Can the Karmapa turn Buddhism Green?

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jan 8, 2009
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Often, spirituality seems to be all about navel-gazing, perfecting one’s Self…which, if such mindfulness isn’t extended to all that we do, if we don’t take responsibility for our everyday actions or karma (Karma means action, in fact!), is…well, selfish, on some level.

My Buddhist centers when I lived in Boulder,  Vermont, Boston and Boulder again didn’t offer recycling for years, and most Shambhala Buddhist centers still buy 90% of our food and meat in big plastic packages, meat from factory-farms…

But that might be changing. The 17th Karmapa, trained by the Dalai Lama and one of the principal heirs and leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, is young, charismatic, and both very much Buddhist and avidly eco-inspired

And after his recent visit—his first to the West since his front page NY Times escape from Tibet (now known as China) as a child—there’s hope that India, where he now lives, will let him travel once in awhile.

The Karmapa:

“Throughout my life I have always felt that the outer natural elements and my own mind are close. I have a special connection with the four elements. I am not being superstitious and saying I can talk to the elements, but sometimes it feels that way.

“Ever since the human race first appeared on this earth, we have used this earth heavily. It is said that 99 percent of the resources and so on in this world come from the natural environment. We are using the earth until she is used up. The earth has given us immeasurable benefit, but what have we done for the earth in return? We always ask for something from the earth, but never give her anything back.

“We never have loving or protective thoughts for the earth. Whenever trees or anything else emerge from the ground, we cut them down. If there is a bit of level earth, we fight over it. To this day we perpetuate a continuous cycle of war and conflict over it. In fact, we have not done much of anything for the earth.

“Now the time has come when the earth is scowling at us; the time has come when the earth is giving up on us. The earth is about to treat us badly and give up on us. If she gives up on us, where can we live? There is talk of going to other planets that could support life, but only a few rich people could go. What would happen to all of us sentient beings who could not go?

“What should we do now that the situation has become so critical? The sentient beings living on the earth and the elements of the natural world need to join their hands together—the earth must not give up on sentient beings, and sentient beings must not give up on the earth. Each needs to grasp the other’s hand.

“We will not give up on the earth! May there be peace on earth! May the earth be sustained for many thousands of years! These are the prayers we make at the Kagyu Monlam.

“Now I will boast a bit. I have the strong feeling that I am connected to the natural elements. Technological devices do not agree with me. I feel most comfortable using natural things. When I use technological devices, my body feels rather uncomfortable, although I have no choice but to use them.

“Both the body and mind are strongly connected to the unaltered, natural elements. We are not giving up on the earth.”

With thanks for the quote to Arctic Dharma, check it out!


And here’s the ol’article on his dramatic, made for Hollywood escape. Excerpt:

Buddhist Leader, 14, Flees Chinese Rule in Tibet for IndiaOne of Himalayan Buddhism’s most important lamas has escaped Chinese-controlled Tibet in a weeklong undercover flight across Nepal and into India.

The religious leader, the 14-year-old head of the Karmapa Buddhist order, stole away from the Tsurphu Monastery, north of Lhasa, on Dec. 28 and arrived unannounced on Wednesday in Dharmsala, India, where the Dalai Lama welcomed him to freedom.

”It is a joyful thing for all Tibetan Buddhists,” said Robert A. F. Thurman, a leading American Buddhist scholar and a professor of religion at Columbia University. Professor Thurman, a Buddhist who speaks Tibetan, said that the flight of the 17th Karmapa, venerated as the reincarnated leader of a major branch of Tibetan Buddhism, ”is very embarrassing for the Chinese.”

”This means that even the ones they try to promote as puppets want to leave anyway,” he said. In 1994, the 17th Karmapa, whose name is Ugyen Trinley Dorje, was the honored guest of President Jiang Zemin at Chinese national day celebrations in Beijing.

On Friday, the Chinese government confirmed that the lama had left China, citing a letter he had left at the monastery saying he was going abroad to retrieve musical instruments used by previous Karmapa lamas. His departure was not meant ”to betray the State, the nation, the monastery or the leadership,” the government quoted the letter as saying.

Melvin McLeod, publisher of The Shambhala Sun, an American Buddhist journal, called the report of the Karmapa’s flight ”extraordinarily important.”

”There is no longer any fear that one of the major leaders in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy would be under the sway of the Chinese, but will return to the lineage of which he is so important,” he said.

In Woodstock, N.Y., where the Karmapa Buddhists maintain their largest monastery outside the Himalayan region, the Karma Triyana Dharma Chakra center, Tenzin Chonyi, the monastery president, said that the escape seemed miraculous. ”Millions of Buddhists outside of Tibet have been waiting for decades” for the blessing of the Karmapa, he said.

Mr. Tenzin Chonyi, who spoke yesterday with monks in India, said that details of the Karmapa’s flight from the Tsurphu Monastery, about 40 miles north of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, were still sketchy, but that it appeared that he and four monks had left by foot and were later picked up by trucks or other vehicles in Tibet and Nepal.

”For us it is a dream coming true,” said Mr. Tenzin Chonyi, who also fled Tibet as a youth. He added that the Karmapa’s escape underlined the worsening treatment of Tibetan Buddhist leaders by the Chinese.

Buddhist scholars said that the Karmapa was apparently prodded into leaving because the Chinese did not deliver on a promise to let him visit his followers outside Tibet or invite his most influential teacher, Tai Situ of Rumtek Monastery in India’s Himalayan state of Sikkim, to go to Tsurphu, the Karmapa’s central religious seat. Tsurphu was one of the monasteries most devastated by the Chinese before and during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

There was no immediate decision in India about the Karmapa’s fate as an illegal entrant there, but the Indians have been lenient with fleeing Tibetans for decades. The Dalai Lama fled Chinese control for India in 1959 with many followers…

…click over to NY Times for rest of story.

The current Karmapa’s predecessor, whom I met several times, was a sort of hero to me, I called him “The Big Man in the Big Hat,” performing the Karmapa lineage’s traditional Black Hat ceremony, which is a strangely profound demonstration of fearless “Buddha Mind.” I was in the audience, though I’m now an old boy I even still personally remember it slightly:

A visit to the Zoo:

And with Hopi Nation (these clips come from a wonderful movie, The Lion’s Roar) produced by Chogyam Trungpa’s students:

The 17th Karmapa, his heir, upon his arrival in NYC:



About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


6 Responses to “Can the Karmapa turn Buddhism Green?”

  1. […] her a little bit, though I only rarely see her (recently saw her a little at the Karmapa’s first visit to America). Here she talks about tonglen practice, one of the two or three fundamental […]

  2. shannon says:

    I am so glad you posted this! As an environmental scientist/professional and Buddhist, this is a topic that has really come to my attention lately. That is, the paradoxical gap between Buddhist philosophy/teachings and the relative lack of green, sustainable practices and teachings in the books, sanghas, conferences, centers, etc. etc. that I have interacted with. This is something our generation needs to work hard to promote and help transform. Along with Karmapa, the Dalai Lama, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, and other teachers who are making this more central to their teachings.

    Thich Nhat Hahn just published a new book that I got as a gift for Christmas – The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology. It’s quite inspiring and he pulls out the mention of a Bodhisattva from the Lotus Sutra — Daranimdhara, or Earth Holder, as someone who preserves and protects the Earth. Yet, it seems this Boddhisattva has not gotten the deserved attention, especially in a modern context. Unless you know of other examples…? I’d love to know about them.

    While this is a great book by Thich Nhat Hahn, it elucidates to me how much work we have to do to bring sustainability practices into our sanghas and into the teachings from here forward.

    Excellent post!
    Shannon McNeeley

  3. […] up on a young Tibetan Buddhist leader green initiatives comes via our pal Nick Vail. We posted on His Greenness before—but the below represents a sea-change for a Buddhist community that, hypocritically, has usually […]

  4. […] him the Big Man in the Big Hat. For more on the Karmapa, and his charismatic reincarnation, the eco-responsible 17th Karmapa—who may on some level succeed the Dalai Lama when he passes away—click […]

  5. […] year’s Losar celebration, the Tibetan New Year, at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa’s monastic seat in North America in Woodstock, New […]

  6. […] the passion of youth with the wisdom of his Buddhist teaching lineage. You may know that the 17th Karmapa is already making a name for himself by instituting strong environmentalist measures in the Kagyu […]