Home Interviews An interview with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa - Ogyen Trinley Dorje
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An interview with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa - Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Since arriving in India from Tibet in 2000, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, has emerged as one of the most dynamic thought leaders of our time. As head of a major school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa plays a key role in preserving Tibetan religion and culture. Yet his call to create a more compassionate future is addressed directly to 21st-century global society, and has inspired millions of people worldwide. During the twelve years that the Karmapa has lived in India as a refugee, he has often called for action on environmental and women’s issues.A committed vegetarian, he has also spoken out against cruelty to animals.

His Holinessthe 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, was born in 1985 to a family of nomads in the remote highlands of the Tibetan plateau. At the age of seven, he was recognized and formally enthroned as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapain a ceremony led by two of the three living heads of his lineage. In subsequent years come, the Karmapa would face numerous challenges in his efforts to fulfill his role as spiritual leader and head of the Karma Kagyu lineage. Concerned that he would be unable to meet his religious obligations, at the age of fourteen, he decided to escape from Tibet in search of freedom to fulfill his religious responsibilities. Upon reaching India safely, he at once began hisphilosophical education and monastic training while also pursuing a private modern education. He currently lives in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, a short distance from the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom he continues to enjoy a close relationship.

In 2009, he founded Khoryug, an association of over 55 Buddhist monasteries and nunneries carrying out environmental projects across the Himalayan region. He has also taken an active role in sustaining the religion, culture, and language of Tibet. Over the years the Karmapa has become an important spiritual leader for the world. In his latest book, The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out, he presents his compelling social vision while exploring the major challenges facing society today, including gender issues, food justice, rampant consumerism and the environmental crisis. The Karmapaalso engages in a wide range of artistic activities: He paints, practices calligraphy, writes poetry, composes music, and directs theatrical events.

Since 2004, he has led the annual Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, a major gathering for world peace that now draws 10,000 attendees from around the world. Honoring the Indian roots of his lineage, His Holiness the Karmapa has instituted Sanskrit prayers in the Monlam liturgy and encouraged research and performance of Buddhist doha, sacred songs in Sanskrit.

V: Your Holiness, what are your aspirations for the Kagyu Monlam this year?

H.H. Karmapa: I have no specific aspirations for this year’s Kagyu Monlam, but I do have some general aspirations, which you could sort of call ‘specific, general aspirations’. First of all, that through this Kagyu Monlam, the Buddhist teachings flourish and that beings be happy. In a particular sense, the particular theme of this year’s Kagyu Monlam was the celebration of the Tsechu ritual connected with Guru Glossary Link Padmasambhava and since he was the Mahasiddha or Pandit who was most active in Tibet and the Himalayan region, my aspiration is that the virtue of our convening this Tsechu puja and dance in connection with the Kagyu Monlam brings about the happiness of all beings throughout the Himalayas and especially serves to alleviate the terrible hardship of the people of Tibet.

V: Would you please share your thoughts on the relationship between Guru Rinpoche and the Karmapas? Do you feel a special connection between them (or with them)?

H.H. Karmapa: It would be awkward for me to answer this question in my role as the Karmapa because I don’t have an attitude of pride in that role, so if you’ll allow me to take the perspective of a disciple of the Karmapa, I can comment or answer your question. It is taught that each of the successive Gyalwang Karmapas has been accompanied by a more or less contemporary terton or treasure revealer, an authentic master who was able to discover and disseminate the teachings of Guru Padmasambhava. In the many prophecies and predictions which are found in all of these treasures or termas,the Gyalwang Karmapa is spoken of sometimes as an emanation of Guru Padmasambhava himself, sometimes as the direct reincarnation of Guru Padmasambhava’s principle disciple. In any case, the primary inheritor, the primary holder of most of the termas or dharma treasures of Guru Padmasambhava that have been found has been the Gyalwang Karmapa. Therefore, there is a very, very close connection between Guru Padmasambhava and the Gyalwang Karmapa. In fact, the connection between the Karmapa and the Guru Rinpoche is so deep it’s almost inexpressible. It would be very difficult to attempt to convey in words.

V: We make countless decisions every day… every hour…and moment of our lives. But how can we know if they are the right ones?

H.H. Karmapa: Right decision? In one sense, that is a very difficult question. But I think the most important thing is to remember that in a sense, every single day of our lives is our entire life. Each day is kind of a life of its own; and especially, we have to remember that any one day could be our last day. Therefore, I think the key is to plan very carefully to have precise aims and goals throughout our day in what we are doing, so that we don’t allow ourselves to become aimless and get lost in our habits. For example, in the morning, we could plan or think. ‘Today, I want to do this and this and this; these are the things I want to get done. And then at night, we could assess: ‘Well, did I actually do the things that I had planned on?’ That type of precision, that type of focus. Mindfulness, alertness, will help us because we have some bad habits, and if we allow our bad habits to take over, we won’t get anything done. So we have to control ourselves through conscious planning and not simply let ourselves go loose or run wild, because in that case, the result will be uncertain.

V: What is the relationship between a concern for the environment and Buddhism?

H.H. Karmapa: In Buddhism, it is taught that this great earth is the ground of the survival and the very life of all the beings that live on it and not just human beings. Therefore, if we protect this environment, we are protecting all beings, since all beings depend upon it. Therefore, the protection of the environment really includes the practices of all of the six perfections or six paramitas. The protection of the environment is Generosity, it is moral discipline, and so forth. Every morning we pray to benefit or help other beings. I think protecting the environment is an excellent way to actually do this. Furthermore, all of our environment problems have arisen from human greed,and it is infinite; but the resources that we consume in our greed are finite. They are not endless, so we must learn to control, to curb our greed, and we must continuously keep at this controlling of our greed, especially nowadays, as we are in an age of avid consumerism.

V: If you could have anything in the world, Rinpoche, what would make you happiest?

H.H. Karmapa: As I’m an ordinary being with kleshas, it would be very, very difficult to fulfil all of my wishes or desires; as soon as I got one thing, I would want another, and so on. I think, therefore, until we cultivate contentment, we will continue never to experience satisfaction.

V: Are there any comments you would like to make about Vairochana or to the readers of Vairochana?

H.H. Karmapa: In respect of your magazine, I was very positively struck by it. I liked it very much from first seeing it. I think it is very good. I think it’s excellent that those who assist you in its production are doing so. I’m grateful to you for producing it, and please continue.



Hi! I am Pasang, your editor-in-chief and publisher of Vairochana. The Vairochana newsletter is created on a vision to galvanize a sense of community in the Boudha region of Kathmandu.


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