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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Young Spiritual Leader Arrives in New York, Ready to Teach and Be Taught

May 19, 2008

By GLENN COLLINS
The New York Times
May 16, 2008

The 22-year-old living Buddha seemed joyfully aware to feel no jet
lag whatsoever. So far. "Maybe tonight," he said in English on
Thursday. "But not yet." He had just arrived at a Midtown hotel with
his security detail after a 14-hour flight from New Delhi to Newark.

"It is the first time I've ever visited the United States, and it's a
bit like a dream," said His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ugyen
Trinley Dorje, one of the most important leaders in Tibetan Buddhism.

Despite his youth, he is revered by followers as a master teacher,
and on Thursday he began his whirlwind tour of the United States, an
18-day visit to New York, New Jersey, Boulder, Colo., and Seattle.

Yes, he is that Karmapa: the young master who made headlines across
the world at age 14 with his daring escape from China to India across
the Himalayas in 1999.

His followers regard him not only as the reincarnation of his
predecessor, the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, who died in
1981, but also as the 17th incarnation of the first Karmapa in the
12th century, in an unbroken lineage going back 900 years. They
revere him as leader of the Kagyu sect — called the black hat or
black crown sect — one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

To believers, he is the embodiment of wisdom and compassion, a
"reincarnate lama," or teacher who has achieved enlightenment yet
returns to the human world, lifetime after lifetime, to help others
do the same.

"The passing of the previous Karmapa was like the sun going behind
the clouds," said Michele Martin, a Tibetan translator who is the
author of a 2003 biography, "Music in the Sky: The Life, Art and
Teachings of the 17th Karmapa, Ugyen Trinley Dorje."

She added, "With the new Karmapa's arrival, it's like the clouds have
cleared away, and he is the sun in the sky."

Thousands of people have attended his public appearances in India,
and some 20,000 more are expected to see him in America. In Manhattan
he will be speaking to the faithful on Saturday at the Hammerstein
Ballroom (tickets: $30 to $108), and Sunday in the Grand Ballroom of
the Waldorf-Astoria (tickets: $35 to $175).

On Monday he will visit his North American seat at the Karma Triyana
Dharmachakra center in Woodstock, N.Y., where he is ecstatically
anticipated. The shrine room was used for scenes in "Kundun," the
Martin Scorsese film about the life of the Dalai Lama.

Americans have been preparing for the visit for a year and a half,
said Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, the organizer of the American trip,
who is president and founder of Nalanda West in Seattle, one of the
speaking stops. "There is great joy and delight that they can finally
see him," he said.

So little is easy, however, on the noble eightfold path of Buddhism,
and Ugyen Trinley Dorje is but one of two claimants to the title of
Karmapa in the Kagyu tradition. A rival, Trinlay Thaye Dorje, made a
tour of Europe several years ago. There have been legal battles in
India. Rival factions of monks, those emissaries of loving kindness,
have come to blows over the conflict.

But the American followers of Ugyen Trinley Dorje point to his
recognition as the 17th Karmapa by both the Chinese government and
the Dalai Lama, a world figure and a spokesman for Tibetan Buddhism
who has been a teacher to Ugyen Trinley Dorje.

In an interview, the Dalai Lama's United States representative, Tashi
Wangdi, said, "We welcome the visit" of Ugyen Trinley Dorje, adding,
"We are very happy that he will be here."

Robert A. F. Thurman, professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia
University, said, "The guy who's here is the official one," adding,
"The other Karmapa is a nice person, and he has followers in Europe
and Asia, but almost all of the Tibetans accept the Karmapa who is here now."

Asked about the rival Karmapa, Ugyen Trinley Dorje said that "one
person is appearing at a time, who is the reincarnation of the
previous Karmapa."

He added, "Being its current incarnation, as I am, it is my greatest
responsibility" to embody the succession.

His great escape from China, in December 1999, was a grueling
eight-day, 1,000-mile trip by foot, horse, train, jeep and helicopter
that led him to Dharamsala, India. The government accepted him as a
refugee in 2001.

Ugyen Trinley Dorje's age, spiritual presence and dramatic escape
have made him a rock star in certain precincts of Tibetan Buddhism,
and some have invoked a Barack Obama parallel. Elle Magazine named
the meditative master one of its "25 people to watch."

"He could become a spokesman for Tibetan Buddhism and Tibet itself,
if he chooses to," said Dr. Thurman, the author of a new book, "Why
the Dalai Lama Matters." He is also the father of the actress Uma Thurman.

Though Ugyen Trinley Dorje's residence has been a source of unease in
Chinese and Indian diplomacy, his followers say that despite the
embarrassment to the Chinese government his escape represented, the
Chinese have not excoriated him, as they have the Dalai Lama.

His followers expressed the hope that Chinese protesters would not
react to the visit of Ugyen Trinley Dorje as they did to the arrival
of the Dalai Lama in Seattle recently. Some protestors have blamed
the Dalai Lama for violent anti-Chinese riots in Tibet, an accusation
he has denied.

In the interview, Ugyen Trinley Dorje deflected political questions,
saying, "My work is all spiritual wherever I go," adding that
"sometimes politics enters into spirituality, but it is my prayer
that it not do so."

A kinetic, big-boned 6-footer with a gentle grip and piercing eyes,
he has a sturdy voice and a ready laugh. In his maroon robes on a
floral red-silk armchair before a gold-framed mirror, he was
surrounded by handlers and protected by the State Department, which
extends security to foreign dignitaries and the occasional perfect master.

"I wish I spoke better English," he said in an aside to a visitor
while his translators were struggling to render one of his comments.

His Holiness, as his followers call him, confirmed that he was 22
years old. When asked if he was also 900, he laughed heartily. He
carried on most of a brief interview in Tibetan through two
translators, with occasional asides in English.

The Karmapa has been traditionally recognized to be the third most
important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, after the Dalai Lama and the
Panchen Lama, Dr. Thurman said.

"I hope his followers won't push him too soon while he is a young
lama, and give him a chance to grow," he said of Ugyen Trinley Dorje,
estimating that he has more than a million worshipers worldwide, and
about 50,000 in the United States.

The visit is a chance to "bring peace and happiness to the minds of
sentient beings," said the newly arrived Karmapa. Asked if he had a
message for Americans, he answered, "Americans have a message for me."

He added, shrugging off gravitas with a twinkling eye, "I am here,
and I'm having this new experience, and I'm open to what Americans
have to tell me."
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