Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa is Coming to America

The first visit of the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa to the United States was officially announced this week by my guru and friend, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. His announcement, and the tentative schedule of the tour, is available here.

In 1974, at the invitation of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa hoisted the victory banner of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings on Western soil. At the time of his first visit, I was a clueless twenty-five year old student of Trungpa Rinpoche’s living in Boulder, Colorado. I can confidently report that I was dazed and confused by the spectacle. Trungpa Rinpoche’s sangha, “the scene” as we called it, was turned on its collective head. Our brilliant, folksy guru suddenly manifested the dignity and humbleness of his tradition, basking in the Karmapa’s radiance. I felt more insignificant than ever!

With time, intimidation gave way to appreciation. The warmth of the Dharma King was irresistible. Friends who traveled with the party recounted that even stony-faced state troupers escorting him, eventually melted in his presence, and asked for his blessings at his departure.

Years later, my appreciation of the brilliance of the lineage of Karmapas deepened when Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche taught a group of us mahamudra from the Ninth Karmapa’s instruction manual, Mahamudra: the Ocean of Definitive Meaning; gave extensive teachings on the Third Karmapa’s Profound Inner Reality; taught us madhyamaka from the Eighth Karmapa’s Chariot of the Dakpo Kagyu Siddhas; and periodically dipped into the Seventh Karmapa’s Ocean of Texts on Lorik to teach us Buddhist theories of valid cognition and perception.

For Buddhists everywhere, the 21st Century began dramatically when the Seventeenth Karmapa suddenly surfaced in Dharamsala, at the side of the Dalai Lama, after a dramatic escape from Tibet. Nearly three years later, I had the great good fortune to be included in a small delegation that met the Gyalwang Karmapa at Gyuto Monastery in India.

When we entered the room I had some unusual experiences. There were no fireworks, visions, or flowers falling from the sky, and the Karmapa did not tell me my mother’s social security number or anything like that, but the experiences were unusual, nevertheless. The most memorable one was feeling that I was sitting at the feet of all the Karmapas, not just the seventeen-year-old who was the Seventeenth in that line.

The first thing he said to us was, “For a long time it has been my wish to meet the students of Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. This is a great and joyful occasion. It has fulfilled my aspirations.” He went on to say that he looked forward to working with us when he made his first visit to the West. That was more than five years ago.

Well, here we go!

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