“Special Message of the Karmapa”

His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje, enthroned by Tai Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche as the 17th Karmapa, has recently given a very personal and honest speech about his life, education and difficulties which he faces as one of the most influential and reknown leaders of the Tibetan tradition.

The perception of the speech was such of great respect for his honesty and straithforwardness. Everyone felt that he again showed that he was a great and authentic spiritual master.

As he encourages the overcoming of the split in the lineage, there is great hope that new efforts will be done to overcome the discrepancies between the followers of the two officially enthroned 17th Karmapas, Trinley Thaye Dorje and Ogyen Trinley Dorje. This is more than good news!

There was only different opinions about whether or not there was a message to be read “between the lines”: As Karmapa is said to be self-recognizing, some understood it as he would like to communicate that he was not the Karmapa. , Others, however, understood his words rather as further proof of his humbleness.

I encourage you, dear readers, to participate in this discussion and leave your point of view in the comments. I’m curious to learn more about all this! Thanks!

Transcript: Special Message from the Karmapa
Today is the last day of the 35th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo.

This year I really didn’t have the opportunity to attend the Monlam in person. However, as I have already said, the Monlam has been excellent and well-organised, no different from that if I were there. And when I think about it, I was recognised as the Karmapa at the age of 7. And then at the age of 14, I was separated from Tibet and come to the noble land of India. Thinking about how it was when I went from being a little boy who didn’t really understand what a Karmapa is to being brought and put on the Karmapa’s throne and gradually having to take the responsibilities that it entails, from my perspective, the Karmapa has the history of over 900 years and there have been 16 incarnations. To have qualities and abundance realisations such as they did and activities such as theirs, I don’t even have the confidence that I can even hope for such. And I don’t, for myself, really believe that it would ever happen. But because I have received the blessings of the Karmapa to some degree, I have done my best. I have done my best but I am an ordinary person. So, no matter how much hard I try, there are many other situations where that is not enough, where it is beyond me.

Many people think to themselves that being the Karmapa, you know is like some incredible thing but for me, that hasn’t happened, even if I am the Karmapa. The situation is still that really need to try hard. Gyelwa Kunsapa said, “Even the rebirth, reincarnation of a Lama or a Tulku, should spend 12 years of purification, practicing meditation to purify their remaining obstacles. It is necessary to practise meditation and accomplishment and retreats”. So, even if one is a Tulku or a reincarnation of a great Lama, you have to put in such efforts. For me, I don’t have any reasons or any basis to say that I am the reincarnation of any great Lama and since I am an ordinary person, I have to put in incredible effort even more than other people. But no matter how much effort I make, it is never enough, it is never ok. It never really reaches a level where it is sufficient. And for one side, this is people have such high limitless hopes in me. On my own part, I do my absolute best to try to live up to them. And I do this with as much as I can with the pure motivation.

When I was little, a lot of people came to give me advice. They’d say, “You have to be really careful. There are many people who have said to me Karmapa, so you have to be your best”. So many people said this but for my own part, I never had the motivation that I should compete with everyone else said to be Karmapa and therefore be careful.

For my own point, I have had a pure motivation. Whatever I am, directing my best efforts no matter what. When I was, even when I was studying at Tibet, in terms of my education, my tutors, my teachers and my tutors, the way they paid respect and so forth, were not the greatest and once I arrived in India, one reason I came to India was to study and to receive the Dharma lineages, that is why I came.

So once I arrived, it should have been better than it had been in Tibet, but in terms of my education, there were many gaps. From one perspective, the fault was my own for being too lazy. And also, I am pretty smart and since I am pretty smart, no matter what I study I immediately get a little bored and think, “I get it”. Then I immediately feel disinterested. In addition to that, the Lamas and Khenpos whom I study with, we invited the best Lamas and Khenpos amongst our Kagyus but the best Lamas and Khenpos have their own monasteries, their own Dharma centres that they have to maintain and take care off, they have activities. Hence, they could not spend all their time with me. So, for these reasons, sometimes I would have all these classes and sometimes I would not and this happened frequently.

In the past, I had the thought that if I went to a Gelugpa monastery, matriculated so to speak and followed the curriculum, I would have become a good scholar. But later when I thought about it, if I had gone to a Gelugpa monastery and gone through the studies, on the one side, there would have been nothing wrong with it. But on the other instance, I have the title Karmapa. If the Karmapa were to go to a Gelugpa monastery to study, people would say that and in the future, someone with the head of the overall, the title of the overall, head of the Kagyu were to do this, it’s like would be a bit of a problem that happened historically.

So, I‘ve had many different discussions with Gelugpa geshes but I’ve never matriculated in a Gelug monastery. So, this is one issue. My own studies have not all been that high quality or good. Mainly what I know has come from me taking interest and putting the effort into it. I never had any properly organized, thorough, education. So, that’s one issue.

So, another issue is that, when I was recognized as Karmapa when I was 7, so I was just a little boy. From the time I was little, I grew up in Tsurphu Monastery. And when I was little, all the people around me were adults. So I had to do whatever they told me to. And I couldn’t say what I needed to do.

At first, of course, I didn’t know what I needed to do. And in addition to that, other than listen to them, I never had any freedom to say what I should do or should not do. Actually, when I was little, I did have a lot of hard times. For example, in terms of power, it’s the changtso had all the power. And when people would come to give me gifts, they first of all had to take to the changtso, the changtso would take them out and open all the gifts first. And those people were suspicious that there might be a bomb or poison or something like that. So, they would take them out to check to see, they take the gifts out to make sure that there is no bomb or poison. And once the gifts had been taken away, they were never brought back, almost all of them.

Also people would come to give me money to say it was for me to give my parents. Those who knew my situation would give me money surreptitiously. At that time, there was a lot of people around right? So without knowing, they quickly slipped it under my cushion, slipped it under my cushion secretly. That’s what it was like. So, that’s what it was like when I was little.

I never really felt that I had any freedom of my own. And then I came to India. See, when I came to India, India is a free country, a democracy. So I’d hoped that when I arrived, I could do whatever I wanted. That was my hope. But when I first got to India, none of us had any knowledge about India. And at that time, the people who advised me, the people… my guides, the people who advised me, even though they definitely had pure motivation, there was none who was able to guide me, who was a hundred percent reliable. They didn’t know how things were done. So I had no one to guide me. So when we first began discussions with the Indian government, there was disharmony and disagreement in the discussion and this probably caused some suspicions. In any case, I’ve spent eighteen years in India. And during this time, I have had continually difficulties and hassles as you all know. They said that I was sent by the Chinese or that I was a Chinese spy.

Many things have happened. But even though many things have happened, I still have done what that I could. The reason why I stayed right up until now is because I feel like I must not give up on the teachings, the Kagyu teachings. Likewise, I thought that to myself that this is for the benefit of Tibet, for the benefit of all sentient beings. Thinking in this way, I stayed. Also from another perspective, when I arrived in India, it was very fortunate. I had the fortune to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama and hear his teachings. I had many opportunities to receive profound Dharma teachings from Chamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche and Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Likewise, I’ve had the opportunity to receive profound Dharma teachings from Tangur Rinpoche, Bokar Ripoche and Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche. And I feel all of this has been very, very fortunate. Where I live is Gyuto Monastery and the heart sons they live elsewhere, Situ Rinpoche lives in Sherab Ling, Gyaltsab Rinpoche lives in Sikkim. There’s never been a place for us to spend an extended period of time at the same place. It’s like we’re all been scattered.

When I read the lives of the previous Karmapas, the Karmapas and their heart sons all stayed together. Wherever they went, they went together. Whether it’s by teaching the Dharma, or by taking care of each other. It was like at that time, they all took care of each other but this has never happened with me. And for me, this is something I feel very disappointed about.

Then, to speak bluntly. After the 16th Karmapa passed away, we had a great rift in our Kamtsang lineage. I don’t need to say anything any more about the old situations. But because of this, we have had some disagreements among the ladrangs. Many things have happened since I arrived in India. Some of you know, some don’t. There has been a lot disharmony among the ladrangs and this has also caused me a lot of worries.

On one occasion, I invited Chamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche and Goshri Gyaltsab to come to Delhi, both Rinpoches are quite like the moon and the clouds in the sky. They are not stained by any thoughts but those who are underneath them, their attendants, and I told them to tell their attendants, the people under them that we have had a great disaster in the Kamtsang lineage. Such has never happened before. We’ve had been a huge conflict. We’ve had a terrible violation of samsara, please do what you can to avoid that again. This is what I asked both Rinpoches. And they both promised to do as I asked. Actually, to make such a request is like teaching Avalokiteshvara the Mani mantra, you shouldn’t have to say to that extent but I was too petty, too small minded and asked.

Also thinking that maybe it would be of benefit to the Karma Kaygu teachings, I went to see Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche. And when we arranged a meeting on our side shall we say, there were people who’d said that it would not be okay to make a bad connection. Quite a few people said this. Some who were nearby said this vociferously. But I ignored that and I went to Shamar Rinpoche and when we met, there was no really specific result you could point to.

But now, Rinpoche has passed away, and I do feel a bit of comfort in my mind, that at least I was able to meet Rinpoche and tell him what I thought. So, this gives me a little bit of comfort. In general, we all know how important the Shamar Rinpoche has been in the history of the Karma Kagyu. But in the last few years, in the last couple of decades, so many events have occurred that many people say we should not recite long life prayers for Shamar Rinpoche and that we should remove the Shamar Rinpoches from our lineage supplications.

But I think that that is really not seeing the important points, because Shamar Rinpoche is not just the recent 14th Shamar Miphang Chokyi Lodro, The Shamar Rinpoche is a part of the old lineage of Karma Kamtsang. The lineage from Drakpo Sengge to the present. It is not the name of the single person, it is not a single person.

No matter how much the people say that the actions of the current Shamar Rinpoche were wrong, I think that we must not paint the activities of the entire Shamar lineage black. For this reason, I think that we must have a positive way of thinking about Shamar Rinpoche. I think we need to think about Buddhism in general and the lineage in the future.

Now Shamar Rinpoche has passed away. It is extremely important that there be no problems regarding his reincarnation. We have another situation or we say there’s two different reincarnations. It will harm the Kamtsang in general and in future, the Kamtsang will split into two factions, looking at each other as enemies and that would not be good in any way at all.

From the depths of my heart, I think we can have reconciliation. And I am doing a few things to bring that about. But it’s not something for one person to do. It’s so crucial to remember that both sides need to be open. If we continue to always say bad things about each other and criticize each other. If we continue to do that, I do not think it will turn out well.

Our teachings at the Kamtsang are the same. Our Gurus the same. The colour of our hats is the same. But despite this, if we continue to cling to our own factions, no matter how right we are, we have such bias towards our sides, we will work for ourselves, to win for ourselves to defeat the others. Taking this on would be like a complete mistake. There’ll be nothing good about it. So, we often say there is the Shamar side and there is the Situ side. One side or the other. Actually we aren’t on the Situ Rinpoche side, we aren’t on the Shamar Rinpoche side. We are all on the Karma Kagyu side.

Otherwise, we’re filled with our own afflictions, the three poisons; we engage in partisanship and jealousy and at the same time say… and while we still do that we still… how to say… and if at that point we say I’m on Vajradhara’s side. There’s no benefit to that at all.

So these people say I’m pure, he’s pure, he’s a pure Kagyupa but they’re not pure. But whether one is pure or not comes down to the practice we have in our mindstreams. It does not come down to whose side we are on. I think this is something we all need to keep in mind.

Another thing is that I’m in America. I spent many months abroad, the last six months in America. There are probably a lot of people who explain the reasons why I stayed abroad for such a long time. But independent of anyone else’s explanations, what I’d like to say is that the main reason I am staying abroad is that when I had a medical exam in Germany, they told me that I had a medical problem. So then I had an .?.. (27.38) and for his sake I had to go to America and once I arrived there, I had to follow up on the medical problem they had told me when I was in Germany, and so that is for the reason.

Another matter is that, you know, for many years I’ve never had the opportunity to really rest — to rest both the body and the mind.

Once I get back to India, there’ll be a lot of busy-ness and frenetic-ness so I would not be able to rest. So, I had stayed here to rest.

So, I stayed here because I’m thinking of the long term.

Probably many people have said that I’m staying for my own personal benefit or that I had some insidious plan, but that is not it at all.

In brief, people think that I’m decisive and that whatever I’m doing, they say, “He’s the Karmapa,” so of course they’ll take it as definite the case but for me, it’s not like that.

No matter what decision I make or what action I do, there’s a lot I have to give up.

For my own part, I’ve done everything I could up till now. Everything I’ve done, I have done with a pure motivation. I’ve had a pure motivation but people will make things up. There are many people who make things up out of dislike, and there is nothing to do about that.

But amongst ourselves, there are many people who give incorrect explanations because they either do not know or do not understand what my real intentions are. Especially now that I’m staying in America, even the people I am around here have had a lot of anxiety. Likewise many people all over have had a lot of anxiety. And I have actually myself been quite downcast and depressed. This is because when other people look at what I have tried to do, they take it as a matter of course, but for my own part, I have had to give up a lot. None of it has been easy.

And even though it has been easy and when I ignore that and keep pushing ahead, if those around me do not believe in me then there’s no reason for me to pretend and keep going. So for that reason, I have been depressed.

But when you think about it from the perspective of the future, from the time of the first Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa, to the present, the Gyalwa Karmapa has been a Lama who has engaged only in Dharma activities, not one who has been involved in politics.

And now we’re at a critical time for the Snow Land of Tibet — we have come to a point where it is important to put effort into both Dharma and politics. So for this reason we definitely need a political leader or a political guide. But for me, I don’t know how to give any political direction. I don’t know how to do this but since I have the title of Karmapa, it would not be appropriate.

Likewise, in terms of the dharma, the way I think to myself is that one does politics to accomplish short-term aims and benefit. Now, political people, they’re always changing. And also, politics means dividing into factions and then dividing into groups then trying to find profit and benefit.

But Dharma, Dharma means not divide into factions but instead bring benefit to all sentient beings who are as limitless as space. Its duration is that people don’t change posts immediately. Dharma is for protecting ourselves in this and in future lifetimes and for guiding ourselves in this until thereafter.

So the way Dharma and politics work is completely different. Since I have the responsibility of being a religious leader, I can only contend in the direction of the Dharma. When I was in Tibet, I was worried that I would have to get involved in politics. Once I arrived in India, I’ve always thought that if it came to me having to do political activities, I would not have the skills to do it, I wouldn’t know how to do it and I have no wish to do so. This is another important point for people to take into consideration.

In brief, from my own perspective, I don’t have such qualities of abundant realisations as the previous Karmapas had. If I, even though I lack those, were to continue to pretend, to deceive people, I feel I will be accumulating severely negative karma.

I have no feeling of delight, no thought of ‘I’ll get rich’ or have power or that many people like me, I don’t have any such… feel like there’s nothing I have to feel such pride or confidence in. So sometimes I think there’s no point. There’s no point to continue deceiving others.

Sometimes I think it would be better to just live as an ordinary person, an ordinary Dharma practitioner. I sometimes think that and especially recently I felt this strongly.

This is because I have worked hard for many years but I can’t work hard all by myself. A single pillar can’t hold up a single building, can it? Everyone needs to work hard and help out. We say that everyone has to have people to take care of them. If you’re taking money you need somebody to take care of you.

Without any support for yourself, there’s no benefit to teaching and helping sentient beings all by yourself. We, Buddhists, believe in karmic cause and effect. We believe in the view of inter-dependence. Inter-dependence means that in all situations, no matter what they may be, occur because of multiple causes (and) conditions. There’s nothing that can be accomplished with a single cause or a single condition. This is something that everyone needs to take into consideration.

In brief, our Kagyu lineage in general, and in particular the Karma Kamtsang, it’s like we’re a big family. It’s like a big family and in this family, the Gyalwa Karmapa is like the father of the family. But the father can’t take all the responsibility alone. The support of all the family members is needed.

Likewise, if you think about the history of the Kagyu lineage, and in particular the Karma Kamtsang, there have been many losses. For example, when the Mongol Gushen invaded, their armies razed many Karma Kamtsang monasteries and many lineages of practices and explanations were lost. Such terrible events have occurred and later after 1959, there was the Cultural Revolution.

So now we have an opportunity for the teachers to revive and flourish so I’d like to ask everyone, to ask everyone to take this opportunity as your own and to make efforts.

Sometimes people don’t seem to understand how I think. They seem unable to understand my perspective. It’s quite possible that this will happen. But what i think the most important thing is, I’m not saying that I can see far into the future or that I know how to think about the long term; but as much as I can, I try to take a long term view as I work.

It’s possible that some people cannot take such a long view but their leader, so called. If you’re going to be a leader. Once you believe in their leader, even though you may not understand all their plans and decisions, it is important to believe in them and support them.

But I’m not saying you must support me. I’m not asking for you to understand me. I’m not asking you to understand me.
Instead I’m saying this is a general thing, no matter who the leader may be in the future. People need to keep this in mind.
So I leave it here today. I have spoken about several different issues and if I’ve made any mistakes or if I’ve said anything inappropriate, I beg your pardon.

So now whatever merit has been gathered during this Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, please dedicate for His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche to live long and for his wishes to be accomplished spontaneously, to be able to soon set foot in Tibet and turn the vast and profound wheel of Dharma.

Likewise, for the masters of all lineages to live long, for the Sangha of the ten directions to be harmonious and have pure discipline and so forth as described in the great aspirations which is next. So please, everyone make such aspirations and dedications.

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