“The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the air we breathe have all arisen interdependently. We cannot survive alone. We cannot eat, wear clothes, or breathe alone. The more keenly we are aware of this, the more we will begin to take responsibility for the welfare of other beings.”
– Ogyen Trinley Dorje, “Tibetan Buddhist Leader Blazes an Innovative Trail”
Address at Harvard: “Caring for Life on Earth in the Twenty-first Century”.
The Karmapa’s main event in the Boston area was a public talk, titled “Caring for Life on Earth in the 21st Century,” that filled Harvard University’s Memorial Church to capacity. In it, the Karmapa exhorted his audience to care for all life and spoke about the importance of cultivating compassion and concern for the environment.
“When we talk about having compassion regarding the many disasters in the world, usually we think of horrific epidemics, wars, violence, starvation, and so on. But there is one source of disaster that we often fail to recognize which is a lack of love. A lack of love can cause people to have no help, when they need help and no friend when they need a friend. So in a sense the most dangerous thing in the world is apathy. So I urge you to feel a love that is courageous, not as a burden of responsibility for the care of others, but a joyous realization of your interdependence with every other living being on this planet and the environment itself.”
Like many religions, Tibetan Buddhism has often pushed to the side broader societal issues in favor of personal piety. Not only is the Karmapa talking about them publicly, but he is also taking action. He started an initiative to turn monasteries into centers for environmental sustainability, and he recently announced an effort to establish full monastic ordination of women for the first time within the Tibetan tradition.
[Editor: I appreciate that the 17th Karmapa is being “innovative” for a Tibetan monk within the Buddhist Magisterium, but he’s just catching up to where engaged progressive Buddhists have already been for decades. But at least now there’s hope for the rest of the western Buddhist community who have refused to even look at this stuff. Now its time for the rest of the lamas to take up the Karmapa’s challenge.