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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
T his May, His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is making his his- toric first trip to the United States. Unlike the Dalai Lama, another teacher whose position has been inherited through the ancient tulku system of reincarnate lamas, the Seventeenth Karmapa is not yet well known in the West, even in the Buddhist community, although his daring escape from Tibet eight years ago was widely covered in the Western press. Since the Karmapa is only twenty-two years old and has not yet traveled extensively, his relationships with the wider world are just beginning. Those who are familiar with the line of the Karmapas, and those who met his predecessor, the Sixteenth Karmapa, dur- ing his visits to America, feel this visit will be historic and meaningful for Buddhism in the West. They expect the Seventeenth Karmapa, like his predecessors, to be a teacher who makes an impact. According to Robert Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and founder of Tibet House, “The Seventeenth Karmapa will represent Tibet and Buddhism in a really wonderful, twenty-first century way. He will expand the contribution that Tibet makes to the world in a time of conflict, nationalism, racism, and religious fanaticism.” The Karmapa’s role, Thurman says, is twofold: he is charged with carrying on one of the four major lineages of Tibetan Bud- dhism, the Kagyu, and, like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he is also a spokesperson for the message of Buddhism altogether. Mick Brown, a reporter for The Daily Telegraph in London, is delighted that the Karmapa has finally been able to leave India and travel to the West. Brown sought out the Seventeenth Karmapa in the summer of 2000, not long after his arrival from Tibet in January of that year. A book about the Karmapa and his journey, The Dance of 17 Lives, emerged from the conversations Brown undertook with the then fifteen- year-old Karmapa and a number of Kagyu teachers. “I was knocked backwards by his pres- ence and his composure,” Brown told me of his first meeting with the Karmapa. “It was arresting and kind of nervous-making, really. He was certainly unlike any fifteen- year-old I’d ever met. Of course, part of that can come from the expectation you have of meeting him and the protocol that surrounds an important figure, but nevertheless he defi- nitely had a gravitas beyond his years. The Karmapa in America The 17th Karmapa, one of the most important figures in Tibetan Buddhism, is making his historic first visit to the West. Barry Boyce reports on this young lama’s dramatic life and his responsibilities as holder of the Karmapa lineage. TimBucKleyBlairHansen buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 8 28