The XVII Karmapa in Tibet
HIs Holiness, the XVII Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, was born in1985 as a child of a nomad family in East Tibet. He was found according to the instructions of the prophecy in a letter (9.3) left behind by the XVI Karmapa. The identity of the reincarnation was confirmed not only by Tai Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche, the lineage holders and heart sons of the XVI Karmapa, but also by H.H., the XIV Dalai Lama.
In 1992 His Holiness, the XVII Karmapa, was enthroned at Tsurphu, the traditional seat of the Karmapas in Tibet. He showed right from his early years that he would become a great and learned master, just like all the other Karmapas before him. Already at the age of 8 years the XVII Karmapa gave his first public empowerment. He soon became a master of all teachings and practices the Tsurphu monks could pass on to him.
The XVII Karmapa also began to recognise the reincarnations of other important Karma Kagyu Lamas like, e.g., that of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. Finally His Holiness even assumed the control of rebuilding Tsurphu Monastery, especially rebuilding the monastic academy (Shedra).
As the XVII Karmapa had expressed a wish that the funding of the new Shedra was to be taken care of by the Karma Kagyu Community Germany with a German and international fund raising drive. In the first years two board members visited the XVII Karmapa every year supporting him and the monastery as much as possible. This was the beginning of a close and trusting connection between His Holiness and representatives of our Community and the Kamalashila Institute.
Step by step His Holiness assumed the leadership of the Karma Kagyu monasteries and centres all over the world. The young XVII Karmapa attracted thousands of people who made a pilgrimage to him at Tsurphu – especially Tibetans, but also big groups from China and from all over the world.
The XVII Karmapa in India
At the age of 14 the XVII Karmapa decided to risk his dangerous and difficult escape from Tibet to India. He was going to take this risk as he was not allowed to invite his teachers from India to Tibet which meant he could not receive necessary empowerments and certain teachings. In addition the XVII Karmapa anticipated that, in the future, the Chinese authorities would play him off against His Holiness, the XIV Dalai Lama.
His Escape to India
The world was very much astonished, when the 14-year-old XVII Karmapa reached Dharamsala on January 5, 2000, to be received by His Holiness, the XIV Dalai Lama, who took charge of him. He bestowed rooms in the Gyuto Tantric Monastery near Dharamsala on the XVII Karmapa as his preliminary residence, one of the most important Gelugpa monasteries in India.
The ad interim solution has become permanent, the end of which cannot be foreseen yet. The XVII Karmapa was interrogated several times by the Indian secret service. Not until the beginning of January 2001 did the XVII Karmapa receive his refugee status. Subsequently, he went on his first pilgrimage to several Buddhist places in India.
During the 16 years since his arrival in India the XVII Karmapa has been a guest of the Indian government. His Holiness has continued his traditional monastic and philosophic education, but has also begun his studies of modern topics like science and the English language.
In Tibet the XVII Karmapa had already assumed responsibility for the monasteries and centres of the Karma Kagyu lineage. In India he started with reforming the study and discipline in the Karma Kagyu monasteries.
As the main platform for his activities he chose the Kagyu Monlam. The yearly prayer festival at Bodh Gaya attracts thousands of monks, nuns and lay-followers from all over the world. At the first Kagyu Monlam he was in charge of he began to instruct the monks and nuns how they had to dress and behave according to the rules laid down in the Vinaya Pitaka. This was followed by instructions about meditation, practice and praying.
In 2007 the XVII Karmapa asked his monasteries not to offer meat any more after his own vegetarian experience of several years. The XVII Karmapa explained that it was necessary for developing true compassion and reducing suffering to implement those in practice. At the end of his teaching thousands of monks, nuns and lay-people lifted their hands to pledge to eat nothing but vegetarian food in future.
In 2014 the XVII Karmapa set in motion a historic development to strengthen the position of women in Tibetan Buddhism by introducing a yearly ”Arya Kshema“, a winter dharma debate for Karma Kagyu nuns. With this move the XVII Karmapa improved the education and training of nuns. Around 300 Karma Kagyu nuns participated.
They did not only debate for the first time but also took on all other activities like directing rituals, reciting and disciplining the complete assembly which so far was only allowed to monks.
At the beginning of 2015 H.H., the XVII Karmapa, declared the process of introducing the full ordination for women would begin in 2016/2017. Thus he finished a decade-long discussion, if and whether the full ordination of nuns can be re-installed in Tibetan Buddhism.
The XVII Karmapa regards the protection of the environment as equal to the practice of dharma. It is his wish that Buddhist monasteries direct environmental projects, especially as the Himalaya region is confronted more and more with the huge consequences of climate changes. In 2009 His Holiness founded ”Khoryug“ (Tibetan for environment), a coalition of ecological Buddhist monasteries directed by the XVII Karmapa himself.
The network consists of 55 Buddhist monasteries and nunneries introducing environmental protection projects to the Himalaya region. He has issued guidelines of how to protect the environment to the Karma Kagyu sangha and a popular book under the title 108 Things you can Do to Protect the Environment. In addition the XVII Karmapa encourages especially people in industrialised countries to waste less of our resources and to lead a simpler life.
The XVII Karmapa is a regular and well-liked guest in Tibetan schools and universities. He became a role model for his courage, devotion and strong preservation of authentic traditions but also for his openness to positive modern influences – for Tibetans and especially young people. The XVII Karmapa’s conversations with the younger generation resulted in two important books: The Future is now and The Noble Heart. The XVII Karmapa has stressed time and time again he feels a strong connection to young people and therefore likes to discuss with them and keep up the dialogue.
With his course of action His Holiness is both traditional and innovative and artistic. At Bodh Gaya, in January 2014, he performed the very traditional Padmasambhava Lama dance.
At the same time he decided the female roles had to be performed by nuns and no longer by monks. The dances belong to the most beneficial and magnificent spectacles of the Tibetan Buddhist culture.
The XVII Karmapa is not only a scholar and master in every aspect of Tibetan Buddhist studies together with his poems, paintings, and calligraphies. His theatre plays and songs he performs together with artists of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) are also greatly appreciated. He is studying, with as much interest, languages and cultures of diverse Asian and western civilisations thereby learning Sanskrit, Hindi, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and English.
The XVII Karmapa is also interested in modern science. He actively participated in the ”Mind and Life“ conferences together with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
The XVII Karmapa in the West
His Holiness, the XVI Karmapa visited numerous places in Europe and the USA where he founded many Karma Kagyu groups and centres whose members and supporters asked the XVII Karmapa several times to visit them.
In May 2008, the XVII Karmapa did his first travel to the west, to the USA; where he taught in many dharma centres and public venues. In 2011 and 20015 he again travelled to the United States.
In 2014, on the invitation of the Karma Kagyu Community Germany, the XVII Karmapa travelled to Europe for the first time. Just like his predecessor the XVII Karmapa felt a strong personal connection to this continent. He once said he occasionally had an image of having once lived as a peasant in Germany.
HIs first destination was his main seat in Europe, the Kamalashila Institute, whose stupa he consecrated during his stay there.
Seeing Him again at the Kamalashila Institute®
Already in 2015, due to a new invitation by the Karma Kagyu Community, the XVII Karmapa was allowed to travel to Germany again, where he visited his Kamalashila Institute. At this opportunity he met Langenfeld’s citizens in their parish church St. Quirinus. After a short lecture they extensively used the opportunity to ask him questions.
The event closed with a common prayer for peace under the joined guidance of Monsignore Schrupp (the minister of the Langenfeld parish) and the XVII Karmapa.
For 4 days His Holiness gave lectures and empowerments in nearby Bonn, where he also met with Tibetans living in Europe. Then he paid a visit to the retreat centre Karma Tekchen Yi Ong Ling at Halscheid where he met former participants of 3-year retreats.
At the end he visited the centres of the associated societies Karma Tengyal Ling e.V. at Menz, Brandenburg and Ringu Tulku Rinpoche’s Bodhicharya Deutschland e.V. in Berlin.
In 2016 His Holiness, the XVII Karmapa, could finally travel to other European countries. His Holiness visited Switzerland and France. On three weekends he gave teachings and empowerments in Geneva, Zurich and Paris.
During a stop in Germany His Holiness paid a surprising and short visit to the Kamalashila Institute.
After his arrival representatives of the Community and the Kamalashila Institute had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate his ”real“ 31st birthday with him and have lunch together. After the meal, within a smaller circle, he discussed the future development of the Kamalashila Institute.
The Karma Kagyu Community and the Kamalashila Institute thank his Holiness for the beneficial time and hope to see him soon again at the Institute.