He came. He saw. He conquered our hearts with his love, warmth, and grace. The first visit to the United States of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, was a truly historic event.
The path to the West from his humble beginnings as the child of nomads in eastern Tibet has not been an easy one.
Like his sixteen predecessors, he was discovered by means of a prophetic letter left by the previous Karmapa, Rangjung Rikpe Dorje (1924-1981), and formally recognized at the age of seven in 1992 by Tai Situ Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and even the Communist government of China, among others. Like his forebears, he was enthroned at Tsurphu Monastery, near Lhasa in Tibet, the historical seat of the Karmapa and the Kagyu Lineage.
Kept under house arrest by the government, the young Karmapa was not allowed to receive lineage teachings. After seven years, he and his advisors agreed it would be best to leave Tibet and seek refuge in India. At the end of 1999, at the age of 14, in a daring escape, he and a few close retainers crossed the Himalayas and were safely received as political refugees in Dharamsala, India. Establishing a close connection with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he settled down at the Gyuto Tantric College.
Among his many tutors, including luminaries of the Kagyu Lineage such as Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, HHK was able to reconnect with his old friend, The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, resident of Seattle and heart son of his predecessor, who had traveled with him on his historic second visit to America in 1980.
As their friendship grew, so did the aspiration for His Holiness to be able to travel freely to other countries. After many years of navigating political red tape and much planning, that dream was finally realized this past May.
In the West, a group of eleven sanghas under the direction of Ponlop Rinpoche, worked together to manifest the aspirations held by many for decades. Preparations began in 2006 to construct a residence for the Karmapa at Nalanda West here in Seattle, on the third floor above the shrine room. Dozens of volunteers and contractors worked for over a year to create an atmosphere of modern elegance and uplifted simplicity out of a musty old attic.
On the administrative side, hundreds of people from many different sanghas were organized into regional and national committees to coordinate all of the activities and details of the visit. The Karmapa finally arrived at Newark, New Jersey at dawn on May 15, 2008.
What followed was an eighteen day tour that included teachings, audiences, interviews, sightseeing, empowerments, all pervaded by love. After visiting New York, New Jersey, Colorado, and California, His Holiness arrived in Seattle, Washington. He took up residence in his special suite at Nalanda West on May 29, and proceeded to melt our hearts and inspire our minds for the next five days.
Among the many vast and profound topics he taught on, HHK emphasized the cultivation of love and compassion for all beings, engagement in the world to benefit others, and the practice of Dharma together as a broader family that transcends cultural distinctions. He remarked how he was having a wonderful time seeing old friends and making new ones. His blossoming sense of freedom and power were palpable.
The Karmapa, he says, loves Seattle and considers it a home. He remarked that his apartment at Nalanda West was nicer than the one he has at Gyuto in India. He will most definitely return. One of the most touching moments was when he said, "None of you has ever left the mindstream of the Karmapa."