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.