The Black Hat Lama and the Future of Tibet (global oneness project)


by Seana Quinn

We ascended the monastery steps leading to his private meeting quarters at a snail's pace, waiting patiently as His Holiness met with individuals and groups ahead of us in line for what seemed exactly the appropriate amount of time - nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps all of our time in India so far had been but a preparation for our audience with His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, head of the Kagyu lineage and one of the most revered spiritual leaders in Tibetan Buddhism.
Waiting in line, the suspense aroused curiosity. What was the expectation? We had spent days trying to attain a permit to interview and film His Holiness. Although meeting with the Karmapa isn't particularly unique--he holds regular public audiences and is, after all, a public servant--arranging a filmed interview with the young man who is a political and spiritual leader, living in exile, and holding hope for the future of Tibet, requires a few more security checks and administrative procedures than the average blessing.
We wanted to interview the Karmapa on the importance of having a consciousness of oneness in general and what role it can play in politics in particular. Through translators, we had spent hours attempting to explain and translate "oneness" into Hindi and Tibetan. The entire scenario akin to an existential cartoon or a good game of "telephone", we ultimately failed to adequately describe the ineffable. And yet our inquisitors, sufficiently confused and reasonably satisfied, granted our permit. We weren't CNN or BBC but we were an international team with an American project and we had lots of gear. Our cameras and their officials seemed to legitimize things on both sides of the cultural divide. Publicity, it turns out, despite the danger of bad press, is an international language with universal appeal.
While mixing politics and spirituality has long been a practice in the East, the combination is seen as volatile and something to shy away from in the West.
We are, however, beginning to bring together subjects that traditionally function separately. Science and spirituality, ecology and spirituality and even politics and spirituality are coupling on the outskirts, edging their way into the collective consciousness of well-meaning secular societies. Tibetan Buddhist culture, although almost destroyed, has never separated spirituality from government, and in the face of current world issues and trends, there may be something to learn from this.
According to tradition, the Karmapa is the 17th emanation of an enlightened master belonging to a lineage over 700 years old--the oldest tulku lineage in Tibetan Buddhism. Born fully conscious to a Tibetan nomad family just four years after his previous incarnation, the Black Hat Lama, as he is known, is anything but ordinary.
To begin with, some intrigue and controversy surround His Holiness as two people claim to be the reincarnation of the 17th Karmapa, but the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government recognize only one. In the year 2000 and at just 15 years old, the recognized Karmapa escaped from Tibet to India where he was given refugee status. Although from different traditions, His Holiness is seen frequently with the Dalai Lama--head of the Tibetan government-in-exile--and similarly, is even considered an embodiment of compassion. Now, in his early 20's, traditionally trained and steeped in spirituality and politics, the Karmapa seems well placed to be a future voice of Tibet.
Finally our moment to meet His Holiness had arrived. We entered the simple meeting room and stood before three grand thankas and three less noticeable robed guards. His Holiness walked in from the sunny balcony wearing traditional robes and modern sunglasses. It was difficult to read his expression. Was he slightly bored with the prospect of yet another meeting? Or was it the cool calm of a man in constant meditation? Perhaps the restrained poise of one who has mastered his energy and the correct Buddhist attitude of not too happy, not too sad?
Removing his sunglasses, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa stood before us, tall and powerful, and elusive. He received us formally. He presented as an interesting mixture of youthful innocence and a wise old man; his intelligent visage and handsome charm carefully tended by the men at his side and the weight of 700 years on his shoulders.
After a momentary pause and meeting of the eyes, the interview proceeded for almost an hour as he thoughtfully answered in Tibetan our pre-approved questions, reflecting on the role of spiritual leaders and spiritual consciousness in the world today.
When asked about politics and his possible future role on the world stage, he was cautious, eloquently guiding the conversation to more acceptable and nonspecific examples of public service. Customarily, the Karmapas aren't involved in politics and not everyone would welcome the change.
He did however hint at an underlying knowledge of politics and revealed how, from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, spirituality and politics can come together in relationship. According to His Holiness, as much as we must work on ourselves from the inside to have an effect on the world outside--for the betterment of society as a whole--so must society work for the good of the individual. "When society and the individuals that make up society are mutually supportive, mutually self-sacrificing, social unity and harmony is possible."
The Karmapa further explained that spiritual leaders have a part to play in the world. Due to a life of meditation and altruistic spiritual practice, spiritual leaders have a clarity and naturally holistic perspective, which in turn fosters "unity consciousness" and a "broad, universal vision". But, says His Holiness, they are only part of the equation. People need to be included. Spiritual teachers need to be in contact with ordinary people and ordinary people need to be in contact with spiritual teachers in order for the benefit of their mutual work and faith to be useful. Additionally, it is the role of society to develop in such a way that this relationship can be cultivated.
During the interview His Holiness was modest, diplomatic and didn't venture far beyond what was expected of him. And yet, a twinkle in his eye suggested something else was alive behind all the formality. The Tibetans, after all, are not boring. They believe in magic, oracles and deities; they are colorful and imaginative, even tricksters. And most importantly, they know that nothing is as it seems.
It has been suggested by some that the recent adversity facing Tibetans is a (very Buddhist) lesson on the impermanence of human existence and all of manifestation. As a friend recently said of the current changes in the world, it is not the earth that is in trouble or in danger of being destroyed, but rather our world as we know it. Perhaps the role of the Karmapa, translated from Sanskrit as "the movement of karma", is to reflect this change through the dharma (Buddhist teachings). And, as the current Karmapa said during our interview--possibly pointing to his personal future role--it is our view of the world that is changing, and religion needs to adapt to this change, while at the same time keeping its essence, which is timeless.
In a recent Newsweek article, His Holiness responded to similar questions about his future:
"I have no goals, nor any ambitions to be of great influence...but if circumstances make me a force for change, then I am a force for change."
At the interview's end we bowed deeply to receive our customary silk prayer scarf before his assistants hurriedly ushered us out, past the next in line. As we descended the steps, we re-entered monastery life and heard the deep-throated puja chant of hundreds of young monks dressed as dakinis, the Tibetan female deities symbolizing primordial wisdom. According to historical convention, a dakini gave a black hat to the third Karmapa (1284 - 1339) and it became the emblem of the lineage.
With clashing cymbals and heavy horns, it was a ceremonial ending to our day, and perhaps this ancient ritual invoking feminine wisdom hinted at the underlying formlessness of our outwardly formal encounter with His Holiness.


84000 at Karmapa’s Berlin Visit

Contributing writer: Casey A. Kemp
During H.H. Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s first visit to Europe, 84000 was honored to have an information table at his teachings in Berlin, June 5th-8th, 2014. The four-day program, with over 1,500 people in attendance each day, was a packed schedule of teachings given by H.H. Karmapa that included talks on mind training, environmental sustainability and a special event for youth.
84000 volunteer team at work. Photo: Julia Homilius
Many visitors to 84000’s table had not heard about the project, but when they were told of its mission to translate the words of the Buddha into modern languages and to support translators of Buddhist literature, there was unanimous support. People were particularly inspired when they learned about the fast progress that 84000 is making in translating the Tibetan Kangyur into English. Several people mentioned that it may be the most important current project to sustain Dharma globally.
One volunteer, who also translates for 84000, spoke about how her experiences with the project has given her a sense of purpose because she feels that her work through it is truly meaningful. Some teens and young adults attending the events also communicated their desire to pursue studying Tibetan, Sanskrit, and classical Chinese to become translators because of the immense importance of 84000’s mission.
84000 is very grateful to H.H. Karmapa and the organizers of his Europe program for the generous offer of support. As H.H. Karmapa wrote in his letter to theTranslating the Words of the Buddha Conference in 2009: “Translating the words of the Buddha and the commentarial treatises from Tibetan into English is a necessary foundation for the genuine study and practice of the Buddhadharma for English speakers.” With the interest in Buddhism continuing to grow in Europe and throughout the West, it is even more critical for the Buddha’s words to be available in English and other modern languages.
H.H. Karmapa reading sutras translated by 84000. Photo: John L. Solomon
See the photo slideshow from the event below:
Photos: Casey Kemp, Joy Zhu



Chamling gets central assurances on Rumtek Karmapa (Kalimpong News)


Sikkim CM calls on Union Ministers

SNS, Gangtok, 18 July 2014: Chief Minister Pawan Chamling has managed to extract assurances from the Central government on the Rumtek Karmapa issue. After a meeting with Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari and minister of state Prakash in New Delhi on Wednesday, Mr Singh assured the CM that they would consider the Karmapa issue on positive light at the earliest, according to a press release issued by the state government here today.

In the meeting with Mr Singh, Mr Chamling reiterated some issues of the state still pending with the centre, such as the demand for reservation of Limboo-Tamang seats in the Legislative Assembly and granting permission to the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje to take “his seat” at the Rumtek Monastery, and inclusion of “left-out” ethnic sikkimese Nepali communities in the Schedule Tribe list. Apprising the Union finance minister, Arun Jaitley, of the fiscal position of the state, Mr Chamling handed over a memorandum, requesting him to grant income tax excemption to the “left-out” communities and the business community in Sikkim, the release said.

Mr Chamling later held detailed discussions with union road, transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari on the road sector in Sikkim and the role of the Border Roads Organisation(BRO) in the upkeep of the border roads and highways.

The CM reiterated the requirement of an alternative national highway for Sikkim and strengthening of the existing national highway. He also requested for a special fund of over Rs 7,500 crore in a phased manner for the Holistic Road Network Development Programme. MR Gadkari offered full cooperation to Sikkim in the implementation of the projects.

The CM also called on Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati, who showed keen interest in visiting Sikkim.

With minister of state for information and broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar, the CM placed a long pending demand of the state for the inauguration of the Doordarshan Kendra in Gangtok and posting of staff and other manpower there. According to the press release, he requested personal intervention of the Union Minister in inaugurating and commencing full fledged operation of the Kendra “to provide encouragement to local artists and also facilitate a better understanding of the way of life, dreams and hopes and aspirations of the people of Sikkim.”

Selected Articles

The Qualities of the Gyalwa Karmapa by Tai Situ Rinpoche 1999/11/9
Teaching on His Holiness Karmapa by Kenpo Karthar Rinpoche 1999/2/20

The 1st Karmapa

Early Karmapa with Footprints by Rubin Museum
The Lifestory of Düsum Khyenpa by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche 2011/4/12

The 16th Karmapa

The 17th Karmapa

The Black Hat Lama and the Future of Tibet (global oneness project) 2007
Shambhala: His Holiness Karmapa Arrives in New York by Eric Spiegel 2008/5/16  
Buddhadharma: The Karmapa in America 2008/6/1
Buddhadharma: On Becoming Karmapa by Melvin McLeod 2008/6/1
Buddhadharma: The Power of Unbearable Compassion 2008/6/1
“Kindness Is the Most Important Thing”: The 17th Karmapa concludes his first visit to America (Shambhala Sun) by Melvin McLeod 2008/9  
SHAMBHALA SUN: New Face of an Ancient Lineage by BARRY BOYCE 2010/1
History of Kagyu Monlam - Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche 2010
Sikkim Monks and the 17th Karmapa(Buddhism - About.com) by Barbara O'Brien 2010/7/19
Buddhadharma: "I Will Do It" by Llundup Damcho 2010/8/9 
Walking the Path of Environmental Buddhism through Compassion and Emptiness (Conservation Biology) 2011/11/9
The Buddhist Channel: The Karmapa's Statement on the Recent Acts of Self Immolation by Tibetan Monks and Nuns 2011/1/14
The Buddhist Channel:India Owns Copyright to Buddhism - Karmapa Lama 2011/12/23
The Buddhist Channel: Karmapa Reviving Use of Sanskrit in Spiritual Order 2011/12/25
The Buddhist Channel: Art, Drama and Poetry Meet on Karmapa`s Creative Canvas 2011/12/29
The Buddhist Channel: The Karmapa Wishes for Peace and Harmony in the New Year 2011/12/30
The Karmapa's Art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York by Karen Lucic 2012
ADMINISTRATION(taramandala) 2012/10/26
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Comments on Lama Tsultrim and the 2012 Chöd Empowerment, Sponsored by Tara Mandala(Tara Mandala) 2012/10/28
Night Dharma: To Guru Karmapa by okiebuddhist 2013/4/28
Karmapa released souls from purgatory by Ocean of Merit 2013/5/11
The Karmapa is NO Rock Star! by okiebuddhist 2013/6/12
An audience with His Holiness Karmapa (Kagyu Samye Dzong Lonzon) 2013/9/14
Message from Gyalwang Karmapa to Benchen Monastery 2014/1/16
H.H. Gyalwang Karmapa's advice to the Benchen community 2014/1/16