Nothing to say yet but something is coming soon.

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Never Give Up and Buddhist Ecology

 Never Give Up – The Heart of  Compassion is about the young, charismatic 17th Karmapa and three women inspired to put his teachings into action in Bodhgaya, India. Tragically Bodhgaya is one of the poorest areas of India as well as the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. We are in the final stage of editing our documentary. We filmed the 17th Karmapa leading the Kagyu Monlam, the annual prayer festival in Bodhgaya, during this year’s special Anniversary Celebration of 900 years of the Karmapa’s continual rebirths. We also included poignant footage of Karmapa’s historic tour of America in 2008.

In the making of Never Give Up we interviewed many great contemporary lineage holders, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, Sogyal Rinpoche, Matthieu Ricard, Roshi Joan Halifax and others, speaking on subjects ranging from mindful social action to the nature of mind.

“Karmapa means embodiment of all the enlighted activities of the Buddhas. He embodies wisdom and compassion in action…..His Holiness’ advice is very timely. We need bodhicitta or the heart of loving kindness in action, not just sitting in some meditative state. We could say lots of eastern practitioners in India and Tibet are used to so many rituals and practices, all these spiritual things. We sit in one room with all these gadgets like a teenager in America sitting somewhere in a basement room with all these computers and games… His Holiness is saying come out of that game room and get some exercise. Come out of that spiritual game room and get into action. I think that’s a really good message.”

– Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche from our filmed interview in Bodhgaya

His Holiness Karmapa is constantly taking compassionate action in this world. He is a vegetarian and has requested all Kagyu monasteries to stop eating meat. He provided a clean water drinking station as a gift of gratitude outside the entrance to the Mahabodhi Temple. He said, “Bodh Gaya is the place where Buddha was enlightened, which means that it is the birthplace of the most-valued teachings of wisdom and compassion. We should treat this land with respect and protect its natural environment. During Buddha’s time, the river Niranjana flowed gloriously. But, these days, we hear that it is drying up. We must do everything we can to protect these water sources and to minimize wastes that are polluting this sacred land.”

Karmapa’s message not only includes Buddhist teachings on compassion and taming the mind but taking the next step of putting those teachings into action. His Holiness was recently asked to write an article outlining his view of  “Environmental Buddhism” for the scientific journal Conservation Biology’s December issue. “Entitled “Walking the Path of Environmental Buddhism through Compassion and Emptiness,” the article explores His Holiness’ personal reasons for becoming an environmentalist, offers a masterful explanation of the overlap between Buddhist philosophy and environmental ideology, and ends with a call to action to protect the environment.” From the Kagyu office –

“As I grew up and began studying Buddhist philosophy and teachings,” His Holiness explained, “I discovered great harmony between Buddhism and the environmental movement. The emphasis on biological diversity, including ecosystems—in particular, the understanding that animate and inanimate beings are parts of a whole—resonates closely with Buddhism’s emphasis on interdependence.”

In our filmed interview in Boulder, Colorado Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said,  “Ecology is a bare necessity now, it’s not optional”  

 We feel this movie will inspire its audience with the urgent message that genuine spiritual practice does not end in the shrine room but needs to be put in action to benefit a planet and all beings on that planet who are experiencing great suffering. We currently need to raise $15,000 in order to finish the final color correction and sound design, film festivals entry fees and the production of the DVDs with all the associated marketing and distribution costs.

A contribution of any amount helps. Here are some categories of our needs you can choose from.

  • One day of Color Correction $500 (5 days needed)                   $2500
  • One day of  Sound Mixing $700 (4 days needed)                        $2800
  • Design of DVD package and poster                                               $1500
  • Film Festival entry fees                                                                   $1200
  • DVD Production, Publicity and Advertising                                 $5000

Donors of $1000 or more will receive credit on the film and two tickets to the premier.
Donors of $5000 or more will be credited as Executive Producers two tickets to the premier and dinner with the directors.

You can donate by visiting our website or simply clicking the donate button on the right side of this blog. Or if you prefer mail a check to: Open Heart Films, 72 Lakeshore Park Road, Boulder, CO 80302

If you would like to receive a charitable tax donation receipt the Buddhist Film Foundation, Inc, is our fiscal sponsor, “a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization (IRS determination letter available upon request)”. Make checks payable to: Buddhist Film Foundation, Inc. and note that it is for “Never Give Up” on the memo line.

Buddhist Film Foundation, Inc. Zaentz Media Center, 2600 Tenth Street, Suite 409 Berkeley, CA 9471—3104 USA (please note in the memo line for Never Give Up)

Thank you for taking your time to listen to our needs and explore our film. We hope you will join our community of supporters and help us bring this message of Buddhist inspired social and environmental action. Keep an idea out for our Kickstarter Page coming next week.

I am also offering a greatly reduced price on limited edition archival prints from my portfolio on Pilgrimage. Click on any picture to see the sizes and prices available.

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Elephant Journal Interview on Never Give Up- Karmapa 17

The writer Naomi Levine just finished interviewing me for Elephant Journal. I am sharing some of that interview here.

We have to think about compassion from many different angles, not just thoughts, but something that comes from our heart and our bones. Then you are a follower of Mahayana…. If you give up on one sentient being then you lose bodhicitta….HH Karmapa 17

Never Give Up – Karmapa 17 – Trailer

Homeless in India © James Gritz

For anyone who does not know Bodh Gaya, it can best be summed up as a journey through the sufferings of the six realms to the still point of enlightenment under the bodhi tree.

In a half kilometre you will pass cows and dogs eating their way through piles of waste on one side of the street while state of the art Subarus or Toyotas carrying Lamas and massive modern luxury buses with Chinese pilgrims or Indian tourists dominate a torrent of traffic. Bicycle rickshaws and horse drawn carts overloaded with human cargo struggle with each foot for space. As you reach the promenade in the precinct leading to the sacred bodhi tree, child vendors press fresh lotuses in your face, village men hold fish in plastic bags to be purchased by a pilgrim for the merit of liberation – then caught and used again for business.

And then the beggars. Feet twisted, hands cut off crawling the dusty pavement to target a tourist handout. Or a stationary body, both limbs missing leaving just a torso sitting in the heat of the sun. This is buddha business, and it awakens a full range of emotions.

You can view the entire interview here at Elephant Journal Interview

At one point Naomi asked me how our film had evolved. I would like to share that story here in more detail than our interview permitted.

The evolution of Never Give Up – Karmapa 17

The original inspiration behind this film was fairly simple and straightforward. I was the principle still photographer during Karmapa’s U.S. tour in 2008. When I found out about the 2010 Kagyu Monlam and that this was the 900 Year Celebration of the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa I thought I would try my hand at making a documentary. Once I got the permission we needed to film at the Monlam I thought of my friend Fernanda Rivero, a filmmaker living in Mexico. She has done a number of short films and had experience with documentaries. Fernanda is a great storyteller, while I am more of an image-maker. I called up Fernanda to see if she would be interested in helping with this film. As it turned out she was planning to go to Bodhgaya in January for teachings at Shechen Monastery. She was immediately excited and changed her dates to arrive in India a month earlier. So Fernanda became my co-director and co-producer on this film.

Soon after this I received an email from Maia Saabye Christensen, a Danish filmmaker who had seen the announcement of our documentary on Facebook. She said she would be in Delhi working on a film on Richard Davidson, the scientist whose studies, sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute, are showing how meditation on compassion and loving kindness actually effects certain regions of the brain. The Dalai Lama has been involved with this project for many years. Maia asked if we needed any help. As it turned out Maia was an invaluable help as an additional camerawoman and a great help with coordination at the Monlam as she arrived ahead of us and made relationships with most of the people we needed to work with.

With the help of Karmapa’s general secretary Karma Chungyalpa, his western secretary Chime and some others we were actually granted three interviews with His Holiness. Considering his busy schedule we felt immensely fortunate. Karmapa’s interest in our film and approach seemed to grow with each meeting. At one point he actually expressed a desire to get involved in our editing process. He said he had been advised to study Final Cut Pro (a film editing software) but didn’t have the time. Due to his busy schedule and our lack of funding I am not sure if this will actually transpire.

We were in Bodhgaya searching for a way to make this film different than other films about charismatic Buddhist teachers or about an event like the Kagyu Monlam. During His teaching on Atisha’s Lamp the Karmapa spoke a lot about going beyond our comfort zones with our Buddhist practice and really generating compassion. At one point he talked about how sitting in our shrine rooms with our precious malas and bone horns was the main point of practice. Considering all the suffering there was in the world we need to get out and do something. He said, As Buddhist’s working on the path is to work on taming your mind. To give tormas, make offerings to the Buddhas, making prostrations is not enough to practice. You will not be freed from your suffering by making offerings to the Lhas, offering smoke, you must really change online pharmacy yourself, bring wisdom and meditation and good conduct to yourself…

He asked, “How much responsibility can we take for others? If you cannot take responsibility for others, whether you call yourself Mahayana or not you are Mahayana. If you are only doing for yourself, you are the lowest of the low, in the smallest of the Yanas…Compassion is thinking about beings who are suffering and really wanting to liberate them from that suffering. This compassion doesn’t come by just saying the Vajrasattva mantra, saying please come – that will not make compassion arise.

… There are so many people in Bodhgaya, so many people with no hands, no legs or nothing to eat, with health problems…we may not be able to give too much to them but if we really care and feel for them compassion is generated.

This really struck home. I was practicing, taking pictures and now working on a film, but what was I doing for anyone else? I turned from looking inside for some lofty enlightenment message, the “nature of mind”, “the emptiness of this or that” to looking at what was happening in the world right there in front of us, in Bodhgaya, India. My co-director, Fernanda Rivero and I were searching for a way to make this film different than other documentaries about one’s Buddhist teacher or about an event like the Kagyu Monlam. Naomi introduced us to the three female students of Karmapa’s who were actually trying to do something about the mess in Bodhgaya. It seemed the perfect segue into what Karmapa was actually teaching. He was advocating taking action, doing something to help others no matter how small it might seem.

So now we are weaving together the parallel stories of Karmapa and his activities and these three women trying to make a difference to the people and the world of Bodhgaya, India.

At this moment, Fernanda and Matthew Shultz, an experienced editor from Chicago are continuing the editing of  the movie in a small town in Mexico. The biggest challenge we face with embodying our vision for this film is how to you convey the teachings of Karmapa in a 70-minute visual metaphor. We are looking at incorporating footage from Karmapas 2008 tour of the U.S. and telling the story of Karmapa’s teachings through world footage; scenes of a planet being destroyed, scenes of the beauty we may lose, wars and tsunamis and nuclear disasters, scenes of abuse to animals Karmapa often speaks about,

This is all developing and evolving during the editing process. We came home from India with a lot of footage – hours of interviews with The Karmapa and other Rinpoches, hours of teachings, days of the activities of the Kagyu Monlam and days following around our characters. We had no hard and fast script. Everything seemed to naturally morph into a new and more refined direction. We are still deep in the process of this creation. As I mentioned to Naomi there are times when Fernanda and I feel like we are just puppets and maybe Karmapa is pulling the strings, maybe “we” are not really creating anything.



During our first couple of months working on this film we did manage to raise a little of $2000 through Facebook and this blog. This came mostly from Dharma friends and devotees of Karmapa. We are grateful for that help. That money was spent to Fed Ex tapes of HHK’s 2008 USA visit to Mexico City from the Karmapa Foundation, to ship a book on HHK that had photos of the previous 16 Karmapas that we used in the intro to the 900 Year Film for the Kagyu Office, to pay for some editing help in Mexico City and also to hire the editor Matthew Schultz to come to Mexico City and work on the film with Fernanda for two months. She paid for his airfare, food and lodging out of her own pocket. We have made a short film on the 900 Year Celebration to travel with the Dusum Khyenpa statue for Karmapa’s office. We did this at our own expense. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa has reviewed this film and he and his office have sent us a list of changes they wish to make, so this is still an ongoing expense. We have been very frugal but we now need some financial assistance from Karmapa’s friends, students and anyone else who thinks this project is worthwhile. We are working towards creating a film that will show the actions of a great compassionate and charismatic spiritual leader, whose name means “Activity of the Buddhas” and hopefully encourage others into taking social and environmental action.

You can view the trailer to Never Give Up – Karmapa 17 at their website or follow them on Facebook a


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“Never Give Up: Karmapa 17″ Trailer

Here is the link to our trailer NEVER GIVE UP – KARMAPA 17 New Trailer


Tibetan Buddhism may be the fastest growing spiritual tradition in the world today. Many Sanskrit and Buddhist terms like samsara, nirvana, karma, dharma, mantra are now commonplace in the English language. Since the Chinese invaded Tibet lineage teachers have spread the teachings of Buddha around around the world. Unlike other religions, Buddhism is more a kin to a science of the mind. Training the mind through meditation and loving-kindness becomes the basis for genuine compassionate activity in society.

The 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje is the head of the ancient Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Karmapa means the one who carries out “the activities of all the Buddhas”, “the fulfiller of karma.” The Karmapa was the first intentionally reincarnated lama to be recognized in Tibetan Buddhism. Many consider him the second highest ranking Lama under His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a living Buddha. Although the Karmapa is a spiritual leader and not a political one, since his daring escape from China in 2000 he has been thrust onto the world stage in media highlighting politics.

The documentary, “Never Give Up – Karmapa 17” explores the inspiration and activities of the His Holiness the 17th Karmapa as he leads the annual prayer festival, The Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, India and the Anniversary Celebration of 900 years of continual rebirths for the benefit of beings.

He is a dynamic and charismatic leader who speaks frequently about the environment, women’s rights, animal suffering, vegetarianism and taking action to ease the suffering of all beings. In his teachings in Bodhgaya he emphasized buy ambien that “spiritual” practice on our meditation cushions in our shrine rooms with all the ritual objects of Tibetan Buddhism surrounding us is not enough. He said that in these troubled times we also need to be active in the world, manifesting our compassionate activity every day. Even though we may have small bodies and minds, because limitless sentient beings are suffering, we need to have limitless compassion.

Directors James Gritz and Fernanda Rivero use footage from the 28th Kagyu Monlam prayer festival and images of the activities of the 17th Karmapa to illustrate his teachings on wisdom and compassion. The film includes interviews with great contemporary spiritual teachers like Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Ponlop Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche and Matthieu Ricard. In this film they also follow the stories of people, inspired by the Buddha’s teachings on compassion to work for the benefit benefit of beings in Bodhgaya.  Dominique founded a tutorial school for the children of Bodhgaya and works as a nurse to ease the suffering of the handicapped and sick. Joy is dedicated to helping the puppies and dogs of Bodhgaya survive in a difficult and dangerous environment. Buddhist monks begin working to improve the environment of one of the more polluted areas in India.

“Never Give Up” tells the poignant story of The Karmapa and the bravery of those who have sacrificed personal comfort to work in immense poverty found in Bodhgaya. The documentary raises awareness of this sacred place where the Buddha attained his enlightenment.

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Year of the Iron Rabbit Begins, more Karmapa News from India

Rabbits in snow

A cold morning in Boulder, Colorado ushered in the Year of the Iron Rabbit. Tomorrow I’m heading to Mexico where I will be working in a bit more warmth with Fernanda editing our Film on the 17th Karmapa, the Kagyu Monlam and the 900 Year Celebration of Dusum Khyenpo. Before leaving I thought I would share some of the latest news from India on the Karmapa and share some links.

There was a clear and well written column in the Hindustan Times by professor Dibyesh Anand that expresses my own thoughts about the Karmapa coverage in the Indian media in a more eloquent manner than I could, so I am re-printing it here. It’s about time the Indian press printed something with a semblance of truth and objectivity. It’s a shame that this appears in the Views – Columns and not the front page.

Buddha’s not smiling

‘Is the Karmapa a Chinese spy?’ ‘Is the possible successor to the Dalai Lama a Chinese mole?’ ‘Is this another clever ploy of China to take control of the border regions?’ The media have gone berserk with speculations about the Karmapa Lama. Sadly, the coverage has failed to do any groundwork research. This episode not only exposes the way the Indian media works but also jolts the Tibetan faith in Indian democracy and harms India’s long-term interests in Tibet.

The police raid found a few crore rupees worth of cash. At most, this may be a case of financial irregularity or non-transparent dealings by the managers of the Karmapa’s monastery for which they should be held accountable. Raising questions about a person being a spy for another country is a serious matter. It destroys his or her reputation. The news stories reflect a witch-hunt and betray the lack of an understanding of Tibetan life in India.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa, the oldest lineage in Tibetan Buddhism and the head of the Karma Kagyu sect. He is one of the rare lamas recognised by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. There is nothing conspiratorial about it. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, China was more accommodative of Tibet-based religious figures, consulting and coordinating the choice of reincarnations with the Dalai Lama and other lamas in exile. This accommodativeness came to an end with the crisis over the Panchen Lama’s reincarnation in 1995.

The Karmapa’s selection after the demise of the 16th Karmapa was not without its own controversy as there is a rival candidate, Trinley Thaye Dorje, who had the backing of a senior Karma Kagyu figure, the Shamarpa. The Shamarpa is reputed to have close connections within the Indian security establishment and bureaucracy. But most Tibetans have accepted the Dalai Lama’s choice. In fact, within China-controlled Tibet, veneration for the Karmapa is next only to that of the Dalai Lama. Even within the Gelug (the sect of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama) monasteries in Tibet, one comes across the Karmapa’s picture and it is clear that for ordinary Tibetans, the Karmapa’s proximity to the Dalai Lama adds to his sacredness.

It is true that the Karmapa has avoided making anti-China political statements and Beijing has therefore not denounced him. Again, there is nothing suspicious about this. The Chinese had refused to openly criticise even the Dalai Lama in 1959 until he made a public statement after his exile. Beijing does not want to denounce the Karmapa and thus contribute to the creation of another globally recognised figurehead around which the Free Tibet movement will mobilise. Moreover, in recent history, Karmapas have avoided overly political positions since in the traditional Tibetan State, the Gelug sect was dominant. By focusing solely on religious affairs, the present 17th Karmapa is following the footsteps of his previous reincarnation.

It is unfortunate that without appreciating the nuances of sectarian politics within Tibetan Buddhism and Sino-Tibetan relations, the Indian media portrayed the Karmapa’s apolitical stance as suspicious. Continuing speculation about the Karmapa’s escape from Tibet in 1999 reminds me of a Japanese conspiracy theory film where the filmmaker argued that he was ‘sent’ to Sikkim to get control over the ‘Black Hat’ kept in Rumtek monastery in Sikkim. Interestingly, this film was given to me in Beijing!

Decades of repression during the Cultural Revolution has not been able to shake the belief that Tibetans have in their lamas. The Indian media’s onslaught on the Karmapa will only reaffirm Tibetan respect for the Karmapa. But it will certainly backfire for India as followers of Tibetan Buddhism in exile, in the border regions, in Tibet and in the rest of the world, will resent this humiliation of the religious figure. Had it been the Shahi Imam or Baba Ramdev, would the media have taken such liberties in going to town with such an unconfirmed story?

Hardline officials in China must be laughing their heads off at the Indian media circus. They know that this will not only create confusion in the exiled Tibetan community in India, but will also create a disenchantment about India among Tibetans inside China. India has let the Tibetans down on many occasions since the late 1940s when the latter sought help and support in making their claims for independence internationally and in 1954 when the Panchsheel agreement was signed with China over the old Tibetan State. India has provided refuge to more than 100,000 Tibetan exiles. But we must not forget that the exiled lamas provide a stability and keep the people in the borderlands pacified in a manner more effective than the Indian military. Tibetans are over-generous with their gratitude to their Indian hosts and are hesitant in reminding India of a small inconvenient truth: until 1951, the disputed border regions were neither Chinese nor Indian but Tibetan. In return, the very least Indians could do is not malign Tibetan religious leaders before they are even proved guilty of their misdemeanour. Is that too much to ask?

Dibyesh Anand is an associate professor of international relations at Westminster University, London and the
author of Tibet: A Victim of Geopolitics

Here is another good piece by the same author.


INDIA PRIDES itself on having a free and vibrant media. But the story about Tibetan exile leader Karmapa Lama has exposed the Indian media scene as closely resembling a chor bazaar. One where uninformed assertions, distort ed facts, libelous statements, ad hominem attacks, and lazy analysis are recycled again and again to create a sensation.

The remarkable convergence in how channels and newspapers covered the story of police raids and findings of unaccounted foreign currencies at Karmapa’s temporary establishment near Dharamsala is conspicuous. In the media, the money is presented in salacious and sensationalist manner. Money is not the focus, the Karmapa’s alleged China connection is. A possible financial irregularity of $1.6 million is a non-story in India where scams, schemes and scandals of billions erupt with the regularity of tides. The story becomes one of Karmapa as a probable Chinese spy.

Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the third highest leader in the Tibetan Bud- dhist world. Karmapa, who came into exile in1999 at the age of 14, is the head of the Kagyu sect, but often touted as a possible figure to lead the Tibetan people after the present 14th Dalai Lama passes away.

There are too many holes in the story conjured up by the media relying mostly upon unnamed sources. So many that one can question the editorial judgements in allowing these to be reported or aired.

First, why did Karmapa’s monastery have Indian and foreign currencies, in- cluding Chinese yuan, in cash? If Karmapa was indeed a ‘Chinese mole’, would the Chinese government be so stupid to send him ‘neatly stacked’ yuan to use in India?

Did they think that the yuan is so powerful that it can now be used in Dharamsala without raising any suspicion? The presence of so many types of foreign currencies point towards only one thing — Karmapa has followers and disciples all over the world. A simple online search by a journalist would have convinced him/her of the worldwide appeal of the Kagyu sect.

As for the mystery of the yuan, what do journalists expect the Tibetans from Tibet, who have a strong tradition of patronising the lamas, to give their donations in? Tibetans live under severe restrictions inside China. Are they expected to go to the Bank of China’s Lhasa branch and say that they need dollars or rupees to send donations to their religious leaders (most of whom live in India)? Since when did it become a crime for religious leaders in India to have followers inside China (and Tibet is inside China) but not in any other part of the world? Well-off Tibetans as well as Chinese followers of Tibetan lamas will often use cash to avoid any problems with the authorities in China. The possession of foreign currency in cash may have broken laws in India but it has nothing to with Karmapa’s character.

Second, Indian media keeps reporting that Karmapa may have been sent by China to take control of monasteries from Ladakh to Sikkim to Tawang. The addition of Tawang is the most glaring one here for it immediately raises concerns about security in the disputed area. Did any journalist bother to investigate what important monastery exists in Tawang that Karmapa could take over? There is no Kagyu monastery of significance in the region. Indian media seems completely ignorant about sectarian divisions within Tibetan Buddhism and shows no interest to appreciate the complexities of Tibetan Buddhist regions that belong to India.

Third, some media reported that Karmapa had to answer questions through an interpreter because he can speak “only Chinese”. This is another lazy assertion for not only does the Karmapa speak excellent Tibetan but broken English and is learning Korean and Japanese.

Surely good journalism is one where reports are verified, ‘facts’ presented by unnamed sources reconfirmed and taken with a critical distance, and all efforts are made not to damage personal reputation. Speculating in public about Karmapa being a Chinese spy is not only lazy journalism but a libelous attack on beliefs of millions of followers of Tibetan Buddhism. While the Dalai Lama may still harp on about guru-chela relations between Indians and Tibetans, this case of news sensationalism has questioned the cherished Indian myth of warm hospitality, exposed the guru as irresponsible and ignorant, and harmed Indo-Tibetan relations. At the very cialis least, the Indian media owes an apology to the Karmapa and the Tibetan community.

Dibyesh Anand, is an Associate Professor at Westminster University, London and the author of Geopolitical Exotica: Tibet in Western Imagination.

Waiting for HHGK

From Dharamsala to Gyuoto Monastery where the Karmpa resides there has been a huge showing of support for the Karmapa. According to the Karmapa’s official website “Shops were closed in McLeod Ganj, as virtually the entire Tibetan town joined the 20-km march to support His Holiness the Karmapa. The organizers of the march, leaders of the Free Tibet movement, specified that it was not a protest, explaining that they were not opposing anyone, but merely showing their unequivocal confidence and trust in His Holiness the Karmapa.” Here’s a link to a Picasa album that someone put together with more pictures of the rally. Support Rally for HHK

This letter recently came from Karmapa’s general secretary, Karma Chungyalpa.

Fact: The allegations that His Holiness the Karmapa is a Chinese spy are entirely unfounded and ridiculous.

His Holiness the Karmapa’s escape from Chinese-occupied Tibet was a major embarrassment to China and landed a serious blow to China’s claims to legitimacy for its rule over Tibet. His Holiness the Karmapa was the first reincarnate lama that the People’s Republic of China had officially acknowledged. Yet, rather than allowing himself to be used to convince the world that the Chinese government allowed freedom of religion, His Holiness fled overland, by foot, horseback and jeep, crossing the Himalayas to freedom in India. When His Holiness the Karmapa’s escape and his joyful first meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama became public, China’s oppression of Tibetans’ rights was dramatically highlighted the world over. This thoroughly discredited China’s claims that Tibetans were content under Chinese rule. During his time in India, His Holiness the Karmapa has served as an important spiritual figure, inspiring the Tibetan cause. The allegations that His Holiness the Karmapa was sent here from China as a spy or an agent are not only entirely unfounded, but ridiculous.

Fact: His Holiness the Dalai Lama and leaders of the Tibetan community in exile have repeatedly expressed their support of His Holiness the Karmapa, and their complete confidence that he is no Chinese spy.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has fully backed His Holiness the Karmapa.  Firstly, he has categorically and unequivocally dismissed all allegations of His Holiness the Karmapa having a connection with any arm of the Chinese government. Second, he has underlined how Buddhists from across the world leave offerings in cash to allow His Holiness the Karmapa to continue his substantial religious and social activities.

The Parliament of the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (also known as Tibetan government-in-exile) issued a formal statement declaring the following: “As far as Gyalwang Karmapa is concerned, he put his life at risk by coming into exile from Tibet at a tender age. In our society, he is one of the spiritual heads of schools of Tibetan Buddhism, highly revered and respected by the Tibetan people. Personally, he has been concentrating on his study, promotion of Buddhism and world peace and protection of environment, thereby making great service to Tibet’s political and spiritual cause.”

Spontaneous candlelight vigils and marches have sprung up around the Tibetan community in exile. The areas surrounding His Holiness the Karmapa’s residence in Dharamsala have been flooded with Tibetan and overseas visitors seeking to stand by this highly revered spiritual figure. The Deputy Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, Dolma Gyari, stood at His Holiness’ side when he made his first public address after the investigation began.

Fact: The Karmapa Office of Administration has been seeking to deposit its donations in foreign currency for years.

Under Indian law, foreign currency can only be deposited in a bank by a trust or other registered institution that has received government permission to do so, known as FCRA permission. The Karmapa Office of Administration created a trust, Saraswati Charitable Trust that repeatedly applied for but did not receive permission to deposit foreign currencies. It thus created another trust, Karmae Garchen Trust, whose application for FCRA permission to deposit foreign currency was submitted last year and is still pending.  With no legitimate means of depositing or exchanging this foreign currency, the money was left to pile up over time, awaiting the day when it could be legitimately deposited.

Fact: The Chinese Yuan represents less than 10% of the total amount sized.

The Chinese Yuan was a small proportion of the foreign currency seized.  The Chinese Yuan is the national currency used in Tibet and across mainland China. Tibetans from Tibet generally leave donations in Chinese Yuan. So do Buddhists from mainland China. The Yuan seized by police include Chinese Yuan notes ranging from 1 Yuan notes to larger bills, reflecting that they come from multiple individual sources.

Fact: The Chinese Yuan was only one of over 20 different currencies found.

The foreign currency found included bills in over 20 different currencies. The presence of donations in Yuans well as the many other currencies reflects His Holiness’ status as a world spiritual leader with a widely diverse international following that includes Tibetans and Buddhists from mainland China, whose national currency is the Yuan. It is customary for groups to pool their money and make collective donations. In Chinese culture, it is especially common to offer new notes when making donations to high abbots and senior spiritual leaders.

Fact: Written records are kept of the cash donations.

All donations made by devotees are placed by his attendants in a donation box. At regular intervals, the box is opened and the cashier and a group of other office staff sort and count the donations. The cashier carefully notes the total in each denomination, and painstaking records are kept of the amounts. The cashier opted to store the foreign currency openly in a dormitory room he shares with other monks, rather than in the office, which receives considerably more foot traffic.

Fact: Millions of international disciples regularly leave unsolicited donations in the currencies of their home countries when they come to see His Holiness the Karmapa.

His Holiness the Karmapa is the revered leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and the object of the devotion and trust of millions of followers from all over the world. During December 2010 alone, His Holiness granted personal audiences to thousands of devotees from 44 distinct nationalities, including American, British, German, Japanese, and Chinese. It is customary to leave donations of gifts such as fruit, incense or cash, as symbols of devotion to His Holiness the Karmapa, and as a means of supporting his many charitable activities.

Fact: His Holiness the Karmapa’s role is to lead the sect spiritually and he has no role in the day-to-day management of the sect.

The Karmapa reincarnation lineage has a 900-year history of engaging in a vast range of spiritual activities, from teaching Dharma to rigorous meditation to composing philosophical texts. His Holiness the Karmapa is completely and utterly uninvolved in the handling and management of cash. The Tsurphu Labrang, known now as the Karmapa Office of Administration, has existed for hundreds of years to allow the Karmapas to devote their time and energy to their role as spiritual leaders. It manages all the worldly affairs of the Karmapa, including handling the donations and administering the finances. In this way, the Karmapa has been left free to fulfill his solemn duties as spiritual guide to countless followers and leader of a large Buddhist order.

Fact: The Indian government was fully informed of the plans to buy land in Dharamsala to build a monastery for His Holiness the Karmapa.

His Holiness the Karmapa has been hosted in a temporary residence in Dharamsala by another Tibetan Buddhist sect since his arrival in India in 2000. The Karmae Garchen Trust was seeking to purchase the land in its own name for the purpose of building a permanent residence and monastery for His Holiness, whose current living quarters measure 15’x15′. When the Karmae Garchen Trust identified suitable land near His Holiness’ current temporary residence in Dharamsala, it informed the office of the District Collector of Dharamsala and sought their approval to proceed with the purchase.

Fact: The Indian government had granted preliminary approval of the land purchase.

Under the Land Reform act, any non-Himachali, non-agriculturist requires sanction by the state government before purchasing land. The Karmae Garchen Trust sought and was granted preliminary approval by the relevant state government offices. The application was accompanied by a strong letter of support from the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They obtained both an essentiality certificate and a no-objection certificate from the Town and Country Planning Department of the Himachal Pradesh government, indicating state government approval to proceed with the plans to purchase the land.

Fact: The INR 1 crore (approx. $215,000) seized in the car of an Indian hotelier belonged to the seller of the land, rather than the Trust.

Two men were arrested in a car with approximately 215,000 USD (Rs 1 crore). The two men were agents working for the land seller, who had been given a partial payment due for the land. These agents had accepted payment in Delhi and signed a receipt from Rabgay Chusong, the monk who handles the financial matters for the Karmapa Office of Administration. Currently, only Rabgay is in custody and will be in remand until the 5th, after which we will post bail.

The seller demanded payment in cash for the land, which is legal and commonly practiced for various other capital assets as well, in India. Since the Karmae Garchen Trust did not have such cash on hand, cash donations in Indian rupees were gathered from donations made during the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya, and delivered to Delhi by the Karmapa Office of Administration.

We would like to thank all those who have made donations to our film so far. It has been quite an expensive undertaking and it would not have been remotely possible without the labor of love from Maia Saabye Christensen who was a key team member and camera person, Naomi Levine, who put in a lot of time helping with the narrative and interview questions, Fernanda Rivero my co-director and many others who will be thanked in due time. If you can offer any further support towards our documentary we would greatly appreciate it.

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Karmapa Residence Raided

H. H. 17th Karmapa in Bodhgaya

I had no plans to write another blog entry until I returned from Mexico in March from working on editing our film about the Karmapa and the Kargyu Monlam with my friend and co-director Fernanda Rivero.  In the early hours of the morning I came across this link to bad news that had been posted on my facebook page by my friend Ani Jimba. Here is another link written by a Tibetan, Lobsang Wangyal, on the same story sent to me by my Maia Christensen another filmmaker and  a member of our filmcrew.


This is very sad news regarding the further infringement on the rights of H. H. The 17th Karmapa and his lack of freedom. It seems it was not enough to keep this “Buddha” locked away in his monastery in India but now the government has decided to confiscate funds that have been donated by his devotees. Funds that he was planning to use to build a monastery near Dharamsala. After posting a link on facebook to one of these articles David Stone, after reading some of the comments regarding taking this in as practice, making prayers, etc., commented “Yet, we also have a danger of separating the two truths by veering toward the absolute and ignoring the relative truth. We can’t ignore the practicalities” I agree with this and would like to share my own thoughts on the issues at hand.

I think it is important, as David mentions, not to separate the two truths. Last blog entry I quoted Tsokny Rinpoche saying during one of our interviews in Bodhgaya – “If you cannot bring the two truths together as a unification it is very difficult to understand Dharma, it becomes black and white – relative solid, ultimate nothing.” 

But this does not mean we can not take intelligent action or that we have to wait until we are enlightened to act in the world.

The Karmapa has been very patient with the Indian government and the “Tibetan government in exile”. He has basically remained silent on many issues for all these years. He does not see himself as a political figure although he finds himself in the midst of political intrigue on the stage of world politics. In Bodhgaya, when asked about all this talk of him taking over for the Dalai Lama if he retires or passes away he said point blank that he has no intention of taking over that role. That he is not a political leader and has too much else to do spreading the Dharma. I have just spent the last month and half filming His Holiness and the Kagyu Monlam along with several genuine people who are students of HHK who are taking action and doing things in this so called “real world”, this relative world. Some are working for the environment, so our working for school children and the sick, some our helping animals.

By nature I am not a political person and spend, at least according to my wife, too much time sitting on my ass on a zafu. This habit of mine goes all the way back to the days of the Vietnam war where I probably went to only one peace rally that I can remember – I was more content sitting on my hippy bliss while someone like Daniel Ellsberg, who had a conscience, may have single handedly stopped the Vietnam war by exposing the “Pentagon Papers.” 

The Karmapa himself said in Bodhgaya that “I like to take action and share my bodhicitta with others, not keep it inside” (this is a paraphrase).

This whole deal in India is a very murky situation and while we were filming in Bodhgaya I spoke to many people close to HHK and others much more deeply involved in Indian politics and the politics of the CTA (Tibetan Government in Exile) than I will ever be. I wonder how the Indian government could ever hear or find out that a monk was on the way to Gyuto with donation money for The Karmapa and his monastery plan.  Many rumors abound about who has what to gain within the Tibetan and Indian governments concerning keeping Karmapa’s freedom impaired. Who was behind the cancellation of His European tour? I don’t have the answers to these and so many other questions. 

This is a good subject for another documentary, not the one we are making at present.

I do feel from my personal experience that His Holiness The 17th Karmpa is very frustrated with his condition and his lack of ability to continue to spread the “activities of the Buddhas” as is his namesake. Why does any government have the right to keep a political exile hostage? And we are not talking about any refugee, for my money, we are talking about the Buddha of our time. We know from past examples that once the truth is spread to the public things can change. We saw this with the “Pentagon Papers”, with Watergate and the impeachment of Richard Nixon. If the truth had come out early enough about the lies of Iraq, 9/11 and the so called “weapons of mass destruction” President Bush would have been impeached. 

We have recently seen the freeing of Aung San Suu Ky. Once lies come to light and the truth is exposed many things can change. If you don’t believe in this there is no need for reportage or even reading the newspaper or watching the news on TV. You might as well go into life-long retreat. (I am not trying to say anything is wrong with that – its an option).

In this day and age of materialism almost every powerful nation is kissing the butts of China and India who are taking over the world with their cheap labor, their huge populations and in China’s case their ownership of the debt of reckless over-spedning, over-consuming nations like the U.S. The gulf between rich and poor is growing daily. Even considering the dismal reality of our current political world stage I believe if every one of us who is connected in some way to His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje spreads the word of this abuse of human rights and religious freedom and writes to the leaders of there respective governments something might change. Anyway as HHK himself has said, “its not good enough to sit in your shrine room thinking that is all there is to Buddhist practice. There is too much suffering in the world and you need to get out and do something.”

This is why the working title of our upcoming film is “Never Give Up”. In Bodhgaya the Karmapa said “Never give up on sentient beings.” Is this not the bodhisattva vow so many of us have taken?

Karmapa's Residence at Gyuto Monastery, India

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Open heart, Empty Bodhi Leaf

Bodhi Tree, Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, India

I woke before dawn thinking about what have I brought back from India, the home of the Buddha. What teachings have I learned filming the 17th Karmapa, the Kagyu Monlam, the 900 Year Celebration and the interviews with my teachers and other Rinpoches, the stories of those trying to make a difference in the endless sea of suffering.

Reels and reels of images are rolling through my mind. I think this may be why I find it so difficult to sleep at night. The desperate unending plea of beggars still haunts me. Maybe I didn’t give enough, maybe I should have given those times I walked by. The vendors are still there selling the Buddha. The boys of Bodhgaya are still conning the “Dharma tourists” into thinking they can buy them a dictionary or sponsor them in school. The message is not entirely clear, but I think my experience may have made a small crack in my sense of who I think I am.

The outer Buddha presented itself in the form of Karmapa and the teachers who were there. The minds of open awareness and their hearts of compassion were not so difficult to see. Grace came to us through the Bodhi tree supplying the blood that flowed through everyone’s veins. Every moment seemed to present some teaching, some nudge to open further to the world, to let go of your never-ending agendas and your ideas of what was sacred and what was profane. I think I have had a small glimpse of everpresent dharma – transforming itself into every experience that comes our way, speaking again and again through the lips of the symbolic guru.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Bodhgaya, India, 2011

In our interview with Tsoknyi Rinpoche, one of my outer gurus, he said, “When your mind becomes frozen you cannot find space and openness and without space and openness, compassion cannot come out. The whole point is to experience detachment.

If you are attached to your [bottled] mineral water – that means the mineral water is very important to you and if you let that go, the object of attachment, that creates a lot of merit…I think things happen here because of Bodhgaya’s blessing.”

I encouraged him to tell the story of his own experience of working with bodhicitta under the bodhi tree. Even though I have heard this story many times and I knew he was reluctant to tell it again this time it was the best.

“Five years ago I thought I needed to change something so I looked into my whole Buddhist practice – what I needed to change, what I needed to improve and I realized what I needed to improve is bodhicitta. I think the comfortable Dharma practice, I usually call California dharma practice, in which you make yourself very cozy, mindful, relaxed, aware, love, love to others – all this makes you feel happy. All the things that make up a dharma practitioner I have – if I have a little bit of stress, the environment is not so good, then I think Ok this is impermanence and then I practice. Oh this is the Buddha realm, so I make myself very joyful and cozy for Dharma. But one needs to be willing to suffer for others. Real compassion is not afraid to suffer. One needs to think I need to help, I’m going to help, but along the road of helping I will face a lot of difficulties, but I am OK with that. I’m willing to take that risk. Bodhicitta activity is not comfortable, it is a rocky journey along the path, but if you are willing to take it then I think the first seed of bodhicitta is growing in your mind.

So I thought this time in Bodhgaya I would like to take the bodhisattva vow again, so I went to the Stupa around 5:00 o’clock, the best time for me. I circumambulated around the Stupa one time, two times, and on the third time under the bodhi tree, the exact spot where Buddha became enlightenment I was there taking the Bodhisattva vow and at that moment one bodhi leaf fell from the tree, touched on my head and feel to the ground. People are sitting on both sides of the path, chanting, meditating. I thought they were doing practice, but in fact they were waiting for the leaf. So when the leaf touched the ground, on both sides of me hands, about 10 hands, came together. My hand also went down automatically. My hand was faster than the rest and touched the leaf first and their hands touched my hand so I got the leaf and I felt good .WOW. The moment I took the vow the leaf touched my hand, now I have the leaf so I feel very good. Then I walked a little bit and after one or two seconds I felt very bad. Three seconds ago I wanted to take a vow for all sentient beings, I wanted to dedicate my life for all sentient beings, but right now I cannot give one leaf to them. I thought I took the bodhi leaf, so I am a terrible person. There was a strong contradiction. I almost crushed the bodhi leaf but then a second thought came that maybe this could be a very important reminder for my bodhicitta practice. So I took leaf, put in the paper, and now it hangs framed behind my bed.

So I think the real authentic feeling of bodhicitta is not so easy. I am still working on that. Always selfish, absorbed in self interest, I want to chant mantra for myself, I want to sit down and have peace for me, I want to do some Tonglen so I feel good, last night I didn’t sleep so good so I didn’t help so many people. Now sit down to practice, so I give my dharma, my virtue, take their suffering. At the end of 25 minutes – WOW I feel great. So all Dharma is all about me, I want to feel great, including bodhicitta, including taking refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – there is always a “me” behind everything. If we cannot transform that “me” I think Dharma is not going to work at all.

Some times I feel very good going to the Stupa, sometimes I feel very sad. Because there are hundreds of thousands of people going around the Stupa, focusing on “me”. I want to do prostrations, I want to see the face of Buddha…“me”. “Me” chanting, dharma helping me – me, me, me. I saw very few with no “me”, letting go “me”. Ha, letting go Dharma. Behind this there is a “doer, an “experiencer”, a “practitioner”. If that “er” doesn’t transform, then Dharma is not going to work, it’s all about me. So then I thought WOW – I am doing the same thing. So sometimes I go there and don’t do anything, just sit there and see if I am trying to do something for myself  – contemplation, bodhicitta, emptiness – for what? I want to feel good. Until you let go of that, real bodhicitta might never happen.

I am solid and this solidity of “me” is practicing solid dharma and “I” would like to experience solid happiness and “I” would like to get rid of the source of suffering. Everything is serious, solid, and obvious. I don’t want the solid suffering. I want the solid happiness. Maybe if I practice serious dharma I will get serious happiness. Behind all this is a tiger holding back. You have to die to “me”. First you have to experience this reified “I” then you have to contemplate whether I exist, or I does not exist. We call this analytical meditation, which is very important. Analyze everything and then you see that everything is mere existence, not like a solid giant. Even include that life and death is sort of a joke, within that joke there is cause and effect. Cause and effect is also part of the joke – the grief, the tightness, the solidity  – you have to loosen up and within that looseness we have to function. But not too loose, that’s what Nargarjuna calls the unity of two truths – relative and ultimate.

Until that is realized it is very difficult. If you cannot bring the two truths together as a unification it its very difficult to understand Dharma, it becomes black and white – relative solid, ultimate nothing. Ultimate and limited come together like milk and water. Ah, we have lost the art, the dance, and the movement of Dharma. Either nothing or either everything, either the world exists or non-exists. So how can it be – this existence and non-existence together, spontaneously? As Nargarjuna always mentioned the unification of two truths is really important. The more I think about dharma, not nihilism, not realism – empty awareness. Form is empty, empty is form. When these two things don’t conflict in your mind – then you know dharma.”

Excerpts from and interview with Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Bodhgaya India, 2011

Bodhi leaf from the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya, India

I’m getting ready to fly down to Mexico City to start editing our film with Fernanda. I’m trying to raise the money for the plane ticket, which will be around $500.00 If anyone has that kind of spare change and wants to donate that amount I will send you a framed Bodhi leaf from the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya – not Tsoknyi Rinpoches but my own. Thank you.

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A Letter from Goa

I am here in Goa absorbing the warmth and clean air – a welcome relief from the cold and dust of Bodhgaya and Delhi.  I hear the sounds of gentle waves against a rocky shore, a lapping, gurgling sound that is hard to put into words. The stars and crescent moon against a clear black sky have now replaced the glowing haze of Bodhgaya. Lights from the other shore, their undulating reflections approach me as I sit outside my room in this gentle cove.

Thoughts of Karmapa are passing through my mind along with the sounds of dogs barking and the horn of a train in the distance. What have we filmed and how will we edit it to convey the endless flow of humanity with its tears of pain and devotion? I think I could never describe the magic that is Bodhgaya. Perhaps in the imagery of our documentary we may be able to approach it. The sound of a train calls once more from the distance like the lonely heart of Karmapa. Now he has once again returned to his cage in Gyuoto. One last cry from the train’s horn fading in the distance, the gentle howl of dogs and their quiet yapping continues, mixing with the waves and sounds of crickets and a few roosters who like me do not realize it is not yet time to wake. Is there anything more than this present awareness?

My thoughts recall what my teachers have said during these dream like days that were Bodhgaya. Ponlop Rinpoche, in our interview, said the main problem is we are always looking somewhere else, going somewhere else to find what is in front of our nose.

Looking directly into his eyes my mind stopped for a brief moment and there was nothing else but this present awareness. I could not think to continue my questions and Fernanda had to ask the next.

I am still imagining the sound of the bell being rung by Mingyur Rinpoche in the shrine hall of Tergar pointing to the continuity of awareness that is always with us.  I thought one had to find the gap but the gap is not a place to find. I was sitting one day with Tsoknyi Rinpoche in his room at Tergar, above the shrine hall. He seemed so at ease, the essence of “carefree dignity” and “fearless simplicity”. He was telling me he just wanted to be here doing nothing, working on developing his own bodhicitta, spending his time around the stupa on the temple grounds. I thought about how it is said that all the Buddhas of the past and all the Buddhas of the future will attain enlightenment in Bodhgaya. That may have been Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s wish that morning but from the little I saw his mornings were filled with a constant flow of new and old students who came for advice, teachings, blessings and his warm, gentle presence.

His brother Mingyur Rinpoche is going into a three year retreat and he has requested Tsoknyi Rinpoche to look after his students and continue to point out the nature of mind to the new ones who enter their growing sangha. Besides teaching, Mingyur Rinpoche’s days were filled with continual short interviews of 5 minutes each. He held many longer meetings with the directors of Tergar International before going into retreat.

On the top floor of Tergar Monastery, His Holiness, the 17th Karmapa held audiences. It seemed there were no gaps in his schedule and constant meetings with long lines of those seeking his blessing. His schedule was so full I could see the stress and angst in the gentle eyes of his secretary Chime whose huge responsibility was to juggle and moderate the needs of so many. Group after group of Taiwanese, Americans, Europeans, Russians, Mexicans and the newly arrived from Tibet who bowed so low with katas in their hands, offering the precious objects they had carried for him to bless. With tears in their eyes, they would push their grandmother or sick son towards Karmapa with faith that he would  cure their ills. No matter how long the line, he would stop occasionally to listen to their story and then touch or blow on them before his guards hurried them past. As I filmed I could see how dazed they were; and the flow of need continued. My mind cannot even begin to fathom the lives of Rinpoches and Karmapa where there is no personal space.

Here I sit in Goa, in a small beach village in the south of India, taking a few days to digest these past six weeks of work on the film, taking time to recover from the pollution that brings coughs and colds in Bodhgaya. I took a swim in the ocean for the first time in many years. Here the food is good and there are many espresso machines. I feel a touch of guilt realizing that there are no vacations for the Karmapa.

The roosters are again singing but it is barely 4:00 in the morning. I think the roosters of Bodhgaya began their work later after the Muezzins had finished their morning call to prayer at 5:30. Now I hear a few small voices of children and their mothers, a few horns on the other side of the cove. Some begin their day hours before dawn. It has been difficult for me to sleep through the night. I find at one or two in the morning I am suddenly awake and I think I am feeling the restless, strong energy of the Karmapa. It is probably just my own imagination and my own restless heart. Why would such a great being whose confidence feels as vast as the ocean and as solid as the mountains be restless?

Now it is 6:00 in the morning and even here in Goa a Muezzin is singing. The sound of firecrackers exploding. Who knows why, it is long past  the new year. But this is India where little makes sense. Perhaps it is just my mind that projects the restlessness on Karmapa but watching him it seems his energy barely contains itself and he paces like a tiger in a cage.

It is hard to put together my notion of a calm and peaceful Buddha with what I have witnessed of Karmapa. On stage he is still and seems calm but in the privacy of his audience room his huge presence can barely contain itself. In my heart I feel no doubt that here in India, in the home of Buddha Shakyamuni the Karmapa’s eyes reflect little joy and he almost never smiles, like he did when he toured America. On his last day, when he had finished circumambulating the Mahabodhi Temple and offering his aspiration for the world in front of the golden Buddha statue, I was moving backward trying to film his exit when suddenly I backed right into a pillar. I almost fell with my camera in hand, caught his eye for a moment as his face lit up with a large smile close to laughter. In that brief gap my heart melted into his eyes and I too laughed thinking about this comic moment we just shared.

The terton Chogyur Lingpa predicted that the 16th Karmapa would cross the great ocean to the west. The 16th Gyalwang Karmapa traveled at least twice around the world and as a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche I had the good fortune to meet him twice when he was in Boulder. The 17th Karmapa again returned to America in 2008. I toured with him as a photographer.

I hope you will join my prayer that this great being may soon be free to teach and travel the world and manifest the “activities of the Buddhas”, which is the birthright of all the Karmapas.

James Gritz , January 9, 2011,  Goa, India

Early morning, Goa

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“Never Give Up”

HH Karmapa in Mahabodhi Temple

“What I really like to do is to go into action. When I am meditating on compassion I don’t want to have compassion that I keep inside myself but I want to be able to show the power of compassion to others.”

His Holiness the 17th Karmapa during a filmed interview  – December 17, 2010 Bodhgaya, India

In our film Fernanda and I have been integrating the story of three people connected with the Karmapa who are engaged in significant social action here in Bodhgaya. One is a French woman, Dominique, who is a trained nurse and is working with the disabled. She also has a small school in a village near here. Yesterday a small girl, whose leg was amputated because her parents didn’t get her proper medical care, came hopping up like a wounded bird to the cafe where I was interviewing Dominique. The strap of the artificial leg Dominique had made for her had broken. Her mother had brought her to Dominique to have it fixed. We sat and ate lunch with them. Dominique ordered two large plates of food with rice and dahl and vegetable curry with nan and fruit. All they ate was the rice and a little dahl as that is the only food they were used to eating at home. This small girl, whose name is Nagokunari ate ravenously. It looked she had a good meal in days.

Dominique with Nago

Dominique repairs artificial leg

Dominique then took Nago and her mother shopping for clothes. We stopped on the way to have the leg fixed by one of the many shoe repairmen that sit on blankets with their tools along the streets of the market place. While her artificial leg was being repaired Dominique bought the girl some small glass bangles. The girl became quite animated for the first time and her smile broadened as each colorful bracelet was added to her wrist. We then went to a clothing store where Dominique bought her two different red outfits after negotiating fiercely for a 35% discount. She then bought the girl and her mother sandals; sadly, only one was needed for the girl. As you can imagine it made great filming. The girl standing there balancing herself on one leg, then sitting down with her one foot extended as Dominique tried out various sizes. It was quite difficult to follow and film this through the streets of the marketplace, especially walking backwards as I filmed them, with motorcycles and rickshaws bumping me as they passed and stepping in the shit in the streets. Fortunately I have found an old local boy I had used when I was here 10 years ago to help me with my camera bags and tripod. His name is Powang and now he is 30 with three kids of his own.

Lillian preparing monks for cleanup

Lillian showing monks trash on Niranjana River

Lillian showing monks trash on Niranjana River

We are also working with two other characters. A woman named Lillian. With the Karmapa’s encouragement she has set up and organization called Sacred Earth Trust to raise environment awareness here in Bodhgaya. She teachers the 4-R’s, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Her waste and water project is the foundation for the cooperation between the hotels, monasteries and schools of Bodhgaya. She has started two sewing centers in two villages, where women are making cloth bags to help reduce some of the plastic waste. So not only does this help with the plastic problem but it also provides income to a number of women.

Joy with Bodhgaya puppy

The third character we are working with is Joy. She cares for the street dogs and puppies in Bodhgaya. She has aquired the nickname “Mother dog” and one man even through himself at her feet. She takes the mothers and babies and hides them in various places, like inside the hollow of a tree, so that the other dogs don’t eat the puppies. She has thirty or more dogs in her care. She feeds them and gives them injections when they are sick. We are buying her the medicine that she will use as we film her on the 24th administering the injections to many of the sick dogs here in Bodhgaya.

Bihar is a very deep cesspool of poverty and need. We are aspiring to tell the poignant story of Bodhgaya and illustrate how the Karmapa’s has inspired social activities here. We hope to raise awareness of this special place where the Buddha attained his awakening and make some real contribution with our film.

The working title of our film “Never Give Up”

Please help us finish this documentary. If you can give don’t forget our donate button. Anyone donating $150 or more will receive a limited edition version of the film with more interviews of the 17th Karmapa and the other Rinpoches.

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900 Year Celebration of the First Karmapa in Bodhgaya, India

900 Year Celebration - Photo by Maria Fernana Guzman

We are here in Bodhgaya working from dawn to late at night on the film of the Karmapa and the Kargyu Monlam. The atmosphere is full of magic and energy but the air is so full of dust from the hectic movement of cars, motorcycles and rickshaws that one by one we are all getting sick. I feel very lucky we have four in our film crew so we have never missed any coverage.

The first two days were the 900 celebration of the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa. On Friday His Holiness and everyone went to Cool Grove (Sitavana charnel ground) and the Mahakala cave, about 30 minutes in the country outside of Bodhgaya, where he performed a Chod Offering. Later at the cave itself Tenga Rinpoche arrived and gave an excellent talk on the history of this Vajrayana site, rich in the lore of accomplished Mahasiddhas like Maitripa and many others. He then performed a Mahakala offering. We will try to transcribe some of that talk and publish it soon with photos.

In Karmapas teaching on the Lamp of Atisha during the first two days Karmapa has barely touched on the text itself. He has been very forceful saying again and again that practice in the monasteries and practice on our cushions in our nice shrine rooms with all the ritual objects of Tibetan Buddhism, our drums and bells, our special bone horns and our precious malas is not good enough and is not the main point. He said that in these times we need to be active in the world, manifesting our compassionate activity every day in whatever small way we can. Even though we may have small bodies and minds, because limitless sentient beings are suffering, we need to have limitless compassion. If we are true practitioners we should develop our Bodhicitta and always be thinking of those we see suffering, doing whatever we can to help. He refers to the suffering of all beings and not just humans. He is telling many stories about the suffering we have caused animals, from chickens in cages, animals being led to slaughter so that we can eat their meat, dogs suffering on the streets, etc. He keeps repeating how much suffering we have caused other beings from our actions through countless lifetimes. Even if we are not killing animals directly with our own hands we cause suffering indirectly by being the recipients and creating the demand for animal meat that others have slaughtered. He says if the animals of the world could take human beings to court there is no doubt they would win the lawsuit.

Below is an excerpt from The 17th Karmapas teachings in Seattle and some observations, which Naomi Levine has written on the 900 Year Celebration.

Karmapa on stage at Terger Monastery

“Sometimes I think of the world as being as a great theater – a great theater that was made especially for one self. When I see stars and planets at the sky at night, the sun in the day, these are like the stage lights of the theater, the beautiful features of the world such as rivers and mountains are like the stage props – ornaments and paintings in the theater.

Within this theater we have the complete freedom to enact any play we want to perform. If we would like to view an excellent and inspiring and beautiful play, we can make this play happen in this theater. Similarly if we wish to view an extremely sad and disturbing tragegy, then all the conditions are present for us to perform this kind of play as well.

This theater is a very open space that has been made for us and our choices. It is important for us the actors in this powerful hall to recognize the excellent opportunity we have. We also must take good care of the theater as well.

These days humans have a habit of focusing solely on obtaining very small forms of happiness solely for them selves. When they fail to obtain these small amounts of happiness they then destroy the happiness and well being of others and of the world. This narrow approach is beset by pride and ego clinging and an unhealthy amount of attention to the concern of one self alone.

When we so solely disregard the welfare of others, we begin to seriously to endanger the very theater in which the show of our own birth and death our own joys and sorrows is performed, we subject our world to the risk that it will disappear. When this happens it is very sad.

We can all see clearly that our own bodies are an indispensable basis for our own individual happiness. No matter what we want to do with our lives, no matter what future we see ahead of ourselves we need our basic health in order to make that possible, if that is true, then it is also true that the world itself is the indispensable ground for the well-being and indeed the survival of all beings. Therefore the continuity of the world is the responsibility of everyone”.

This transcription of the words of HH Karmapa is from the teaching-dvd “The Journey Begins – Wisdom of Enlightened Mind” from HH Karmapa’s historic first visit to the USA May 31. – June 1. 2008 Seattle.

December 8th, 2010 Tergar Monastery, opening ceremony of Karmapa 900

The stage is set like a celestial palace with a gigantic gold-painted Buddha enclosed in an semi-circular niche emanating a sunburst of golden rays.  A magnificent gold parasol hangs suspended  from a pale blue ceiling in the centre of the dome. First in the line of vision is the Buddha; under it is a large replica of the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. Following the line downwards is the antique statue of Dusum Khyenpa which is claimed to have spoken when it was in Tibet. On either side of this precious image are two huge urns with flowers and below them are two oversized butter lamps. Two monks on either side sit like guards in vigilant zen-like repose. Filling the stage in raked formation are the assembly of monks wearing gold cloaks, poised like nesting birds.

Above the  stage is a golden  walk-way shaped like a sun disc. Sitting in direct formation with his predecessor is the 17th Karmapa with his precious Lamas, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche. The Prime Minister of the Dalai Lama’s government in exile, Samdhong Rinpoche sits on the right. A red carpet strewn with marigold and lotus petals leads to the heart of the mandala.

This is the stage for the opening ceremony for the Karmapa 900 celebrations to honour Dusum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa, born in 1110. The seventeenth in the lineage has the great gift of theatricality, religious performance heightened by aesthetic perfection to inspire veneration and instil a sense of awe. When the procession with the statue of Dusum Khyenpa entered the arena held  in a wooden palanquin by elaborately costumed monks, there was an audible gasp and the kind of silence that springs from the collective unconscious in rare moments shared by religion and art.

The high point for some may have been the lavish tribute paid to the Karmapa Lineage by the Kalon Tripa, Samdhong Rinpoche; or the congratulatory message from the Dalai Lama. But for me and many others, it came from the space beyond words when  a doha in Sanskrit composed by the Indian lineage forefather, Tilopa, was put to the music of flute, tabla and sitar by South Indian musicians. The sound dropped naturally into the space of that spectacular mandala, creating an exquisite fusion of India and Tibet. It  felt like the dharma was coming home.

Naomi Levine

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