Karmapa means “the one who carries out buddha-activity” or
“the embodiment of all the activities of the buddhas”. In the Tibetan
tradition, great enlightened teachers are said to be able to consciously
control their rebirth in order to continue their activity for the benefit of
all sentient beings.
After months of careful planning, on
December 28, 1999, the fourteen-year-old Karmapa pretended to enter into a
solitary retreat. Instead, he slipped out of his monk’s
robes, donned civilian garb, and climbed out of a window, accompanied
by his personal attendant, Drubngak. Leaving Tsurphu Monastery with a handful
of attendants, he began a daring journey by car, foot, horseback, helicopter,
train and taxi: a heroic journey which was to become the stuff of headlines
throughout the world. On January 5, 2000 he arrived, to the great surprise and
overwhelming joy of exiled Tibetans and foreign devotees, in Dharamsala, India,
where he was met by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. A year later, in
2001, he received refugee status from the government of India.
During the 13 years he has lived in India
as a guest of the Indian government, His Holiness has continued his traditional
monastic training and philosophical education, but has also begun studying more
modern subjects such as Science and English language.
Each year, the 17th
Gyalwang Karmapa receives tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world
at his residence in Dharamsala. Since 2004, he has led the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, an annual winter Dharma gathering
in Bodhgaya that draws thousands of people from around the world and from
various Buddhist traditions.
In May 2008, His
Holiness made his first, long-awaited trip to the West, travelling to the
United States where he visited his North American seat in New York,
and some of the many Dharma centres under his spiritual guidance. In addition,
the Gyalwang Karmapa travelled across India to participate in the cultural and
religious life of his adopted home. From inaugurating temples for Sai Baba in Tamil Nadu to commemorating the 100th
anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth in Calcutta, His
Holiness has met with many other spiritual leaders in a spirit of mutual
respect and tolerance. In November 2009, His Holiness was invited to speak at a TED India conference, becoming the youngest
person ever to do so, at that time. In January 2010, over 12,000 people
attended the live performance of a six-act play on the life of
Milarepa that His Holiness wrote and produced, combining elements
of traditional Tibetan opera and modern theatre.
As a scholar and meditation master, as well as painter, poet,
songwriter and playwright, the Gyalwang Karmapa embodies a wide range of the
activities that Karmapas have engaged in over the centuries. As an environmental activist, computer enthusiast and world
spiritual leader whose teachings are often webcast
live, the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa has brought the Karmapa lineage’s
activities fully into the 21st century.
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