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    Greater China
     Dec 17, 2010

Tibetans celebrate Karmapa's anniversary
By Saransh Sehgal

DHARAMSALA, India - While many in the world are busy peeping into Washington's diplomatic secrets as revealed by WikiLeaks, Buddhists across the globe are enthusiastically celebrating the 900th anniversary of the birth of their first reincarnated spiritual leader, the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193), who started the unique tradition of reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism

and founded the Karma Kagyu lineage, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The celebrations again direct much attention to the current or 17th reincarnation of the Karmapa. Tibetans in exile here generally look up to him as their future spiritual leader after the Dalai Lama.

Celebrations began in Buddhism's most sacred site Bodhgaya in India - where the Buddha attained enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi Tree almost 2,600 years ago. The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, led the opening gala on December 8 with hours of rituals, prayers and traditional Tibetan dramatic performances to express gratitude to the 1st Karmapa.

The 17th Karmapa delivered a message on the occasion:
What we are remembering and reflecting on with Karmapa 900 is the great kindness of Dusum Khyenpa. Through his deeds in founding the Karmapa lineage and the great lineage of the Karma Kagyu, Dusum Khyenpa was the source of 900 years of kindness to beings. He was the actual seed for the vast tree of the Karma Kagyu, with its wide shade-giving branches and its blossoms and rich fruits. It is my personal duty and the duty of all followers of the Karma Kagyu to honor his deeds and his great compassion, courage and wisdom, by cultivating those same qualities ourselves. Karmapa 900 is designed to serve as a reminder, and as an opportunity to do so.

The grand opening ceremony for the celebrations had Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile as the chief guest, and was attended by members of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile and high lamas from all religious sects of Tibetan Buddhism and from other Buddhist schools among thousands of Karma Kagyu lineage lamas, disciples and supporters from India and abroad.

Over 10,000 Buddhists from across the world, including the US, South Korea, Japan, Bhutan and Thailand congregated at Bodhgaya and participated in the opening ceremony, said a statement posted on the web site run by Karmapa 900 organizers.

At the scene in Bodhgaya, Lobsang Wangyal, a Tibetan journalist, said: "For a Tibetan, the Karmapa 900 is such an important historic event. I think most of the important Kagyu lamas are here and they are all looking very jubilant, honored and grateful to be part of the event."

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile who heads the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism and leads the Tibetan people in their struggle for greater autonomy for Tibet, said in a special message for the Karmapa 900 occasion: "Recalling that the best way to please your spiritual teacher is to put his teachings into practice. It is my humble appeal that people listen to, think about and study all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and dedicate themselves to preserving and promoting the values that the Buddha taught in the hope that his wonderful message of compassion spreads throughout the world."

Tenzin, a monk from the Kagyu School who missed the opening ceremony in Bodhgaya, described how valuable the celebrations were for him and all Tibetan Buddhists. "It is a lifetime opportunity for Buddhists to see and be a part of the celebrations. In this 21st century, celebrating the 900th anniversary of the Karmapa lineage itself is something hugely great, which surely will help our religion grow stronger despite the fact that it is losing its grip in Tibet proper because of China's policies."

Rinpoche said in an interview with AsiaNews: "Nine hundred years of Karma tradition are significant because this is an occasion to strengthen and reinforce the Tibetan religious and cultural identity in the heart of every Tibetan, anywhere in the world."

The Karmapa lineage is the oldest in Tibetan Buddhism and all Karmapas have played an important role in preserving and spreading Tibetan Buddhist teachings. The Karmapa's relationship to the Dalai Lamas has also been a special one. Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug sect, himself received his layman ordination from the 4th Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje, when he was three years old. Today the Karmapa has thousands of students from the West and his support is enormous.

Charlee Parkinson, an American disciple, said: "The 900th anniversary of the Karmapa lineage inspired a deep sense of gratitude and inspiration in many people. It's difficult to comprehend the depth of the generosity that the Karmapas have offered humanity in nearly a millennium through their continual presence. The intentional activity of reincarnating to benefit all beings directly inspires others to work for the welfare of humanity."

Religion plays a powerful role in Tibetan society. Tibetans have given their spiritual leaders the right to choose the best way for their lives. Currently, Tibetans' quest for a more autonomous Tibet is also related to their will to save their religious identity and unique culture.

Both the Dalai Lama and the 17th Karmapa fled Tibet to India. The Karmapa's dramatic escape on January 5, 2000 from Tsurphu Monastery, the official seat of the Karmapas in central Tibet, made him a hero among Tibetans in exile. The high-profile celebrations of the 900th anniversary of the Karmapa lineage are reinforcing the belief of many Tibetans here that the 17th Karmapa is the natural successor to the Dalai Lama after the latter's retirement or passage.

Tibetans in exile are in a long process of electing leaders of their government. The Dalai Lama recently publicly announced that he would retire from politics early next year after new government leaders are elected, though he would continue carrying out his spiritual duty.

Currently, the 17th Karmapa is the second-highest spiritual leader in the exiled Tibetan community after the Dalai Lama. His ideal for a future Tibet is much the same as with the Dalai Lama. The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, recently said again that the future of Tibetan Buddhist culture, religion and environment in Tibet was in peril.

But for Buddhist followers there is now something new that is quite disturbing. The issue of the true incarnation of the 16th Karmapa has become disputed. Ogyen Trinley Dorje's status as the real successor to the 16th Karmapa is under challenge by Ogyen Thaye Dorje, who claims to be the true incarnation of the 16th Karmapa. This is despite the fact that Ogyen Trinley Dorje's status has been approved by both the Dalai Lama and Chinese government and also accepted by most Tibetans.

The Karmapa succession case is still being handled by the Indian judiciary, and the two disputants have been kept away from the official seat of the Kagyu lineage at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, India until the matter is settled.

Regardless of the dispute, Ogyen Trinley Dorje has an energetic charisma and will play a much larger role in the 21st century, not limited to religion. The 25-year-old monk has been advocating a role for Buddhism in environmentalism and even the use of modern technology. He gave talks for Technology, Entertainment and Design, a small non-profit organization, in which he said that the acceleration of technological connectivity could be enhanced by "heart-centered design" based on "heart-to-heart connections".

His environmental protection group is the Khoryug (environment in the Tibetan language), a network of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries which have jointly made the commitment to help protect the Himalayan region from environmental degradation. Participating Kagyu Buddhist monasteries are carrying out environmental protection projects under his leadership from India, Nepal and Bhutan.

In his speech he also appealed for the people to give attention to education, to engage in meritorious works and to care for the environment.

Parkinson had the final word: "Historically, the role of the Karmapa has always been the same: to extend the genuine teachings of the dharma to others. The 17th Karmapa is a great master and a man of peace. He represents a new sense of hope for us in the modern world, particularly for the younger generation. The Karmapa's ability to travel freely and share that sense of hope is an important contribution to world peace and in this way he is an authentic world leader. The Karmapa's activities can benefit everyone, especially the Tibetans, if he is free to travel and share the Tibetan Buddhist legacy with the world directly."

Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, he can be reached at info@mcllo.com.

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