Divinity of being simple ( The Week )
Story Dated: Monday, August 19, 2013 16:53 hrs IST
|Born to lead: The Karmapa knew his destiny at seven. |
By eight, he was in a monastery in Tibet receiving education.
|All in a day’s work: the Karmapa at a store selling Buddhist literature and artefacts.|
|Karmapa Interacting with his followers.|
|Karmapa Pursuing his hobby-Painting.|
The bowl of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, their crinkled dull gold foil gleaming like many mini suns, is hurriedly cleared away. Two tape recorders are placed on the edge of the glass. “It could turn into a Dharma talk,'' says a nun as she settles on the floor. The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, walks in a minute later and sits down, his red slippers hitting the floor. “I am very tired,'' he says with a smile. “I have no energy.” His translator, a man with more salt than pepper in his curly hair, sits beside him on the floor. The monks in the room follow suit.
There are many reasons why his story is fascinating. His life is a myth. And it is real. Miracle and reincarnation aren't words out of a feel-good Disney movie, they are events in his life. He knew his destiny at seven. By eight, he was in a monastery in Tibet receiving education. His childhood had ended and he was a guru.
In a world where ‘hope and faith' is a failed sitcom and leaders are no giants, scepticism is a life skill. The Karmapa then represents a fairy tale. He is 27, and millions, regardless of age, look up to him for guidance. It cannot be easy. “People come to me not only for spiritual matters,” he says. “They come with family problems. Sometimes, they have business problems and can't decide.''
He sits back and plays with his rosary. His hands stop at a bead and then move on quickly as he talks. He is never alone. Even when he sleeps, he admits. “It isn't a job where I keep office hours,” he says.
The room at the Hyatt in Delhi is large. You could play football in it. His room in the monastery, by all accounts, is tiny. “But his holiness has many followers. They would be extremely hurt if he didn't stay with them when he is in town,'' says a disciple. There are also presents, expensive ones, that he would never use. A Salvatore Ferragamo bag lies in the corner of the room. Visits to Delhi are rare. He does travel but most of the time, he is in his monastery near Dharamsala. His days there are more structured, and he meets people till noon. “Sometimes, the public audience carries on till later,” he says. “I skip lunch. That makes me sick. I get a headache.''
This is probably the only time during the interaction that he feels like a twenty-something. “He had presence even when he was eight,” says a disciple. He was born old. In one of the interviews he granted—he rarely does—he admitted that being a Karmapa is difficult. The pressure is a lot. Being wise at eight couldn't be easy. “For me it is,'' he says shyly.
The Dalai Lama was 24 when he escaped to India. He may have fought a full-scale war from the time he was 15, but he came in full glare of the international community much later. In 1959, the world was a different place. The Karmapa was 15 when he escaped in 2000. At that time, the politics surrounding Tibet as a nation-in-exile was much more nuanced and complicated. The weight of the burden of being a Karmapa in a country which had kept alive Tibet longingly in its imagination was far greater. The world was much more connected, complicated and more politically aware. “I didn't choose it,” he says. “It is a decision from the sky above. People have this sort of expectation that since you are the Karmapa, you already have this capacity. But for me personally, it is not like that. It is just like a title. You also need the skills and the experience. I need to try myself to be playing the role of the Karmapa. I need time, experience and practice. But people already think of me as the Karmapa. I don't have time to prepare. So, I feel double the pressure.''
The Karmapa has had to face other issues, too. His monastery created a controversy when large sums of money were discovered from its premises. The Indian government stepped in. Many allegations were made. The Karmapa has always been recognised by the Chinese government. The Dalai Lama, the face of the Free Tibet movement, too, extended his support to him. This consensus, which is rare, is enough to have spun off conspiracy theories as the Dalai Lama and the Chinese are firmly on opposite sides. Karmapa's followers are acutely aware of this, a reason why they have a pre-grilling session. This interaction was no different.
Being a spiritual leader in the 21st century is far from easy. It is especially tough when you offer guidance to a religion that is traditional in a world that is choosing to abandon that. It becomes tougher for a community that is in exile, looking for answers to questions about their identity. How does he battle scepticism? “I don't find that as a challenge,” he says. “Maybe because it is in my character to encourage questioning. People should not go by mere faith or belief, especially if it is on profound matters. I think it should be based on proper understanding based on reason, analysis and finding out what it is for themselves. I like to encourage doubt so that understanding would be brought to the table as opposed to mere tradition or faith. This is the call of the time. People are more inquisitive than before.... But I feel that this belief in faith is easy. But to understand… is more rewarding. You need to put more effort. But not many people want to do that.”
Simple isn't always easy, he says with a smile. It is clarity like this that makes his disciples believe that he is much older and evolved. “There is an indescribable feeling when you are in his presence,” says a disciple. “People have often asked me how I can follow him. He is just a boy. But he is my spiritual superior.”
For others, it is about spiritual maturity. “People come to his talk and all of them go back thinking that the things he said were meant just for them,'' says a disciple. He seems to be at peace. And, he provides simple solutions.
Before his escape to India, the Karmapa didn't know English. He has learnt the language since then. He still has a translator, but he doesn't use him often. Even when he chooses to, he is conscious of the choice of his words. “People think simple is not enough. They want it to be more complex. What could be more wonderful than what you have. It makes it difficult to come back to that simple state. I always give an example of an iPhone 4 that we had. The iPhone has thousands of uses. Maybe you know only four or five of them. So, you think you need something more,'' he says.
So, does he have an iPhone? He laughs. “No, people give it to me and I give it away,” he says. Can he use the email now? In one of his initial interviews, he had talked about knowing how to use a computer but not sending an email. He has a full-fledged web site now. There is even a blog. So, does he use email? “I have those skills,'' he says. He even plays video games and has a television, too. But he has not switched it on for two months now. His time is spent in meeting people, discussions and reading.
He has reintroduced Sanskrit, a language he understands and speaks, in prayers. Next, he wants to reform the education of nuns in his lineage. This would be a revolutionary step.
The only time he is relaxed is when he paints. “People have a lot of expectations,” he says. “They somehow seem to view me as some kind of deity enshrined. That I have no emotions, feelings.... You place before the deity all your woes, questions and request for whatever you want to be blessed with. That's all this deity is for. Then when you receive whatever you want and that is done. But in reality, it is different. I am in a human form…. People look at the outer being without thinking that I, too, have emotions. Sometimes one gets hurt and disheartened, too.” He is only 27. It is easy to forget that. He makes it easy to forget.