Tibetan Buddhism's Karmapa reflects on life, exile and spirituality
Even before his birth, there were signs Apo Gaga would be special
The 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje performs his first Mahakala dance ritual (Photo: The Telegraph)
- Mick Brown for The Telegraph
- July 2, 2014
Even before his birth in 1985 to a simple nomadic family in eastern Tibet, there had been signs that the boy who would be named Apo Gaga – “happy brother” – was special. His mother, it is said, had been visited in a dream by three white cranes, telling her that she would have a son who would be a great incarnation; at the time of his birth a cuckoo was seen to land on the tent where his mother lay and burst into song. The birth, it is said, was without pain, and the sound of a conch shell could be heard like music in the sky.
At the age of seven, the boy told his family that in three days a party of men would be coming to take him away. They duly arrived, a search party following instructions said to have been contained in a letter written by the 16th Karmapa – one of the most important figures in Tibetan Buddhism – before his death in America from cancer in 1981, foretelling where his next incarnation would be found, and naming Apo Gaga as that child.
In accordance with tradition, he was taken from his family to his ancestral monastery of Tsurphu in central Tibet, where in 1992 he was enthroned as the 17th Karmapa, the head of a lineage dating to the 12th century. (The lineage of the Dalai Lama dates to the 15th).
He was given a new monastic name, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, and subjected to a rigorous scholastic upbringing, which included committing to memory thousands upon thousands of pages of Buddhist philosophy and ritual. The Karmapa had been enthroned in a rare window of Chinese accommodation with Tibetan Buddhism. But official attitudes hardened. His principal teachers were forbidden to visit from exile in India; there were police at the monastery gates, and spies within watching his activities.
At the age of 14, when it became apparent that the Chinese wished to co-opt him as a puppet, and pressure on him was increased to denounce the Dalai Lama, he took flight under cover of darkness. With a small party of monks, he travelled 900 miles across the mountains into India to join the Dalai Lama, arriving footsore and exhausted in January 2000. “The Boy Who Outwitted A Superpower”, read one headline.
Since then, his stay in India has been far from easy. For many years he was more or less confined to the small monastery, borrowed from the Dalai Lama, where he currently lives, partly out of concerns for his safety but also amid reports that the Indian intelligence services suspected him of being a Chinese spy. These suspicions have long since evaporated. But due to political sensitivities he has been forbidden from visiting the monastery in Sikkim, on the border with China, that his predecessor established when he escaped from Tibet in 1959; and until last month he had been allowed to leave India only twice, for brief teaching tours in America.
Source: The Telegraph