Friday, July 8, 2011

A Charming Lama

The Karmapa with Tibetan Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche

The 17th Karmapa has finally been permitted to visit the United States to attend Kalachakra Puja in Washington. The Dalai Lama, along with his monks of Namgyal Monastery, will conduct rituals which will last 11 days.
A few months ago, the Karmapa Lama made headlines when the Himachal Pradesh police seized foreign and Indian currency worth 4 or 5 crores, stuffed in four large metal boxes, from a room of the Gyuto Ramoche Monastery, the seat of Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the Karmapa. The monastery is located some 15 km away from Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama lives.
Because the currency notes seized from the monastery were from nearly 20 countries, including China. The media speculated further, "Is the Karmapa a Chinese agent in India?"
The Karmapa's office immediately issued a statement refuting allegations about the China link. Later, the Enforcement Directorate accepted that the cash found in the monastery came from offerings received mostly during the celebrations to mark the 900th year of the birth of Dusum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa. Ugyen Trinley, the successor of Dusum Khyenpa had presided over the two-day celebration held in Bodh Gaya, attended by thousands of followers from India, Tibet, China and other countries.
The Office of the Karmapa explained that it had started the process of acquiring a piece of land to build a new monastery: "For this, the Himachal Pradesh government was also approached to get clearances."
Everyone still had in mind how the 15-year old Karmapa, in a Bollywood-type escape, reached Dharamsala in January 2000 after crossing the highest Himalayan passes in the midst of winter. The Indian government was initially reluctant to grant him refugee status. Some of his entourage seem to have made contradictory statements.
Some Indian officials believed that he had been 'planted' by the Chinese government to create confusion over the Sikkim issue (Beijing 'recognized' Sikkim as a part of India two years later only).
Things had become complicated when a dispute erupted with another 'Karmapa' claiming the throne of Rumtek monastery in Sikkim. The previous Karmapa, 16th of the lineage, was one of the most revered Lamas of his generation. A powerful yogi, he impressed all those who approached him with his profound wisdom and an aura of strength and peace.
In 2011, further complicating factor was the fact that the media (Indian and foreign) often tried to project the young Lama as the Dalai Lama's political successor. The media forgets that the present Dalai Lama has ceaselessly worked from the early 1960s to introduce democracy in the exiled Tibetan community; to have a 'political successor' would negate all these years of hard work. Fortunately this problem has now been solved with the election of a new Prime Minister by universal suffrage.
Since a long time I was keen to ‘see’ and meet the young Lama. I recently had the occasion to visit the Gyuto Ramoche Monastery in Sidhbari where the Lama has been offered a temporary accommodation.
The 26-year old monk lives here, surrounded by relatively tight security, with the majestic Dhauladhar range as a background.
Till now the Karmapa had refused to speak and comment on the accusations leveled against him.
I discovered a remarkable calm young man, deeply interested in Indian culture, in art and the environment of the Himalayas, who is able to see the deeper meaning of the controversies that have surrounded him.
He put his relations with India in its perspective: “My relationship to India is not something limited to the life of a single individual. The beginning of my Karmapa lineage started 900 years ago, and its traditions are firmly rooted in India. The entire history of our lineage goes back to India with the great Indian Mahasiddha Tilopa and Mahapandita Naropa, whom we revere as the forefathers in our Dharma lineage.”
The gurus of his gurus have been Indian some 900 years ago; knowing the reverence the Tibetan Lamas have for their teachers, is fundamental point to understand his ‘present life’.
He also emphasised his deep gratitude to India: “when Tibet went through a critical period, Tibetans turned to India. India has been a great host”.
But there is more; he feels that India has provided a sanctuary for the preservation of Tibet’s Buddhist religious and cultural heritage which has been destroyed after the Chinese invasion. This is an important point: “When the times were so difficult, when we were in such an utterly helpless situation, to whom did we turn? To India!”, he says.
A most interesting project the Karmapa is involved is the revival of the Sanskrit tradition in the Tibetan monastic tradition, Often at the beginning of religious functions, when the Sangha, the community of monks and nuns gather together, prayers are chanted in their original Sanskrit.
He further explains: “We also have some wonderful sacred songs, known as Dohas or songs of realization with very profound words. These wonderful Dohas that were once sung in India are now lost.”
He has decided to collect these ‘realisation’ songs and revive them by having them sung again in their ancient form: “We have treasured these sacred dohas for many centuries in Tibet” He wants now to ‘return them to India.
When I ask about the recent allegations, he says that he has directly or through some of his Indian supporters communicated “with prominent Indian leaders”. The press reported that a delegation met Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.
His main point which he repeated several times was: “if people in the government or people in positions of responsibility have any doubts or suspicions about me, I hope that they might ask me. Please ask me! I am ready and willing to do whatever is needed to clarify any doubts anyone may have.”
The only time he lost his cool was when i asked him why the Chinese always the Dalai Lama and not him. His answer was sharp: “Just because the Chinese government does not single someone out for public criticism, can this justify accusing this person of being a Chinese spy?, adding: “Obviously, the Dalai Lama is specifically targeted for criticism by the Chinese government because he has this prominent leadership role and he leads the cause so very well”.
Interestingly, when I mentioned all the difficulties he has been facing since he escaped to India 11 years ago, he said he believes that these sort of obstacles cannot be solved ‘technically’: “Ultimately, only spiritual transformation will work”.
His main interest, apart from his spiritual studies, is the environment. He tries hard to teach his monks the basics of environment protection, sometimes using a Power Point presentation. He become very serious when he explains: “The issue of environment is beyond religion, beyond politics. It is a critical, fundamental issue for our very existence; the existence of all the species of this one Earth.”
I must say that I was impressed by this young man, who has gone through difficult times (some of his own making). But having met him after a gap a 5 years, I see much greater depth and maturity in him. Somehow, it is good that he does not have the burden to be the ‘successor’ of the Dalai Lama anymore, this will give him the possibility to bloom on his own accord and show his strong attachment to India and its tradition.

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