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Lions Roar : January 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2010 49 arrival in the U.S., said to me, “Some teachers just sit on a throne and dish out spiritual initiations, and some are only interested in teaching Buddhists. But this Karmapa seems very likely to reach way out beyond Buddhism, to make an impact on the world at large, in the way the Dalai Lama has done.” The Karmapa nimbly deflects questions about suggestions in the press that he will eventually take on a role equivalent to that of the Dalai Lama. “Since I have been recognized as an im- portant spiritual teacher within Tibetan Buddhism,” he says, “I’m kind of an obvious suspect for people to look to.” But he seems content to fulfill the role he has been given in the best way he knows how, and let circumstances unfold. The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, the founder of Nalandabodhi and a promi- nent student of the Sixteenth Karmapa, directed the Seven- teenth’s American tour and gained a deep appreciation for how the Karmapa works. He told me, “He makes plans, but at some point things take their own shape and we just follow that shape. Something happens that is beyond our reach.” ULTImATeLy, THe KARmAPA has said, he would like to be “a twenty-first-century religious leader,” spend two months a year in the United States, and reach people beyond those of his own faith. At present, he is a guest of the Indian government, which so far has been conservative concerning his travel plans, and his 2008 U.S. tour is still the only time he has traveled outside the subcontinent. His monastery is open to visitors, however, and his website sup- plies information on how to come and see him. He also gets out and about in India, visiting and teaching a variety of groups. On the International Day of Peace in September, the Karmapa spent the day teaching students, faculty, and staff of the American embassy School in New Delhi. Students from first grade through high school were excited to meet a “holy man,” and during small group sessions they peppered him with questions about how he would make peace or what he would do if someone attacked him. Over the years of watching Buddhist teachers, old hands get good at predicting what the answer will be to a given ques- tion: impermanence, suffering, meditation, etc. The Karmapa surprises. In talking to the children and the staff, he took each of them into account and listened for what they really felt, and his response came from the heart, from his own experience. When he talked about “having hope in one’s heart, hope toward the future, and hope in one’s ability to contribute to the world,” he talked about it from the perspective of his own feelings, his own internal experience. michele martin, a Tibetan translator who has edited several books of his teachings, says that “the Karmapa knows the Western frame of mind very well. He speaks from a personal perspective, which is very common for Westerners but atypical for Tibetans. He directs his answers to the context of the person he’s speaking with. He is also able to be deeply rooted in a traditional Buddhist world and at the same time relate to the modern world in a very skillful way.” When the Karmapa teaches in public settings, he expresses Buddhist principles in ways that transcend the traditional fo- cus on personal enlightenment, which seems to have diminish- ing appeal for a younger generation looking for a more activist form of spirituality that transcends the division between poli- tics and faith. expressing concern that we could lose our world altogether, he wrote a song (which he sings in english on a you- Tube video) called Aspiration for the World, which begins: World, we live and die on your lap. On you we experience all our woes and joys. You are our ancestral home of old. Forever we cherish and adore you. The Karmapa has put teeth into his aspirations and openly criticized monasteries for clear-cutting forests to construct buildings and selling timber for profit. At a recent weeklong conference on environmental protection for monasteries, he gave PowerPoint presentations on the cosmos according to Western science, on biodiversity, and on wildlife protection, with intricate descriptions of the food chain. The butterfly ef- fect in chaos theory, he said, showed that “modern science has reached similar conclusions to Buddhism, that everything is interconnected and interdependent.” With His Holiness the Dalai Lama PHOTO©2006TSURPULABRANg