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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

An Interview with the Karmapa Lama

September 1, 2010

Saransh Sehgal
Asia Sentinel
August 31, 2010

Many in Dharamsala, India, the home of Tibetan
Buddhism in exile, believe the 17th Karmapa Lama,
whose name is Ogyen Trinley Dorje, represents the
future of Tibetan politics in exile as well. He
is extremely popular among young Tibetans, partly
because of his 1999 escape from Chinese hands,
but also because he possesses rare charisma. The
Karmapa passes much of his time in the protected
top floor of Gyuto Monastery near Dharamsala,
guarded by Indian policemen and intelligence
officers who keep a constant watch on his
activities. He has busied himself by becoming
increasingly knowledgeable about environmentalism.

The Indian government, virtually since the
Karmapa Lama arrived in Dharamsala, has been
careful to not annoy the Chinese by allowing him
unfettered movement, although he was allowed to
visit the US in 2008. Revered as the
third-highest spiritual leader in Tibetan
Buddhism, the Karmapa escaped from Tibet and
enraging the Chinese, who thought they were
grooming him to be their docile face of the Tibetan religion.

Last year he established an environmental
protection group - 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.
The participating Kagyu Buddhist monasteries are
carrying out environmental projects under his
leadership from India, Nepal and Bhutan.

Calling it Eco-Buddhism - Pure Aspiration,
Bodhisattva Activity and a Safe-Climate Future,
the 25-year-old Tibetan monk's efforts are
regarded as a Buddhist response to global
warming. Tibet is the third-largest store of ice
on Earth -- nicknamed the "third pole," and it is
an endangered one The Himalayan region's glaciers
are the source of drinking water for much of
Asia. He is reaching out to his followers to seek
to revive the ecological consciousness of the Tibetan people.

"In order to save the Himalayas and Tibet from
the threats of deforestation, climate change, and
pollution, we have to be full of courage and
believe whole heartedly that this endeavor is
winnable" he says. "The alternative is unthinkable".

The Karmapa Lama sat down in late July at his
temporal residence in Dharamsala to talk about
his life, activities, recent restrictions
imposed, and his need to travel overseas. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Saransh Sehgal: There has been great interest in
your study of environmentalism, psychology and
foreign languages. Is it because the restrictions
on your overseas travel prompted you to spend
energy on these subjects? What relations do you
see between Buddhism and these subjects?

The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa: Generally, there are
many people using different languages and
studying different languages is to overcome the
lack of language skill and have clear
communication when interacting with some of those
people who come here; it is sad when
misunderstandings remain with those people who come here from faraway places.

Therefore, I put my best efforts into having, at
the least, formal conversations with them.
Studying modern psychology and Tibetan Buddhism,
with ancient and modern going hand in hand, is to
deepen and brighten my knowledge. In the case of
environmentalism, the environment has become an
important issue and therefore it is important to
understand it. I do all this voluntarily to
fulfill my personal and social responsibilities
of leading a society. It is not at all a new
topic I had begun because of overseas travels.

Q: You have been handling an environment
protection group. What has the group actually done- what are the findings?

A: This environmental protection group we have
here deals with basic issues such as raising
environmental awareness, discussing environmental
issues, finding and propagating the means and
methods to protect the environment, waste
management, cleaning the environment, the use of
solar power for conservation of energy and
planting trees. Generally speaking, we are able
to raise new environmental awareness amongst our
Tibetan community. What we have been doing deals
with very basic issues; we have not yet reached a
very high standard concerning protection of the environment.

Q: Will you try to help Tibet and China tackle pollution problems?

A: Our hope and request, which I think is
important, is to consider environmental issues
such as disruption to the natural flow of rivers,
harm to river ecosystems, shortages of water and
floods in numerous localities caused by
construction of hydro-electric dams on the rivers
of Tibet. The two nations, India and China, the
most populous in the world, are facing the
problems of water shortage and floods. This is becoming a very big issue.
It is not at all appropriate to treat the issues
on which the very existence of humanity depends
as political issues. As environmental issues
should not be political issue, I urge everyone to
deal with them sincerely and responsibly for the sake of humanity.

Q: Recently you have been denied permission to
travel to the west where your teachings are being
requested by your dharma centers and followers.
Can you explain how this affects you personally
and what would you say to those devoted to you
who are feeling very disappointed due to your political restrictions?

A: In a recent development, I was to visit Europe
and then the United States. There are people who
have been waiting for this to happen for 20
years. But when it didn't happen, it broke their
heart. Therefore, I both directly and indirectly
tried to comfort them; with spiritual means I
tried to bring peace and stability to their minds
and expressed to them my hope for a visit to
happen in the very near future. It appears that
they are still harboring huge hopes.

Q: Were you given any particular reason for your
trips to the west being canceled? If not - Is
there a sense of frustration in you since most of
your tours, well prepared by your followers, are
being cancelled at the last minute without any
reasons given by the Indian government?

A: I think you can ask government officers or
other authorities about this. Maybe it's because
the time allotted for the European trip is quite
long; one month. Maybe this is a reason. This is
a small reason, but perhaps for the main reason
it would be best for you to ask them.

Q: Is it due to pressure from Beijing?

A: I don't know. The one reason we were given is
that it is not possible. For details you should
ask the concerned government authorities.

Q: Since your tour of Europe was refused in
April, there has been a petition and campaign
developed by some of your students in America to
bring attention to your situation. How do you
feel about your students taking an active role in
bringing more awareness of your situation to the public?
A: As far as I understand, unlike we easterners,
the westerners are strong-willed and have high
hopes and expectations; with these
characteristics they have undertaken such
activities. Concerning the facts behind the
cancellation, we have officially produced
documents of clarification. Without clear
knowledge of the situation and reasons given, and
upon seeing me forbidden to make the trips, most
of the westerners appear to have become worried.

Q: Can you explain why it is necessary for you to
travel and teach the message of Buddhism and
environmental studies to other centers outside India and Tibet?

A: Amongst the Tibetan Buddhist masters, the
Sixteenth Karmapa was probably the first senior
Tibetan master to visit western countries and
establish dharma centers. He also sent disciples
to establish dharma centers. He was the first to
establish dharma centers propagating the Secret
Vajrayana Vehicle in western countries. As the
Sixteenth Karmapa visited western countries many
times for the purpose of propagating the
teaching, it is my responsibility to follow the
path, and as the number of such dharma centers is
much more than before, the need for making visits grows.

Dharma centers are not the only ones inviting me;
there are universities, societies working in the
field of Tibetan culture and religion, groups
promoting interfaith dialogue, and organizations
advocating protection of the environment who have
also invited me. Being looked upon as a leader of
a society, I intend to use these invitations as a
platform for the expression of my views and for
reminding people of the importance of issues such as environmental protection.

In Tibet, in the past, we did not have the
necessary conditions for making trips to faraway
places such as the west, but the lineage of
Karmapa with its long history of around 900 years
have been following a rule of performing
activities by visiting various places in Tibet;
not staying in a monastery but always in constant
movement with tents as accommodation.

This manner of performing activities is a unique
characteristic of the successive reincarnation of
Karmapas. Not living in a specific place, but
rather moving about everywhere and having face to
face communication with disciples, has become a rule followed by Karmapas.

Q: Would you play a role in finding the real successor of next Dalai Lama?

A: According to the tradition Dalai Lamas and
Panchen Renpoches choose each other's successor;
if a Dalai Lama has passed away whilst a Panchen
Renpoche is alive, the latter will choose the
reincarnation of the former, and if a Panchen
Renpoche passes away whilst a Dalai Lama is
alive, the Dalai Lama will choose reincarnation
of the late Panchen Renpoche. This is the way the
process of choosing reincarnations works.

Q: What would you like to comment about the
growing influence of China's picked Panchen Lama, Gyaincain Norbu?

A: I met him on many occasions when he was very
young. After his maturity, I saw some videos of
him; he is calm and humble. Quite recently, I saw
a newspaper reporting His Holiness the Present
Dalai Lama's hopes of him. For us, he is someone
born as a Tibetan given the title of Panchen
Renpoche by the Chinese government, and it is my
hope that he will use the advantages he has to bring changes inside Tibet.

Q: What direction do you see the dharma taking in
the 21st century? As spiritual teachings and holy
texts are said to be 'Living Words,' do you see
Buddhist teachings growing and evolving?

A: In my opinion, in the 21st century mental
peace has become a necessity; it is pursued even
more strongly than before. It appears that
everyone of this century is aspiring for inner
peace much more strongly than before; it is not a
matter of different religious beliefs. Being very
profound and extensive in the practices related
to the mind, Buddhism is full of skills to bring about mental happiness.

However, being a religion, for some individuals
it is bit hard for some individuals to derive
benefits from Buddhism. On one hand, one can
follow Buddhism sincerely as a dedicated devotee,
and on the other hand, in the 21st century, I
think it is important to bring about a change to
Buddhism and turn it into a social education, and
not just remain as a religion, so that even
non-Buddhists can study Buddhist teachings on
bringing about mental peace and the practice of compassion.

I think it is important not to impose
restrictions for them in doing so. For example,
as a religious matter, in ancient times yoga was
kept secret, as something that not everybody
could practice. But now it has become open and
accessible as a method to bring about physical
health. Some of the skills that we Buddhists
have, such as finding inner peace, and developing
love and compassion, can be taken as general education.

Q: The Dalai Lama has been in exile for more than
50 years, and we now see much less hope in seeing
him return to Tibet. What about you? Do you see
any hope for you to end your exile life?

A: As His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says,
and I believe, truth will always prevail. It is
the hope of, we, Tibetans to see His Holiness
return to Tibet and for the nation to enjoy peace
and happiness. If His Holiness is unable to
return to Tibet after the nation gains some sort
of independence, Tibetans will face a day of both
happiness and sadness, and it will be a half
fulfillment of our hopes. I have great hopes that
His Holiness will return to Tibet, and being of
young age I have a hope that I will be able to
return to Tibet. Even if I have to wait for 50 more years, I will wait.

Q: What advice would you give to young Buddhist
practitioners who are concerned about the impact
of recent environmental disasters?

A: The distance between humans and the
environment is becoming wider and wider and
likewise, we are bringing more and more harm to
the environment by using it indiscriminately.
Actually, before using the environment, we should
think; it is very important to think of the
consequences of indiscriminate destruction of the
environment. Lack of mindfulness is creating a lot of problems.

Therefore, it is very important to be mindful of
what we are using now and from where those
resources come from. For example, sweet cheeps of
birds and lush green forests are beauties; they
are not something that we have created; rather
those are naturally created beauties. However, if
we cut down forests and harm animals, we are
depriving ourselves of the natural beauties we
enjoy; it is as if we are destroying the very
sounds, smells and good tastes that we enjoy.
Therefore, it is very important to be mindful.

* Saransh Sehgal is a writer based in Dharamsala,
India, who can be reached at
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