Guided by the Karmapa.

HH Trinley Dorje

I am here to teach about compassion, goodness, and patience, very basic Buddhist principles that we try to live by. I hope to talk about the principles of karma, and how none of us are humans, or where we are, by accident. We all have a purpose.

In June last year, the 17th Karmapa, His Holiness Trinley Thaye Dorje, visited the Philippines. My dad had been commissioned by some members of the local Kagyu group to document this visit and for three consecutive nights, my parents and I attended his lectures.

Buddhism has always fascinated me. Though I had briefly resolved when studying it that Buddhists might be too passive, I kept reading about Buddha and understood that like in the Catholic tradition, waiting was not to be confused with idleness. The path toward enlightenment is similar to the path toward salvation. Both require that we give completely of ourselves and that we’re ever present to the moment as it unfolds. Mindful of this, I attended Karmapa’s lectures and first pictured him to be an old man made wise by age. I was in for a surprise.

HH Trinley Thaye Dorje was born in 1983 in central Tibet. He’s quite young but don’t let his boyish good looks deceive you. The quality of his teachings isn’t measured by the number of Yoda-like things he can say but rather, its in his simplicity and the way he is able to relate with people that you truly become aware of his astuteness. Listening to him feels like speaking to an old friend you’ve known for years. He is warm and quite funny–he kept making jokes when he was here and though some of them weren’t outright funny, the reaction of the audience, which was a mix of reverence and being tentative, left my stomach in knots. Expectation, I’ve learned, always taints our experiences a certain way and while everyone preaches having to lose them, I hesitate to say don’t expect. Wisdom need not come solely from old, graying people. You can have a Rolex-donning, Canon-sporting, hunk of a monk tell you that dharma is all about  remaining in what is and living in compassion.

Photo by Wig Tysmans.

Photo by Wig Tysmans.

So moved was I by Karmapa’s teachings that on the third and last day that I was to see him, I accepted the call to Refuge and was born anew as a Buddhist. The decision to take refuge was one I didn’t take lightly especially as my Catholic spirituality is something I value. However, in the months leading up to the Karmapa’s visit, I had been nursing some doubts and wanting to pose questions to my own Church leaders who seemed to see only themselves and not others. Compassion, which I had learned from the Catholics, seemed manifested more in the lives of the Buddhists and Muslims I had met. More on this some other time but suffice it, I hope, to say that the Refuge ceremony was deeply meaningful. It was held in a packed room with hundreds of people whom Karmapa each blessed. A lock of hair from the crown of our heads was taken from each of us symbolizing that we were offering the best of ourselves. Afterward, we were all given new Buddhist names which I became curious about. Upon approaching one of the monks to ask what my name meant, he smiled and said, “I think you got the wrong card. This is a boy’s name.” He proceeded to pick another one, this time an empty card, and on it he wrote my new name. I have since misplaced it…or more accurately, forgotten where I’ve kept it but as I recall, he christened me: Always smiling, Happy one.

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Perhaps he decided on this name because he too was a happy, smiling monk.

After that meeting with Karmapa, I struggled with the application of his lessons often forgetting what wisdom he conveyed. It is only on the road, during bus rides and on airplanes, that I often think about what I believe in. Travel has a way of placing us in situations where we must consider our own beliefs and so, I take time off to fulfill this task.

On New Year’s Day this year, I decided against all odds to brave a trip to Causeway Bay from Kowloon. I say brave because it was close to ten in the evening and we were leaving for the airport at three the next morning. All the possible scenarios for getting left behind were upon me and so was the inevitability of having to endure my parents wrath–punishment which I felt I would deserve for such stupidity if I were to be left behind. But something compelled me to go, to risk and accept adventure.

As I boarded the train heading to Causeway Bay from Admiralty, I turned to lean on the pole and as I tilted my head up, it was Karmapa’s face that greeted me. I have never felt so at peace and at home in the world. Needless to say, I smiled the whole way to and from Causeway Bay.

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