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His Holiness the Karmapa……..

September 30, 2009

The adventure continues in India and I have yet again had an experience that I probably would have never had had if we were not living in Delhi.

Last week, I got to hear His Holiness the Karmapa speak. Honestly, until last week, I did not know he existed. Sure, I had heard of the Dalai Lama but did not know anything about this young man. (If you are in the same boat, fear not. You can be enlightened at the bottom of this post.) But essentially he is possibly the next in line to serve as the Dalai Lama when the current Dalai Lama passes into his next life. There is quite a bit of controversy over whether or not this young man will be selected to fill in until the new Dalai Lama comes of age and can officially take over the spot. But he is at the very least being seriously considered.


Anylama, My kids school hosted a “Peace Day” celebration and invited His Holiness the Karmapa to speak. He attended a full day of activities. Parents were invited to attend the high school’s question and answer session. The topic of his speech was “how to be happy.” Sign me up. Who can’t use a little more happy?

This young man was fascinating to see and listen to. He was playful and funny.


He was also humble. In the question and answer session, he was asked how he finds peace. He seemed surprised that someone would want to know that about him. He took a couple of minutes to consider his answer. Then, he talked about balancing the responsibilities of his life (which are actually tremendous because he is watched by the entire world – he is held up as the epitome of peace and harmony – no pressure there) with his own expectations for his life. He talked about giving up some of the realities that other kids know as “normal” and accepting this role that was really thrust upon him.  He shared that he finds his own peace by accepting this responsibility and not trying to change it. By letting it be what it is.

He told us a story. I had taped the story so you could hear it for yourself. Well, I should say, I thought I taped the story so you could hear it for yourself. But apparently, I had technical difficulties – otherwise known as operator error – and none of the story ended up on my video. So, you are left with my retelling of a story I thought I taped and that I thought I didn’t have to remember all the details of because you were going to hear it for yourself. Yeah, you are getting the Readers Digest version for sure!

Basically, there was a man being chased by a lion. While he was running, he saw a rope over a cliff and decided to climb it to get away from the lion. As he started climbing the rope, he noticed at the top of the cliff there was a mouse chewing on the rope. He looked down – lion. Hungry lion. He looked up – mouse. Mouse chewing on rope. And he thought to himself that this might not be his best day ever. But then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted some lovely berries growing out of the side of the cliff. He took one and found them to be delicious.

The moral of the story is, of course, to find the good in the moment. To slow down and appreciate the berries even when a lion and a mouse are trying to get the best of you.

The Karmapa also reminded us that we have to work on ourselves first before we try to change the world. He referred to us as our own house – and our own house must be happy and at peace before we can achieve peace through others. Not that I am so ambitious as to try to change the world – but I would like some other people to change a wee bit. It was a good reminder that I have to work on myself first – because, alas, I have a lot of improving left to do.

If you are interested in more details about His Holiness the Karmapa, please keep reading below. This information is from his website. If you click on the title of the article, you will go directly to his site.

His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa

The Kagyu Office website presents extensive information on His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa. The sidebar provides links to sections on His Holiness’s current activities and schedule, as well as his personal history, from his recognition through his life in Tibet, his long journey from Tibet to India, to the current day.

Below is an overview of the His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa.

The Karmapas

Karmapa means “the one who carries out buddha-activity” or “the embodiment of all the activities of the buddhas.” In the Tibetan tradition, great enlightened teachers are said to be able to consciously arrange to be reborn as a teacher who can carry on the teachings of a predecessor in a prior life. Pursuant to this tradition, the Karmapas have incarnated in this form of manifestation body (Skt. nirmanakaya), for seventeen lifetimes, as of the present, and all have played the most important role in preserving and propagating the Buddhist teachings of Tibet.

Prior to the birth of the first Karmapa, the arrival of a Buddhist master who would be known as the Karmapa had been prophesied by the historic Buddha Shakyamuni and the great tantric master of India, Guru Padmasambhava. Throughout the centuries, Karmapas have been the central figure in the continuation of the vajrayana lineage in general and Kagyu lineage in particular, and have played a very important role in the preservation of the study and practice lineages of Buddhism. (For more on the Karmapas prior to the Seventeenth, see the section at this website on the Seventeen Karmapas.)

Birth and Early Years of the 17th Karmapa

In 1985 a male infant was born into a nomad family in the Lhatok region of Eastern Tibet. In the months prior to his birth, his mother had wonderful dreams during her pregnancy. On the day of his birth, a cuckoo landed on the tent in which he was born, and a mysterious conch-like sound was heard by many throughout the valley in which the family of the infant lived.

In Tibet, such events are considered auspicious portents of the birth of an enlightened teacher.

The young nomad was called Apo Gaga. While his early years seemed, to his family, full of blessing, Apo Gaga did not talk of any connection to the Karmapas. However, in 1992, he asked his family to move the location of their nomadic home to another valley, and told them to expect a visit from traveling monks. Soon after setting up their home in the new location, followers of the Sixteenth Karmapa came to that valley pursuant to the secret instructions of the Sixteenth Karmapa, contained in his letter of prediction. The birth and the other details of Apo Gaga’s life matched the predictions of the letter. Apo Gaga was discovered to be the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje.

In addition to his letter of prediction, the Sixteenth Karmapa wrote many poems, or songs, predicting that though he would leave his traditional main seat in Tsurphu, Tibet, he would soon return to Tsurphu again, that his root teacher would be HE Situ Rinpoche, and that he would study in India. After the death of the 16th Karmapa, it became clear that these predictions applied to his successor. Furthermore, the 19th Century master Chogyur Lingpa made a number of predictions about the lives of the Karmapas, and for the 17th, Chogyur Lingpa’s predictions matched the details of His Holiness’s birth. Since these predictions were to be fulfilled in themselves without recognition by any other master, it is traditionally said that the Karmapa is “self-recognized.” (These points are discussed in detail in the section on the Background of the Karmapa.)

The Karmapa’s Return To Tsurphu In Tibet, The Historic Seat Of The Karmapas

His Holiness's historic return to Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet in June 1992

In His Holiness’s historic return to Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet in June 1992, he donned ritual clothing and approached on horseback

The Seventeenth Karmapa did in fact return to Tolung Tsurphu Monastery in Central Tibet in 1992, where he was enthroned on September 27, 1992, with the permission of the Chinese government.

At Tsurphu, over 20,000 supplicants assembled to witness the return of His Holiness Karmapa. The following morning, some 25,000 people filed before His Holiness to receive a personal blessing.

At Tsurphu, the Karmapa studied the Buddhist sciences of mind, learned ritual, and practiced sacred arts, such as dance. Each day he received hundreds of visitors from throughout Tibet and around the world. He eventually began to offer empowerments and participated in various rituals at the monastery. At the age of about 10, His Holiness recognized the rebirth of reincarnate teachers, including such eminent teachers as Pawo Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and the Dabzang Rinpoche.

While His Holiness was at Tsurphu, the monastery underwent extensive rebuilding to restore the temples, shrines, stupas, a shedra, and residences that had severely decayed and been neglected over the years, fulfilling one of the main duties of a Karmapa. As the years went by, however, His Holiness sought to receive the empowerments and transmissions of the lineage, but was unable to do so fully because many of the Kagyu lineage teachers remained in India. To fulfill his spiritual duty, he and a handful of attendants left Tibet for India. (Details of this time period are covered in the section of this website about the Karmapa in Tibet.)

Karmapa’s Journey to India

His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa meets His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the first time upon his arrival in Dharamsala on January 5, 2000His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa meets His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the first time upon his arrival in Dharamsala on January 5, 2000

After months of careful planning, on December 28, the fourteen-year-old Karmapa pretended to enter into a solitary retreat, instead donned civilian garb, and slipped out a window. Leaving Tsurphu Monastery with a handful of attendants, he began a daring journey by car, foot, horseback, helicopter, train and taxi, a heroic journey which was to become the stuff of headlines throughout the world. On January 5, 2000 he arrived, to the great surprise and overwhelming joy of the world, in Dharamsala, India, where he was met by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. He received refugee status from the government of India in 2001. Details of his remarkable journey from Tibet to India are here.

From 2000 through 2007, His Holiness continued to live near Dharamsala. He has been permitted by Indian governmental authorities to engage in tours to Buddhist sites in India, and annually traveled to Bodhgaya and Sarnath for important Kagyu ceremonies over which he presides. He has also travelled to Ladakh, Tibetan settlements in southern India, Calcutta and elsewhere in Himachal area. His Holiness still awaits permission from the Indian authorities to leave Dharamsala and return to Rumtek Monastery, the traditional seat of the Karmapas in India. In 2008, His Holiness received permission to travel to the United States to teach the dharma for his first time in the West. Information about His Holiness historic first visit to the West is at

Information about His Holiness’s extensive activities since his arrival and his current schedule are also available at this website. An index of activities in India provides chronological links to detailed information about His Holiness’s travels.

An index to the extensive biographical information about His Holiness at this website is available from here.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2009 7:43 am

    This world is full of amazing things. One of such thing is the belief of re-incarnation. In Karmapa lineage there are lots of controversies regarding re-incarnations, not only in the present seventeenth one, also in previous times also. Is it the way, His Holiness tries to test the believers?…

  2. October 1, 2009 2:26 pm

    Here is the website of other Karmapa-

  3. October 1, 2009 2:24 pm

    You know Tibetan buddhism is really a fascinating school with this system of Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama and Karmapa…..I remember reading about this issue way back in early 90’s as there was a controversy on who real Karmapa is? In fact there are two claimaints to this important seat in Tibetan Buddhism……. Primary seat of Karmapa is Rumtek in Sikkim…..and there is a black hat lying there which Karmapa alone can wear….

    Infact, issue of Panchen Lama too is shrouded in mystery as there were two Panchen Lamas as well (one appointed by Chinese and other one recognised by Dalai Lma- latter is missing)

    Having said that, I think the real issue here is what Karmapa said…..and it was true and relevant in today’s world!


    • October 1, 2009 9:53 pm

      It is all so amazing – I really did not know that much about it until I went to this presentation. There is just so much in the world to discover!

  4. Swati permalink
    October 1, 2009 10:36 am

    Beautiful post a reason to write, I was wondering, would I be shallow minded, if I decide to throw the berries at the mouse- hoping the mouse would eat the berries and I will be able to save my life 🙂
    I am just kidding, it was a really beautiful story with a wonderful moral.

    • October 1, 2009 11:01 am

      Swati – I am all about using the resources made available to us the best way possible – so not shallow-minded at all – in your case, there would be a happy man and a happy mouse – that, my friend, is a win-win.

  5. October 1, 2009 12:18 am

    I wasn’t able to go, but I love the message. Take care of what’s inside YOUR four walls first and foremost. I need a tshirt printed with those words, I think.

    • October 1, 2009 2:26 am

      There are so many opportunities here that it is nearly impossible to take advantage of them all – but it was a lovely experience. And, I guess really, if we all worried about our own house and really took care of it – there would be no need to even think about anyone else’s. But human nature and all that jazz………….

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