no secret instructions to give you. But I trust you.”
“I’m going to write in my diary about my visit to America and Boulder. When I get old I’m going to remember this time again and again,” he went on. “I persevered and was able to come, and my resolve to come was unwavering. My love is so strong for you. It is so strong, no obstacle could get in my way... As for you, don’t worry, I’m going to be back. When I come back to Boulder I’ll need things to do. I look forward to your suggestions as to what they may be.”
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