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Lions Roar : January 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2010 46 The first sight of him was deceptive. He peered out into the spotlights, unable to make out the face of even a single person in the crowd of three thousand. He looked his age—twenty- three—with an attractive face and manner and an inquisitive mien. Of course the crowd was predisposed to like him, but still they seemed taken by his innocent demeanor. He didn’t appear to be shielded from the world by the solemn mantle of spiritual leadership. He was dwarfed by the monumental wall hanging of the Buddha behind him, and as he started to speak I felt certain he would be timid and intimidated. Who would not be, had they arrived the day before on a direct flight from India and faced a throng of twitching and buzzing New Yorkers. I expected to hear the tentative musings of a twenty-something who had led a controlled and isolated life. Maybe an orthodox recitation of traditional Buddhist categories. He was young, and perhaps not yet inhabiting his exalted role. I’d be all right with that. But then he spoke, for the first time ever to an audience in the West. He was gentle and genuine, yes, but not tentative. He knew his mind. Far from isolated, he appeared as someone who under- stood the DNA of the world and could speak with some author- ity to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Orgyen Trinley Dorje was not playing a part, falling back on rote rhetoric and tidy doctrines. In the several days I heard him speak and spent time in his presence, he did not cling to dogma or judgment. He spoke plainly, from the heart, about his experience of mind and life, almost like a New York cabbie telling you what he thought about things while still keeping his eye on the road ahead. “These terms like enlightenment and awakened mind,” he said to the crowd, “seem so far away as to be useless.” What we need to focus on is right now, he said, where we are, right in the midst of our difficulties, even in the midst of New York City, where “the people and cars are rushing, where even the buildings seem to be rushing, growing higher.” In such a place, he said, we might think it’s impossible to attain any happiness and stability. But in the middle of Manhattan or in a cave in the Himalayas, we’re all in the same boat. If we can learn to be present and aware in the midst of our difficulties—whether we can resolve them or not— we will “never let them destroy our peace of mind.” SpIrITuAl AuTHOrITY in Tibetan Buddhism is commonly vested in tulkus, masters who consciously take rebirth with the intent of helping others, as tradition says the Buddha did him- self. Generally recognized when they are children, they’re trained in Buddhist philosophy, ritual, and meditation to carry on the lineage of their predecessors. So far there have been seventeen Gyalwang (“Victorious”) Karmapas. Theirs is the Kagyu lineage of Vajrayana Buddhism. It is called the “ear-whispered” or practice lineage because of its emphasis on meditation practice and direct, personal transmis- sion from teacher to student. Closely associated with the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and its famed practice of Dzogchen (the “Great perfection”), the Kagyu lineage specializes in the ancient teachings known as Mahamudra, the Great Seal. The Kagyu lineage can be traced back more than a thousand years to a wild Indian yogin named Tilopa. He passed his real- ization of Mahamudra on to his principal student, the scholar Naropa, who in turn transmitted it to the Tibetan translator and farmer Marpa. Marpa’s leading student was the cave-dwelling ascetic and Tibetan national poet Milarepa, whose principal stu- dent was Gampopa, a monk and physician who established the first Kagyu monastery. Gampopa’s most significant student was Tusum Khyenpa, whose contemporaries gave him the title Karmapa, “the man of Buddha activity.” Tusum Khyenpa decided that the best way to ensure the continuation of the lineage was to leave behind a letter telling the monastery how to find his next incarnation, who would then be installed as head of the lineage after a period of regency. The second Karmapa thus became the first formally recognized tulku, creating a system for maintaining continuity of the teachings that became widespread in Tibet. It is the Karmapas’ role to ensure that the transmission of the prac- tice lineage remains fresh and intact, not so much by being a good leader, which is important, but mainly by embodying the spirit and realization of Mahamudra’s true meaning. The actual experience of Mahamudra is beyond words, but Tilopa offered a pithy summation: “Mahamudra mind dwells nowhere.” It’s called the “Great Seal” be- cause all that exists—good and bad, suffering and enlightenment, the beginning of the path and its fruition—is “sealed” with the mind’s true nature, which is empty, aware, and blissful. Such simplicity is born from extensive study, instruction, and practice. Over the centuries, the Karmapas acquired a reputation as highly adept meditation masters with a powerful presence and a palpable sense of caring for everyone they encountered. until The young Karmapa on his way to Tsurphu monastery after his recognition in 1992. pHOTOGrApHeruNKNOWN