“I have actually myself been quite downcast and depressed… I have had to give up a lot. None of it has been easy,” the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje said in a recent address, in which he also spoke of health issues and his hope to reconcile divides in the Karma Kagyu lineage.
Last week, the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje delivered a “special message” to the audience of the 35th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, the seven-day prayer ceremony held annually in Bodh Gaya, India.
The head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism shared the struggles he has long dealt with in his role as the Karmapa, and expressed his wishes to dissolve the rifts and disagreements within the Kamtsang Kagyu lineage. He delivered the message via live webcast from the United States, where he has resided for the past six months due to health concerns.
“I don’t have any reasons or any basis to say that I’m the reincarnation of any great lama,” said the Karmapa.
“Since I’m an ordinary person, I have to put in incredible effort… But, no matter how much effort I make, it’s never enough,” he said.
He expressed that many people believe that being the Karmapa is “some incredible thing.”
“For me, that hasn’t happened,” he said.
Ogyen Trinley Dorje was recognized as the Karmapa at the age of seven. In his message, he shared that it was difficult to transition from being “a little boy who didn’t really understand what a Karmapa is… to being put on the Karmapa’s throne, and gradually having to take the responsibilities that entails.”
The Karmapa shared his dissatisfaction with the education he received while growing up in Tibet at Tsurphu Monastery, and in India, where he fled at 14-years-old, escaping Chinese control.
“I was just a little boy,” he said. “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.”
“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.”
“In terms of my education,” he said, “there were many gaps.”
Ogyen Trinley Dorje is one of two claimants of the title of the 17th Karmapa. When the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje died in 1981, two different successors were identified by two separate lineage holders, Shamar Rinpoche and Tai Situ Rinpoche; it was the latter who recognized Ogyen Trinley Dorje. This has caused a “great rift” within the tradition ever since, the Karmapa said. He acknowledged this divide and expressed his wishes to reconcile it.
“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 is not something for one person to do. It’s so crucial to remember that both sides need to be open,” he said.
“Our teachings — the Kamtsang — are the same. Our gurus the same. The color of our hats is the same… If we continue to cling to our own factions, no matter how right we are, we will have such bias towards our sides, that we will work for ourselves, to win for ourselves, and to defeat the others. And so taking this on would be a complete mistake… We are all on the Karma Kagyu side.”
The Karmapa also took time to address his extended stay in the United States. “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,” he said. “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 busyness… so I would not be able to rest… I stayed here to rest… I stayed here because I’m thinking of the long term.”
“I have actually myself been quite downcast and depressed… I have had to give up a lot. None of it has been easy,” he said.
In closing, the Karmapa asked that the Karma Kagyu lineage make use of the opportunity for the lineage to “revive and flourish” by making efforts to embody the Buddhist teachings:
“Our Kagyu lineage in general, and in particular the Karma Kamtsang, it’s like we’re 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,” he said.
“A single pillar can’t hold up a single building, can it?” he asked.
“Sometimes I think it would be better to just live as an ordinary person, an ordinary dharma practitioner… This is because I have worked hard for many years, but I can’t work hard all by myself.”