Writer, artist, environmentalist and Karmapa

Dharamsala : Controversies have not overshadowed the artistic skills of Tibetan religious head and 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje. The 26-year-old monk not only paints but also pens down poems and books. There is also a ‘Green Buddha’ in him – he is one of the most vocal environment leaders.

Officials of the Karmapa’s Gyuto Tantric Monastic University at Sidhbari, 10 km from here, which is the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile, says the monk loves to paint, draw calligraphy, write poems and record sacred songs.

“During a two-week stay at Gyuto Monastery in January he worked on editing of various texts and oversaw the completion of a giant Thangkha (a Tibetan painting by using natural colours),” Karma Chugyalpa, the Karmapa’s deputy general secretary, said .

He said the Karmapa has also written, directed and produced a play on one of his spiritual leaders.

An important institution in the Tibetan religious set-up, the Karmapa, whose literal meaning is the one who carries out Buddha activity, is the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu sect, one of the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

Both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have recognised Dorje – in the eye of the storm for unaccounted cash in his monastery last year – as the 17th Karmapa.

The Karmapa, who fled Tibet and sought refuge in India in January 2000, wrote 10 books on his spiritual teachings. He penned a short song to be used as the anthem for the Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnath, the birthplace of Buddhism.

During his lectures, the Karmapa, who turned 26 on June 26, loves to speak on global environmental concerns.

Delivering an inaugural address at the Global Buddhist Congregation in New Delhi in November last year, the monk said: “Addressing the changes in our environment is one of the most pressing issues of our day. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has long pointed out, the harm done to our environment is rooted in human minds and behaviour.”

In an article written in Conservation Biology, a prestigious scientific journal, in its 25th-anniversary edition in December last year, the Karmapa highlighted how Tibet is vulnerable to climate change.

“It’s an unfortunate fact that the temperature of the Tibetan plateau is increasing faster than most other places on earth due to climate change. I know there will be severe consequences for Tibet’s vast grasslands, and it saddens my heart,” said the article titled “Walking the Path of Environmental Buddhism through Compassion and Emptiness”.

Chugyalpa said in the past five years the Karmapa has taken an active role in the protection of the natural environment.

He said the Karmapa also had an audience with senior scientists and environmental leaders at the Worldwide Fund for Nature headquarters in Washington last year. They briefed him on issues such as climate change, wildlife trade, market transformation and disaster recovery.

Born into a Tibetan nomad family, the Karmapa said in the Conservation Biology write-up: “When I was four or five years old, there was a severe drought and the local spring in our camp began to dry up. Our community requested my father ask me to plant a sapling at the source of the spring… my love for nature and dedication to protect the environment sprouted from this seed.”

He was posed a question: How should we as Buddhists take care of animals that are ill or dying? If there is no prospect that they will recover and if they are suffering, is it better to put them to sleep so that they are no longer in pain?

The Karmapa replied on his website: “The question posed is whether it is wrong to kill somebody who is suffering in order to release them from their suffering. The answer is that it is still wrong to take life because the action includes the intent to kill. Because of the intent to kill it is a non-virtuous action and not permissible.

“Further, when we decide to put our dog or cat to sleep, whose choice is that? It’s not their choice. In the case of humans, if I am terminally ill, are you going to put me to sleep too? We should treat all sentient beings equally, so we need to think carefully…”

Around 140,000 Tibetans now live in exile, over 100,000 of them in different parts of India. Over six million Tibetans live in Tibet.

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