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Lions Roar : January 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2010 50 the Buddhist principle of interdependence is not a philoso- phy, he says, but a guiding principle for working with the earth on a daily basis. When he visited Colorado, his teachings cen- tered on healing the environment, and he said that “our outer environment is the most important condition for establishing peace of mind in the twenty-first century.” he said that all the world’s citizens are like “artists creating or painting the world.” the fact that the world has become smaller has made this easi- er to understand, and that makes this a fortunate age to live in. “the world has given us much, an environment to live in,” he says. “now we should consider how to give back.” during his visit to seattle, at the conclusion of his u.s. tour, the Karmapa caught people’s attention when he talked about how asian countries have misinterpreted the Buddha’s teachings to sanction patriarchy and oppression of women. he declined to comment on patriarchal practices in the West, but he was em- phatic that patriarchy “continues to be a problem in the east and must be abolished.” Many of the audience were surprised at how frank he was in addressing a subject that has been taboo for many Buddhist teachers. Longtime Buddhist Christine Keyser said at the time, “his holiness’ overt feminism marked a clear demarca- tion from his predecessor’s generation and signaled an egalitarian vision bringing ancient Buddhist wisdom in line with contempo- rary social values. When the sixteenth Karmapa visited the West, women were prohibited from serving him or even wearing pants in his presence. the sight of two young baristas serving his holi- ness a mug of starbucks coffee during the welcoming ceremony in seattle underscored this generational shift.” there is a word for this kind of talk in tibetan, Michele Martin told me. “it’s called danzig.” it means straightforward speech, telling it like it is. Concrete action in the world—how you live and what you do for others—is very important to the Karmapa, and so is setting an example. he became a vegetarian and declared that Kagyu monasteries outside of tibet would change to a veg- etarian diet. On his most recent birthday, he asked followers to forgo an extravagant celebration and instead distribute eco- friendly trash cans and mattresses to fifty organizations and schools and plant trees around the monastery where he lives. although he has been very clear that he is not a politician and that the Karmapa should not assume a governmental role, he seems a little more willing these days to talk about political issues. during his recent trip to delhi to teach at the ameri- can embassy school, he told the Times of India that some of China’s recent inflammatory statements may have resulted be- cause “india is on the rise in the world and perhaps the Chinese government feels some type of impulse to blunt this rise some- how.” With respect to the future of tibet, he said, “We have to do something quickly... if we were to wait fifty years, we would be in danger of losing a great chunk of tibetan culture that could not be recovered.” When pressed once again about as- suming the mantle of the dalai Lama, he replied, “i’m already the Karmapa, that’s my role and it’s already one i feel quite weighed down by. it carries heavy responsibilities.” yet he doesn’t carry that heavy weight ponderously. in new york he spoke of the world and all our cares as an enormous weight, and our mind as a clear mirror that can reflect the im- age of the weight without the immense gravity. More than his ideas and causes, it is the incredible lightness of his being that people seem drawn to. he listens to hip-hop on an iPod. Peter volz, who was in charge of viP hospitality during the american tour, found that the Karmapa seemed to have almost no cultural baggage. he relates to you human to human, not teacher to student, religious person to commoner, etc. he has spent, volz notes, “almost his entire life in two small rooms in two very remote places, and yet he has instant rapport with ev- eryone from the state department security officer to the waiter in a diner. that bespeaks a person not burdened by baggage— cultural or otherwise. his sole interest seems to be being with people, not pontificating, not proclaiming.” he lets go of traditional forms when they don’t fit the cultural context, including joyously receiving a bear hug (an unheard-of breach of tibetan protocol). he erects none of the barriers that often exist between religious leaders and regular folks. as he was leaving america, he talked about what it was like to grow up from such a young age in the confines of his training and how delighted he was when someone from the West brought him a toy. But at a certain point he realized that his attachment to getting toys was silly. he didn’t need toys. What truly made him happy was just being with people and doing whatever he could to make them happy. he says he has no personal life, no private life, and he doesn’t need one. Ponlop rinpoche said to me that the Karmapa “connects with people by his presence, with or without speaking.” in san fran- cisco, he recalls, they were searching for a place to eat and ended up at a retro diner chain called Johnny rockets. One of the cus- tomers was a father with his young child. the child started cry- ing and screaming, but before long he approached the Karmapa, who began to calm him down, speaking with him, patting his head, giving him a balloon. soon the father wanted to talk to the Karmapa, and they all began to hang out. “his holiness made the child happy and then the father became happy—he had that kind of effortless effect,” Ponlop rinpoche remembers. the fa- ther and son had no idea they were interacting with the Karma- pa, the revered seventeenth incarnation of one of Buddhism’s greatest teachers. to them, Ponlop rinpoche said, “he was just another Johnny rockets customer.” ♦ For more on the Seventeenth Karmapa and the Kagyu lineage, as well as a special section on the Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, go to www.shambhalasun.com