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
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
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
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
Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, he can be
reached at [email protected]