The Karmapa’s two week tour to the US was planned under a veil of secrecy until the last minute when the good news broke barely 2 days before he was due to get onto the plane. No one asks why the process is so secret, so last minute any more. Those who have followed the Karmapa’s tentative movements for 11 years all know – this is how it is. It’s like watching a bird in a cage who is not allowed to fly. Obstacles. More mantras, more guru yoga. We wait, watch and cheer him on, hearts on fire with his every step out of Gyuto ‘camp’ where he has been living in two small rooms since his escape from Chinese occupied Tibet. This time the doors opened for a two week break – extended to three – to attend the Kalachakra in Washington DC and a brief drop in to his lineage seat in North America at Woodstock, New York. Not exactly freedom but we celebrate anyway.
The Kalachakra was first given by the Buddha in South India to the King of Shambhala, a land somewhere on this planet but accessible only to those of high spiritual development. The history is mystical, legendary and imbued with prophecy. After the first seven kings of Shambhala had received and practised the Kalachakra, the lineage passed to 25 Kulika kings who are said to reign for 100 years each in Shambala. We are now in the reign of the 21st king. It is said that during the reign of the last Kulika king there will be a great war between the forces of good and evil and all those who get the Kalachakra initiation will be on the right side; fighting the good fight as Shambhala warriors. The King of Shambhala will win and there will be a reign of peace, a golden age for hundreds of years. Washington is the 31st place on the planet to get pinned onto the Kalachakra mandala.
The Dalai Lama gave the first Kalachakra initiation in the US in Madison Wisconsin in 1981. I still remember girls in extremely short shorts with curlers in their hair doing prostrations on stage.
But attitudes do change and now HH Dalai Lama is an icon, Richard Gere is in attendance, the new democratically elected Tibetan Prime Minister, born in Dharamsala and educated in the US, is making an important public appearance, and the 17th Karmapa is 26 years old, showing the marks and signs of a Buddha. His presence on stage, seated on the same level as the other Lamas, is nonetheless magnetic. His connection with the Dalai Lama is now firmly established after living at his monastery since he escaped Tibet.
Having abolished the political institution of the God King, the Dalai Lama is taking his place alongside old warriors, Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. (Martin Luther King and HH Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace prize on exactly the same day, 25 years apart.) It’s an historic occasion, emphasized by the backdrop of Capitol Hill. Flanked by Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma, and Martin Luther King 111, the Dalai Lama opened the ceremony on July 6th, his birthday, to an audience spanning five continents.
A report from the Kalachakra grounds on July 6th.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivers a recorded speech from South Africa. The audio and video is projected on a huge screen that hangs above and dwarfs the stage. A close personal friend, Archbishop Tutu, talked about His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s decision recently to retire from politics. He urged listeners to take on His Holiness’ work to do good things in the world, saying that to do so would be the best birthday gift we could give him and that it would leave him free to “concentrate on the spiritual practices he so loves.” With a sparkle in his eye, he said he hoped that His Holiness would soon come and visit him in his own home and that they would be able to sit on his front porch, drinking rooibus tea, two retirees. …
Then Arun Ghandi delivered a moving talk. He is a writer and journalist. His book The Legacy of Love records the time he spent with his grandfather Mahatma Ghandi as a youth and the lessons he learned from him:
“There is physical violence and passive violence. We commit passive violence a great deal… and it “fuels the fire of physical violence. We need to cut off the fuel…. It must begin with us.” We need to “become the change we wish to see in the world.” He invited every one present to take a pledge in honor of the Dalai Lama’s birthday:
“We will no longer hate, discriminate or be greedy.”
Martin Luther King III gave a powerful speech… saying that the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of compassion …
The Dalai Lama then spoke to the guests and audience in English. …. “If you can help others do it as much as you can. If you can’t help others, at least refrain from harming them.” …
“I am not only an admirer of Mahatma Ghandiji and Martin Luther King; I try my best to carry on their spirit to promote non-violence. The source of non-violence is compassionate intention. Sometimes you can practice non-violence by not harming others but inside you are still full of hate. …True non-violence is full of self-confidence, warm-heartedness and optimism. Thus the best birthday gift you all can give me is to pledge to practice compassionate non-violence. …
The source of happiness is a calm and peaceful mind, full of optimistic self-confidence. Scientific studies now show that a calm mind brings good health.
Though we might try to find happiness from outside ourselves through money and power, the real source of happiness is within. “
In a bold move that met with much resistance from his people, the Dalai Lama had recently ended the political role of the Dalai Lamas. He then took a pledge to keep separate the religious and the political.
“The four centuries old institution of the Dalai Lama as both the political and spiritual leader of Tibet should be separate. For many years I espoused the separation of the spiritual and political but I continued to combine them in my personal position and that was hypocritical. So from now on, I will fully implement the separation of the religious from the political. ”
The defining moment I was eagerly awaiting came on July 9th, when HH Karmapa arrived at the Kalachakra. His final permission to leave for the USA had been delayed by nearly one week. A timely piece from the London Telegraph put the last nail in the coffin of the Indian media smear campaign to discredit the Karmapa by labelling it a ‘witch-hunt’ and interpreted the trip to the US as a sign that the Indian Government regarded the Chinese spy allegations as “baseless”.
The Karmapa was ready to come onto the world stage.
Saturday morning, before a World Peace talk took place on the West Lawn of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje stood silently on the stage, waiting to greet the 14th Dalai Lama. This was the 26-year-old Karmapa’s first public appearance since arriving in the nation’s capitol the night before. While thousands of people had come to hear the Dalai Lama’s talk on the importance of cultivating inner and outer peace, fewer seemed cognizant of the young Karmapa, the third highest-ranking Lama in Tibetan Buddhism, waiting quietly in the wings. When the Dalai Lama made his entrance, the Karmapa walked forward, and the two bowed gently towards each other in a Tibetan gesture of mutual respect and affection. The symbolic image of these two great Tibetan spiritual leaders on a world stage, with the Washington Monument behind them and the U.S. Capitol in front, may have been lost on those unaware of Tibetan politics. For several years, there has been widespread speculation about the Karmapa’s role once the 76-year-old Dalai Lama retires from his active position as the face of the Tibetan movement….”
How will the Karmapa face the challenge of spiritual figurehead for the Tibetans? He has pointed out many times that the Karmapas are an apolitical lineage and have been for 900 years; and he is not about to change it. In fact, as he said in an interview with me in November 2010, there are other options for change.
“When we talk about the Tibetan issue with China, the Chinese government always understands it as a political issue, so it doesn’t progress from that. They call it a splittist movement. We don’t make headway. It is blocked.
To overcome this obstacle I have said this that it not only a political issue. It is to do with the Tibetan race, culture, welfare of Tibetan people and protection of Tibetan environment. It is an issue relating to all sentient beings in Tibet.
By saying this I hope to establish an understanding on the part of the Chinese government that Tibetans and Chinese are men and they can cultivate the spirit of affection, love, kindness and maybe grow into compassion. Practically in other parts of the world, not everyone finds it easy to support the Tibetan cause politically, but they can support it on humanitarian grounds, or the language, or the environment.
So I hope that the Chinese government will understand the issue from these different angles.”
Naomi (Norma) Levine’s website: www.earthmudra.com