With the launch of a website and a piece in The Guardian, the word is out that His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, “is expected” to tour Europe this summer, traveling to Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Poland, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Spain and The Netherlands.
Danny Fisher caught up with our friend Tyler Dewar, who served as one of His Holiness the Karmapa’s translators during his 2008 U.S. tour, with our questions about the Europe trip, why it’s still a bit up in the air, and qualities of His Holiness’s teachings. .
A teacher and translator with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s Nalandabodhi sangha, Tyler is also a published author whose books include Trainings in Compassion: Manuals on the Meditation of Avalokiteshvara (2004) and The Karmapa’s Middle Way: Feast for the Fortunate (2008), a translation of a text by the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje.
Danny Fisher: There’s a tentative quality to the announcements about His Holiness the Karmapa’s European tour this summer. The website only says he is “expected” to visit. Nothing seems final yet.
Tyler Dewar: You know, it’s funny. I’m not actively involved with this particular tour, but it looks similar to what happened with the 2008 U.S. tour. For that tour, planning was done quietly for quite a while. There was not much public advertising until almost the last minute. Planning for the visit stopped and started a couple of times in 2007, and then had to hibernate until the following year.
From what I’ve been able to glean, the preparations for this tour are very similar in a lot of ways. Plans seem to moving forward, with the formal confirmation still to come. That has both encouraging and challenging aspects, of course. The Guardian article yesterday certainly heightens worldwide awareness of the Karmapa’s plans, so everyone’s hopes are up that the formalities will be completed soon.
On the European end of things, China was very cross about His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s recent visits to France and Germany, and there were consequences for those visits in terms of relations between those countries. Are there indications that the European governments might be skittish about hosting His Holiness the Karmapa as a result?
I’m only guessing from a distant perspective, but if things are where they seem to be — all the spadework done, the website going live, and so on — I don’t think so. The U.S. tour in 2008 also set a precedent in terms the Karmapa being received as an international figure.
In addition, His Holiness the Karmapa, just like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, emphasizes the great possibilities there are for harmony between the Tibetan people and all Chinese people. Basically, I think the Karmapa has deep faith in the goodness of all people. He appreciates Chinese history and culture, just as he appreciates his own Tibetan history and culture. My sense is that he’d like to see them flourish together, side by side.
Do you know what the substance of His Holiness’s teachings will be during his European tour?
Not specifically, no. It wouldn’t surprise me if His Holiness is still thinking about it.
In terms of topics he usually addresses, there is of course the Dharma. His Holiness’s teachings come out of his very traditional training, but they’re also very modern and harmonious with Western psychology. At teachings he has given in the U.S. and in Delhi, he has talked about using feelings and emotions in the context of practice.
His Holiness might also speak about the environment, which is very important to him. Not long ago, he launched khoryug.com in an effort to help preserve the natural resources of the Himalayan region.
He also authored Environmental Guidelines for Karma Kagyu Buddhist Monasteries and contributed to A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency last year too.
Yes. Talking about the climate and other environmental concerns is a priority for him.
Women might be a topic. His Holiness is very concerned about the suffering of women in the world — the hardships and violence many endure. Not long ago he met with Sunitha Krishnan, who is an anti-trafficking activist, and was inspired to do what he can to help with this and other issues. He wants to do whatever he can to help.
Would you say something about what you think makes His Holiness unique — what sets him apart — as a contemporary Buddhist teacher?
In terms of what His Holiness offers that is special, he is deeply trained in meditation and the intellectual side of the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He’s also young, and welcoming of transformative influences as Tibetan Buddhism gets transmitted to the West. His Holiness has said that it is mandatory for bodhisattvas to learn any discipline that might help them help others, including science and psychology.
I see him as an open, humble, vulnerable person — a deeply human person. He’ll talk about what makes him feel uncomfortable, what makes him feel bad. He has a remarkable energy: he opens himself up to others, instead of projecting or imposing himself onto them. His Holiness’s openness is very special, very unique.