A Young Lama Prepares for a Greater Role
THE NEW YORK TIMES July 28, 2011
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
WOODSTOCK, N.Y. - At the age of 7, he was deemed to be the 17th
reincarnation of the Karmapa - one of the most revered figures in
Tibetan Buddhism - and whisked from the yak-hair tent of his nomad
family in the Himalayas to be groomed in a monastery for
Now 26, his mere appearance on the stage alongside the Dalai
Lama at a major ceremony in Washington this month sent a flutter of
excitement through the Tibetans in the crowd. Here was more
evidence to them that the Dalai Lama had taken the young Karmapa
under his wing, serving as teacher and father figure in India,
where both live in exile, because China claims sovereignty over
The Karmapa and the Dalai Lama lead different
Tibetan Buddhist lineages and are not equals; the Dalai Lama, who
is 76, is the pre-eminent spiritual leader of Tibet. And yet, many
Tibetans are looking to the Karmapa to assume the mantle of the
Dalai Lama when the elder lama dies, to take on the role as
shepherd of the Tibetan people and lead them home from exile.
The succession talk appears to be burdensome for the young
Karmapa, a solid 6-footer with a serene gaze whose name is Ogyen
Trinley Dorje. Asked about his future during an interview at the
mountainside monastery here that is his North American seat, the
Karmapa said that the Dalai Lama had made it clear that his hopes
for the future of Tibet rested with its young leaders.
"In that regard, His Holiness has been very kind to me, and has
served as a mentor and guides me greatly," the Karmapa said in
Tibetan, translated by an American lama. "But I'm only one of
Then, breaking into English, he added, "I don't need more
pressure." The Karmapa smiled, and then grew serious and added in
Tibetan: "I don't think I can do any more. It's hard enough just to
be the Karmapa."
His Holiness the Karmapa, has just come through a trying time.
Earlier this year, he was investigated by the Indian police who
found more than $1 million in foreign currency in his residence,
including more than $166,000 from China.
The Karmapa and his aides insisted that the money had been
donated by devotees who flocked to India from around the world to
see him. Although there is a rival who also claims the title, the
Karmapa is regarded by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetans as the
leader of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu lineage, one of the four
main schools in Tibetan Buddhism, with hundreds of monasteries and
dharma centers in more than 60 countries.
The Karmapa's aides said they planned to use the money to buy
land for a monastery in India. But the Indian media fanned rumors
that he was a Chinese spy.
To Tibetans and to scholars of Tibetan Buddhism,
the notion is absurd. The Karmapa fled Tibet when he was 14,
climbing out a window of his monastery to a waiting car, avoiding
military checkpoints and riding a horse through the Nepalese
outback to reach India. The escape was reminiscent of the Dalai
Lama's dash over the icy passes of the Himalayas in 1959.
But the rumors about the 17th Karmapa persisted in part because
the Chinese government has recognized him as the legitimate leader
of the Kagyu tradition, and avoided denouncing him even after his
flight to India. That is in marked contrast to the Chinese
denunciations of the Dalai Lama as a "splittist."
This puts the Karmapa in a singular position, said Robert J.
Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia
"The Karmapa is perfectly placed to be someone who could broker
a solution in the future," Mr. Barnett said. "This is one of the
rather rare issues where exiles and those in Tibet are in
agreement. They have very wide respect for the Karmapa."
The rival Karmapa, Trinley Thaye Dorje, has the backing of one
senior lama in the Kagyu tradition and some followers in the West
(who managed to secure the rights to the Web address karmapa.org).
But Mr. Barnett likened the rivalry to the "birther controversy"
involving President Obama. "For most people, this is a settled
issue," he said.
Tenzin Chonyi, president of the Woodstock monastery (called
Karma Triyana Dharmachakra), was an aide to the 16th Karmapa, and
as a child fled Tibet with him in 1959. He said the 17th Karmapa
was identified by a group of lamas who were entrusted with the task
of finding the child who they believe is the reincarnation of the
"This Karmapa was found based on the previous Karmapa's
instruction," Mr. Chonyi said. "So we have no doubt."
In response to the Indian police investigation, Tibetans turned
out by the thousands to demonstrate their support for the Karmapa.
The Tibetan government in exile sent delegations to New Delhi. The
Indian police quickly cleared him.
Several months later, the Indian government gave him permission
to travel to the United States, permission it had denied since his
first trip to the United States in 2008.
Asked whether the suspicions had damaged relations between India
and the Tibetans in exile there, the Karmapa took the long
"The connection between
India and the Tibetan people is thousands of years old," he said.
"It is a spiritual connection and a cultural connection and is one
of great affection. After all, the spiritual path of Buddhism, the
spiritual path pursued by the majority of Tibetans, came from India
He added, "This connection is one that has lasted generation
after generation, and so I don't think that this connection is in
On his last trip to the United States, the Karmapa steered clear
of politics. But this time, he did not mince words when asked about
Tibet. He said Tibet was "in an emergency" that had only grown
worse since the Chinese crackdown on the Tibetan demonstrations in
"The government of China has continued to be extremely
restrictive," by limiting the activities of monasteries and the
number of monks, he said.
"The building of infrastructure - roads, trains, airports and so
on - and the large immigration of people from central China into
Tibet threaten the survival of Tibetan culture and the ecosystem,"
"It is a very good sign," he said, that President Obama met with
the Dalai Lama this month.
The Karmapa will speak at Hunter College in New York City on
Friday night. He said he would talk about compassion - not politics
- which his devotees say is really the calling of a reincarnate
"You could say he's in his 20s, and he's 900 years old at the
same time," said Lama Kathy Wesley, a longtime American convert to
Tibetan Buddhism and a board member at the Woodstock monastery.
"The wisdom mind of the first Karmapa is said to continue in
A version of this article appeared in print on July 29, 2011,
on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: A Young
Tibetan Lama Prepares for a Greater Role.
More Karmapa Foundation News
Saturday, July 30, 2011
At first look, His Holiness The Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa is intimidating. Well built, self possessed, and with a keen glance, he walks more like a middle weight boxer than one of the most venerated religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism. As he moves around the room, the sly and playful side of his twenty-six year old character flashes occasionally as he teases his capable translator and raises an eyebrow with interest at an hors d'oeuvre nervously presented to him. Later, as he begins to share his perspective on individual spirituality and global concerns, a fully formed figure emerges - that of a powerful young man who is rapidly becoming a world religious leader.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
NEW YORK TIMES -- WOODSTOCK, N.Y. - At the age of 7, he was deemed to be the 17th reincarnation of the Karmapa - one of the most revered figures in Tibetan Buddhism - and whisked from the yak-hair tent of his nomad family in the Himalayas to be groomed in a monastery for leadership.
Now 26, his mere appearance on the stage alongside the Dalai Lama at a major ceremony in Washington this month sent a flutter of excitement through the Tibetans in the crowd . . .
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
His Holiness the Karmapa departed his North American seat in Woodstock, NY, for a visit to another Dharma center under his spiritual guidance-Karma Thegchen Choling center of New Jersey (KTC-NJ). In this rural setting in southern New Jersey, the Gyalwang Karmapa offered Dharma teachings to a large gathering of students.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Woodstock, NY: Early in the morning, shuttle buses discharged a steady stream of people, arriving from all directions to receive teachings from the Gyalwang Karmapa at his North American seat, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. By 10 am, an estimated 800 people were joyfully awaiting His Holiness' arrival.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
On the last day of the Kalchakra event in Washington DC, His Holiness the Karmapa attended the morning session which began at 7 am with prayers led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who then proceeded to give the White Tara long life empowerment to all those gathered in the hall.
Friday, July 15, 2011
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje was interviewed today by Radio Free Asia and Voice of America. These were the first ever live television interviews with the Karmapa, broadcast into Tibet and around the world. Both interviews were conducted in Tibetan.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
For several years now, His Holiness the Karmapa has been very interested and active in environmental protection and ecology. Today he had the opportunity to meet with senior scientists and environmental leaders at the World Wildlife Fund headquarters in Washington DC.
Saturday, July 09, 2011
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, arrived on the West Lawn of the US Capitol this morning. In the afternoon, His Holiness attended the Kalachakra ceremony for World Peace at the Verizon Center given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Karmapa will be engaged in further religious activities throughout his stay. This is the first time that His Holiness has returned to the United States since his historic first visit in 2008.