K a r m a . K a g y u . T r a d i t i o n

The Week Magazine

Dec, 2001

Apostle of peace

Politics is a no-no for Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje.

By Vijaya Pushkarna/Lumbini

Interview/Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje

Buddhist politics took the back seat at Lumbini in Nepal
the birth place of the Buddha, when the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje inaugurated the Drubgyud Choeling Monastery. Dispute over who is the genuine 17th Karmapa--Trinley Thaye, who lives in Sikkim, or Urgyen Trinley Dorje, who lives in Himachal Pradesh--was briefly forgotten as Buddhists stood for hours in queue to receive Trinley Thaye's blessings. The 18-year-old performed with aplomb for 48 hours to the satisfaction of the Karma Kagyu Buddhists who had come from all over the world. These non-Tibetans saw in him the 16th Karmapa, whose reincarnation he is believed to be.

In the limelight: Trinley Thaye Dorje offering the 'aspiration prayers' in front of the Lumbini Grove; (right, below) the Drubgyud Choeling Monastery

Trinley Thaye offered the 'aspiration prayers' of Badra Charya and Mahamudra in the picturesque Lumbini Grove, right across the place where Gautama Buddha was born, and gave the message of world peace in the only speech he made.

"In this age of trouble it is even more important that we carry forth the message of peace and tolerance," said Trinley Thaye Dorje. "Our aim is to bring about global peace, friendship among nations and tolerance among all of us."
"He spoke like the 16th Karmapa, who always cautioned against mixing dharma and politics," said a Buddhist from Denmark. "A Karmapa should not be as political as Urgyen Trinley Dorje. I don't understand why people who do not recognise him as Karmapa are being harassed. We have not heard a word of politics from Trinley Thaye. On the other hand, he asks people to keep away from it."

Businessman Dr C.H.S. Tai and wife Hazel, who are regulars on the Buddhist route in Nepal and India, have no doubt that Trinley Thaye is the real reincarnation. "In Malaysia most of us think that he is the Karmapa," Tai said. Gilbert Sim, a traffic supervisor at Singapore Airlines, scoured the Internet before he came to Lumbini. "I believe Situ Rinpoche discovered Urgyen Trinley to serve the Chinese interests," he said.

Quite a few Buddhists overseas who shun politics have plumped for Trinley Thaye Dorje, whom the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile do not acknowledge. "We meet Buddhists who go by whatever the Dalai Lama says, but we don't discuss the Karmapas," said Gilbert. "The Buddhist centres have split. They have their centres and we have ours. This Karmapa specifically tells us not to engage in politics."

Each Karmapa has the spiritual abilities of his predecessor and it is this spirituality that makes the Karmapa important
Shangpa Rinpoche, abbot at Vikramshila Buddhist Institute

Shangpa Rinpoche, abbot of the Vikramshila Buddhist Institute in Nepal, agreed that the faithful stood divided. "They are confused because of political interference, which results in propaganda that affects the simple minds," he told The Week. "Each Karmapa has the spiritual abilities of his predecessor and it is this spirituality that makes the Karmapa important. Not the political endorsement of the reincarnation. The Karmapa is between the Buddha and the people. His duty is to promote the Buddha's teachings and not dabble in politics."

The fact that the Dalai Lama has backed Urgyen Trinley has not gone down well with the non-Tibetan Buddhists. The Dalai Lama was not invited to the November 21 function. "We respect the Dalai Lama, but each monastery has its own lineage guru," said Shangpa. "It is a religious ceremony and the Dalai Lama need not be invited. But as a mark of respect, we have his portrait here." The Dalai Lama belongs to a non-Karma Kagyu sect.
Shangpa was cautious when commenting on the Dalai Lama's role in the Buddhist society. "The Dalai Lama's role is spiritual under the Gelup tradition, but he is the political leader of the Tibetans," he said. "Every Tibetan will respect him as a political high-ranking person as well as a spiritual person."

But the devotees were far more critical. "The Dalai Lama is of no consequence," said a pilgrim from Japan. "He belongs to a different lineage--Gelup. The Karmapa issue has to be settled within the Karma Kagyu lineage."
Khenpo Chodrak Tenphel Rinpoche, education director of the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute at Delhi, said the Dalai Lama had acted in a partisan manner in the Karmapa dispute.

"China appointed Urgyen Trinley Dorje disregarding religious traditions of the Karma Kagyu lineage," said Khenpo Chodrak. "Later, the Dalai Lama endorsed him for his own political purposes."
It appears that Trinley Thaye has come out of the shadow of the rival claimant without uttering a word against him or the Dalai Lama. But then, the argument continues.

Interview/Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje
I've enjoyed watching Star Wars...

At the age of 11, Trinley Thaye Dorje was officially recognised as Gyalwa Karmapa by Kunzig Shamarpa Rinpoche, the second highest lama in the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. The controversy over the third highest lama, Situ Rinpoche, presenting Urgyen Trinley Dorje as Karmapa does not appear to have affected Trinley Thaye, though he would not like to discuss it. Confident and articulate, he says that people should recognise the real Karmapa by his deed. When asked what his response would be if he came across the Dalai Lama or Situ Rinpoche, he did not take a second to reply that he would give them due respect. Excerpts from an interview:

How is your education going?

Even before I was recognised as Karmapa I was being taught Buddhism and philosophy. Now I study them in a much more detailed manner, particularly the Karma Kagyu rituals. I don't go to a regular school. I started learning English when I came to India [from Tibet]. The whole idea is to prepare me for my role as Karmapa. I also learn a bit of French and other western languages, so that eventually I don't need a translator. Besides, I study subjects like history, geography, science and maths.

Did you miss the company of boys your age?
Yes. There are moments when I miss them. But I have a greater responsibility. The way I was brought up, there was very little time for recreation. I had a lot of reading to do.

What kind of books do you read?
I read all sorts of books including cartoons and science fiction. I like watching movies on television when I have the time.

What are the TV programmes you like most?
I've enjoyed watching Star Wars.

What is it that attracts the west to Buddhism?

They lead a fast life and are on the lookout for peace of mind. They turn towards Buddhism to calm their minds. By practising dharma under the Karma Kagyu tradition, they find peace. Meditation helps them get a clear view of life.

What is the biggest problem facing people today?
People are suffering all over the world. There is a lot of violence, which is increasing with each passing day.

How does Buddhism address it?
The Buddhist practitioner knows how to address it. But the way things are, he should practise dharma even harder. That is good for his body and mind. Meditation will give you a great push forward.

Buddhism is taking different forms in different countries.
Buddhism has a lot to it. The practitioners in different parts of the world understand it differently and teach their own way. And each one takes from it whatever he wants, and understands it in a way that suits him.

Are all true to the original texts of the Buddha?
Yes, the teachings and the goal are the same. Only the paths are different.

What is your normal day like?

I get up at 6.30 in the morning and start the day with meditation. From 8 to 11, it is time for Tibetan scriptures, philosophy, dharma, the teachings of the Buddha and subjects like maths, history and geography.

Simpa Dorje from Varanasi teaches me dharma, philosophy and history of Buddhism. I have to practise writing and learn to teach as well. I meet visitors from 11 to 1 and also take my lunch. From 1 to 3, I do my homework, and then meditate for an hour. I have a break of an hour and a half from 5 p.m., after which I do a short puja. Before going to sleep I meditate again.

When do you find the time for TV and films?
Whenever I have free time, mainly during weekends.

Do you keep in touch with your family?
Yes. They live in India. I met them when I was in Delhi. I meet them as their son, not as the Karmapa.

Do you travel a lot?
Yes. I've visited Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, France, Spain and Germany. I like to travel, but right now I am tied up with my studies.

How is the controversy surrounding the two Karmapas affected the people?
For most people it has been quite hard. It must be confusing as well. I would advise them to carry on with their practice of dharma. The controversy should not be an obstacle. It is not the first time such a controversy has happened, and it will happen in the future also. If the people think only about it, they'll not get over it. They've got to keep going.

What is your message to Buddhists?

Carry on with your practice, follow the teachings of the Buddha and do good.

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