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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
29 summer 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly “On our third or fourth meeting, though, he showed me some of his paintings, which were colorful and playful, not religious de- pictions of bodhisattvas, and I was charmed by that. He was childlike in that instance, and I was charmed by this one moment when he didn’t seem like someone so much older than his years.” His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, could be quite playful and childlike, as many discovered when he visited the United States in 1974, 1976, and 1980. He was first hosted by Kagyu teach- ers who had begun to take students in the West, including Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche, and then by Karma Tri- yana Dharmachakra, in Woodstock, New York, his North American seat. These visits were whirlwind affairs, with large groups of monks and fellow teachers journeying to Dis- neyland, the Capitol Building in Washington, Hopi Indian lands, pet stores (the Sixteenth Karmapa was very fond of finches), and un- told numbers of venues large and small. Thousands of people, including Buddhists from a variety of traditions, took part in the renowned Vajra Crown, or Black Crown, cer- emonies held in a variety of cities. The Vajra Crown’s shape, color, and ornamentation represent a variety of dharmic principles, and it is said to be modeled after a crown seen in a vision over the first Karmapa’s head. At the moment when the Karmapa places the crown on his head, it is said that the transmission of the Karmapas’ realization is shared by every- one taking part. These events were glorious, festive, and ordinary. When I took part, I was a young student of the dharma—equal parts impres- sionable and skeptical—and what struck me about the Karmapa was how he carried himself as an ordinary person, and how he greeted you as if you were his long-lost friend. I could tell that he knew and embodied all the elaborate dharma I had been studying, and yet he was so easygoing, and wore his great understanding so lightly, that I surely could have introduced him to my mother, for whom Buddhism was the pinnacle of all that was exotic and strange. Michele Martin, a Tibetan translator and Buddhist author, knew the Sixteenth Kar- mapa well and has been getting to know the Seventeenth since he moved to India. In 2002 she wrote Music in the Sky, a book about his life, art, and teachings. “What’s quite amaz- ing about the Karmapa,” Martin told me, “is his ability to be deeply rooted in a traditional Buddhist world and to nurture those tradi- tions, and at the same time relate to the mod- ern world in a very skillful way. He’s able to be in both worlds at the same time. This is vital, because we need the depth and the wis- dom that’s passed along in the lineage, but we also need it to be adapted to a modern con- text, and he’s uniquely qualified to do that.” To understand the kind of responsibility the Karmapa holds, it’s helpful to place his role in the context of Buddhism in Tibet. The current Karmapa is regarded as the embodi- ment of the very first Karmapa, who lived in the twelfth century and traced his practice lineage back to the tenth-century Indian yogi Tilopa. How did we get from there to here? TimBucKleyBlairHansen His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa performing the Black Crown ceremony.