Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Outside the Splendid Dharma Tent and Down the Hill: Karmapa, America, Environment, and Politics

One thing I forgot to say in my previous blog entries was that Karmapa mentioned what he said might be a special relationship that he has with America—how this was the first country he had been able to visit since fleeing Tibet for India, and how it is again the destination of his second foreign trip (a planned trip to Europe fell through in between his visits to the United States). He mentioned that with the uncertainties that surround his ability to travel, he couldn’t say for sure if America would also be the destination of his third trip, and suggested that maybe he should chant a new mantra: OM AMERICA HUM.

I have not been able to shake a kind of eerie feeling I got, along with a thrill, of seeing a photo of His Holiness Karmapa and His Holiness the Dalai Lama in front of the United States Capitol Building during the week-long Kalachakra events just prior to Karmapa’s arrival at KTD. While I rejoiced that these two representatives of Tibetan Buddhism were conferring blessings on many people there in Washington, D.C., I also wondered if they weren’t there to spread those blessings to avert…something (I know not what).

Just today, I heard one of the news analysts on CNN refer to the current debt ceiling/budget crisis not as that, but as “a political crisis.” Two nights ago in his speech to the nation, President Obama stated that although Americans elected a divided government, he didn’t believe we wanted a dysfunctional government. I think about my parents’ generation—my dad served on a destroyer in the Pacific in World War II—and wonder what they would think about a Congress that was so divided that it couldn’t put the best interests of the American people above politics. I think my folks would be horrified, and I am, too. This current divisive climate honors no one—especially not the many, many people who have died so that we could have freedom—and benefits only a very, very few people. Is this really what we want for America? Is this what being a force for goodness and peace looks like?

And it seems that every time I sit down at my computer, I learn about more assaults on our environment—on the elements that Karmapa has made clear support human life—in the forms of attempted rollbacks of environmental protection, increasing pollution, severe consequences of global warming such as the melting of the Himalayan ice caps, and dangerous old and new resource extraction methods such as deep ocean oil drilling, mountaintop removal, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for oil and natural gas, and exploitation of the Canadian tar sands.

By virtue of his refugee status and his need to travel in order to fulfill his role as leader of the Karma Kagyu Buddhist lineage, Karmapa has to be very careful with the phrasing of his messages; he can’t be overtly political, because that would probably get him banned in some places and severely restrict his ability to travel. But it does seem to me—and I want to make it clear that this is my interpretation only—that when Karmapa said to us at KTD that America has a responsibility to be a powerful force for peace, that he is placing his hopes in us, and that he has the great hope to help us and support us in everything, he was sending us a message: Don’t let the forces of ignorance, aggression, and greed become the dominant forces in the United States of America.

From what I hear from friends who have attended other events with Karmapa since his appearance at KTD, he is continuing to reinforce this message, but in different ways. Friends who were at Kunzang Palchen Ling (KPL), Bardor Tulku Rinpoche’s center across the Hudson River from KTD, reported that Karmapa said that compassion is not just intention—it’s also action.

A friend who was at KPL and at Kagyu Thubten Choling, Lama Norlha’s center in Wappingers Falls, sent me text messages that read, in part: “At KPL…he talked about how interconnected we all are, as everything that reaches our hands is the product of many people. His Holiness (HH) then explained that we should show gratitude to Mother Earth and all beings for their kindness. And he emphasized how Mother Earth provides for us all. At Lama Norlha’s center…he emphasized how so many disasters these days are man made and preventable. In explaining that an empowerment is meant to transform our minds, he said we need to change the way we use our technology and our advancements because of the damage to the environment which, he warned, is almost irreversible. In transforming our mind, HH emphasized that we need to ask ourselves what we can do for the environment. At the conclusion, there was a downpour and a rainbow.” (Italics are mine.)

Compassion is not just intention—it’s also action. We need to ask ourselves what we can do for the environment. These are powerful subjects to consider.

I am left with memories that will last a lifetime, with the knowledge that Karmapa lives in my heart as surely as all of us live in his, and with a renewed vow to do everything I can here in my little corner of the world to make sure that what is sacred and special about Florida’s environment is not destroyed forever.

Video recordings of His Holiness Karmapa’s talks are now available via the KTD web site.

May these blog entries bring benefit to the sentient beings who encounter them and to the environment that supports us all. I take full responsibility for any mistakes in the transcription and reporting of Karmapa’s remarks. If you find errors while reading this, please let me know so that I can correct them! Thank you.


  1. Thank you for these posts and all your writing and lovely photography. I hope it is not irreverent of me to say I'm always struck by how handsome HHK is. Combined with that warmth of presence that I've encountered in pretty much every lama I've met, it must be quite an experience in person.

  2. You're welcome, and it's not irreverent at all to comment on HHK's "wicked handsomeness," as I referred to it last night in a conversation with a friend! :-) I think of his outer beauty as a reflection of his wise, compassionate heart. And thank you for the nice compliment on the photos; it helps to have absolutely stunning material like that at KTD and in Woodstock. I was not prepared, the first time I visited, for how beautiful that whole area is--and for how much I fell in love with it. I am somewhat sensitive to "place energy" and KTD and environs draw me like magnets.