Buddhist Leader Speaks About Interdependence on Harvard Stop (The Harvard Crimson)


His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen T. Dorje spoke about the interdependence of all living creatures and the dangers of apathy at a lecture on Thursday. The Karmapa, the leader of one sect of Buddhism, stopped at Harvard on his two-month tour of the United States to deliver a lecture on “Caring for Life on Earth in the Twenty-first Century.”

David N. Hempton, dean of Harvard Divinity School, welcomed the Karmapa and referred to the school’s longstanding relations with representatives of Tibetan Buddhism. He made specific reference to the 16th Karmapa’s visit to Harvard in 1976 and the 14th Dalai Lama’svisit in 2009.

The Karmapa, who gave his lecture via a translator, began his talk with an allusion to a visit in his past life and said he was very glad to be back at Harvard. He recounted an experience from his youth in which he saw the tribe of nomads he was raised with suffocate an animal for its meat. He said he experienced an intense and unbearable feeling that he could not explain.

“I miss that degree of genuine, unfabricated feeling,” he said.

The Karmapa equated this degree of feeling with children’s innate capacity for love and kindness. He urged people to adopt this capacity, which he said people tend to lose with adulthood.

“I think our sympathy can extend to all living beings, including to animals," he said.

The Karmapa continued to emphasize the value of interdependence and argued that compassion is something that people need to experience, rather than understand. People need to realize that everything is interdependent, and that everything we have comes from other beings, he argued.

“In a sense, the most dangerous thing in the world is apathy,” the Karmapa said. Unlike violence, warfare, and disease, which can be avoided, people cannot defend against apathy once it takes hold, he argued.

Julie Gillette, Buddhist ministry coordinator at the Divinity School said the school was eager to host the Karmapa as soon as they learned of his continental tour. “We felt that young people could make a connection to him and could relate to what he talks about,” she said.  

Roderick L. Owens, a first year master of Divinity student and a Lama of Tibetan Buddhism, said he found the Karmapa’s remarks especially relevant in the context of the United States.

“I think it is important for His Holiness to be here right now in the United States and give his reflections on many of the problems we’re facing, especially racial injustice, the environment, the economy, and our ability to live harmoniously,” Owens said.

—Staff writer Andrés M. López-Garrido can be reached atalopezgarrido@college.harvard.edu.


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