Monday, August 5, 2013

Life Extraordinaire

My review of the latest book of the 17th Karmapa appeared in The Pioneer under the title Life Extraordinaire

The book shows that the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, has something to say, something important for the future of humanity, writes Claude Arpi

Do you still remember the Karmapa’s Great Escape?
On January 5, 2000, in the midst of the winter, a 15-year old monk arrived in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh after a Bollywood-type escape across the highest Himalayan passes; the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, holder of a 900-year lineage drove straight to the Palace of the Dalai Lama who immediately received the red-face boy, offering him protection.
On his way to India, Ogyen Trinley may have dreamt that, once he would reach his destination, his life would be simple; he would meet his religious teachers and soon after return to his predecessor's seat, in Rumtek, Sikkim. It was not to be. The problem was not that simple, as his arrival in the Indian hill station got immediately entangled with the Sino-Indian relations.
When he had left his monastery of Tsurphu in Central Tibet a week earlier, he probably did not foresee these all difficulties.
Perhaps because the story was so unbelievable, the Indian government had some hesitation to grant him refugee status. Some even believed that he had been 'planted' by the Chinese to create confusion in Sikkim, the traditional seat of the Karmapa lineage.
Having closely followed the story for the start, when I opened the Karmapa’s new book (The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out), the past obviously came to my mind; but as I begun to go through the first pages of this delightful book, I realized that the young monk has walked a long journey since 2000.
Pages after pages, one faces a mature and deep thinking, which it is rather rare these days. The difficulties and hurdles that the young lama had to go through in his personal life seem to have left no scar on his psyche; on the contrary, he has been able to ‘digest’ the toughest experiences and analyze them ‘inside out’; bringing a lightness in his thought-process which he is able to share this with his interlocutors.
The background of the book is a month-long dialogue between the Lama (called by everyone around him, His Holiness) and a group of American university students who visited him in May 2011 at the Gyuto Ramoche Monastery in Sidhbari near Dharamsala. It is there that the 29-year old Lama found a ‘temporary’ refuge, surrounded by relatively tight security, with the majestic Dhauladhar range as a background.
Though the Karmapa often tells the students (his ‘friends’) that he does not give them a ‘religious’ teaching, the Buddhist themes of ‘temporariness’ and ‘interdependence’ pervades through the book.
The message of the Karmapa is simple and ‘secular’: inside each of us there is a noble heart. He tells the students: “This heart is the source of our finest aspirations for ourselves and for the world. It fills us with the courage to act on our aspirations. Our nobility may be obscured at times, covered over with small thoughts or blocked by confused and confusing emotions. But a noble heart lies intact within each of us nonetheless, ready to open and be offered to the world.  …When we clear away all that blocks it, this heart can change the world.”
The 12 chapters deal with subject like ‘Our Shared Ground’; ‘A Meaningful Life: Anything Is Possible’, ‘Healthy Relationships: Orienting Ourselves toward Others’; ‘Gender Identities: It’s All in the Mind’ or ‘Consumerism and Greed: Contentment Is the Best Wealth’.
The Karmapa has deeply studied our modern world ‘inside out’.
His favorite topic is probably “Environmental Protection: Cultivating New Feelings for the Earth”.
He warns his friends not to confuse economic success with personal happiness: “Just because we have a market economy does not mean we need to have a market society.”
I think that the Karmapa would have voted for the Bhutanese ‘Gross National Happiness’ which seems to now been rejected by the new government in Thimbu. Such a pity!
We have seen recently the outcome of 'development' in Uttarakhand. But are the politicians read to listen the Karmapa’s message? He says: "I want it to have a long term visible impact and for it to be practical. If I have the opportunity, I would most like to restore the natural environment in the Himalayas and Tibet, and to especially protect the forests, the water and wildlife of this region.”
His language always remains simple. The first day, he told the US students: “My formal study has been in Buddhist philosophy and religion, so l may use some Buddhist terms on occasion. …Please do not take my words to be an authoritative representation of what the Buddhist texts say.”
His always encourages his interlocutors by telling them that we are all far more powerful than we usually believe: "We individuals can become part of the solution when we recognize this power and start to use it, together.”
Being the 17th of a long chain of reincarnations and the spiritual head of one of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, he admits that, as such, he has certain responsibilities, ‘because I received the name and position of Karmapa’, but he is quick to add “we all have responsibilities based on what we receive from the world.” But he never tries to promote his particular school; he sees the needs of a global society for the 21st century.
The starting point is the interdependence with others and the planet and he believes that if our own love and compassion increase, there will be certainly less conflict around.
In conclusion, he says that he tried to outline what he called ‘a kind of humanist spirituality’. Though he sometimes uses Buddhist concept (like temporariness or compassion), he believes that to look at the world and to live life that do not require any particular religious affiliation; his words and actions are only “a logical consequence of the interdependence that binds us to others and to the planet.”
I wish that one aspect of the Karmapa that I had the opportunity to experience myself, when I interviewed him a couple of years ago, had come more prominently: it is his great sense of humour.
Probably due to the format of the transcribed talks, his charming smile can be seen only to the cover of the book.
Through my interview, I had discovered a remarkable calm young man, deeply interested in Indian culture, in art and of course the environment of the Himalayas; he was able to see the deeper meaning of the controversies that have surrounded him since he fled from Tibet.
When I mentioned to him, that during a public function in Dharamsala, he had made everyone laugh and asked him what place he gave to humour in life, he answered: “There was nothing much left for me to say. I had to make some jokes (laughing).”
He later rectified: “No, no, no. But humour is important in life. To be too serious in life is not good; it can make life seem miserable.”
The book shows that the Karmapa has something to say; something deep and important for the future of humanity.
It should be compulsory reading for politicians and babus, though common men may benefit more immediately as for him, there is no fixed starting point to begin to accomplish what one aspires to achieve: “Changing the world for the good can start from right where you are, right now. …When you are dreaming of what is possible for your life, you should know that anything is possible. …Your life is subject to infinite revision.”

The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out
by The Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje
Hardcover: 216 pages
Publisher: Shambhala (February 19, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1611800013
ISBN-13: 978-1611800012

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