Meeting with the Younger Generation of Tibetans in Switzerland

by Michele Martin on 29 May, 2016

Sixteen to Twenty-Five, What Do They Think? The Gyalwang Karmapa Meets with the Younger Generation of Tibetans in Switzerland

Zurich, Switzerland – May 27, 2016

Today the Gyalwang Karmapa met with more than sixty young Tibetans living in Switzerland, many of whom were born here. Most of the young women were dressed in their best chupas and some of the young men wore the traditional male outfit of white shirts and a knee-length chupa.

After speaking of the relation between Switzerland and the Tibetans and his long-held wish to come here, the Karmapa wondered I he actually belonged to the younger generation. He mentioned that he has a sister whom many people think is younger than he, but actually she is older. “People see me as being old,” he said, “which may come from the fact that so many things have happened to me, so the way I think and my appearance seem to be that of an older person.” In addition, the First Karmapa lived in the eleventh century, so from that perspective, he said, “I am a 900 year-old man. All of this makes it difficult to say that I belong to the younger generation.”

The Karmapa then turned to the question of how many Tibetans there are in the world. It is often said that there are six million; however, based on the statistics published in China, he said, we can see that there are less than six million in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and the four provinces in China where Tibetans live. Even if the Tibetans living abroad are included, the number does not come up to six million, he explained, so the Tibetan population is decreasing. If we add to this the increasing number of foreigners, especially Chinese, living in Tibet, we face the fact of Tibetans being outnumbered in their own country. For these reasons, he said, he was very concerned about the future of Tibetan Dharma, culture, and identity.

On the other hand, he remarked, there are also causes for hope. The youth in Tibet have an eagerness and wholeheartedness that is wonderful. Given that they are under such restrictions, the Karmapa remarked, one would think that they would become downhearted, but that is not the case. More than the Tibetans living in India, those in Tibet have great enthusiasm for serving Tibetan Buddhism, culture, and society. “They can serve as a role model and inspire us,” the Karmapa stated.

Another important point the Karmapa raised was the question of the Tibetan language. “Written and spoken Tibetan,” he said, “are like our capital, our cultural goods, which we need to preserve.” This is difficult, however, if Tibetans are scattered all over the world. He spoke of learning Chinese in Tibet and how his knowledge of it had developed in India because he had taken a real interest in it.

Actually, he had wanted to learn five or six languages and studied Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese so he could speak with people who had come from far away to see him. For one reason or another, however, none of them quite fell into place. He advised the young people present not to study Tibetan because they have no choice, but to turn to it with affection and a deep feeling, which will instill a strong habit so that the language will come to them naturally.

After discussing the need for Tibetans to think of themselves as one nation, the Karmapa thanked those who had prepared his visit and encouraged the Tibetans not to lose hope or the belief that things can go well for them in the future. Then he opened up the session to questions.

This first question was about bullying. What should one do? Are both people at fault? The Karmapa responded that of course, the one doing the bullying is in the wrong. When it happens for the first time, we should think that sometimes people make mistakes and forgive the person. However, if it continues, we have to think of a skillful way to deal with it. We should not, however, show anger nor should we harbor it inside for a long time, as this can be unhealthy for us. It is better to maintain a spacious mind.

Another question asked how to work with the different points of view between the older and younger generation? “In every society,” the Karmapa replied, “there are differences between the older and younger generations. Especially these days, when change is happening so quickly, the differences are even more pronounced.”

Giving himself as an example, the Karmapa recounted that after he was recognized and brought to the monastery, he was surrounded by people who were in their forties or older so he grew up with very traditional ways. “I was made into an old person when I was young,” he said. Nevertheless, he was of a young age and one cannot suppress that fact, so especially when he came to India, he learned about the younger generation through the Internet and in other ways.

“I think we need to make a bridge to connect the older and younger generations,” he remarked. It is important that the two generations come to understand each other,” the Karmapa stated. We should value the older generation and learn how to explain our way of thinking to them, he said, and not just think that they are old and do not matter.

The Karmapa mentioned his experience in bringing about change in his own lineage since it must adapt to stay in touch with the times. But then the older people are disappointed with these alterations. What the Karmapa noticed is that the way communication happens is important, so he did not dismiss these people as old-fashioned but made a special effort to explain the situation to them. “Fundamentally,” the Karmapa said, “we have the same goal but our way of thinking and the words we use are sometimes different. It is up to us then to give a clear explanation.”

The Karmapa gave an example related to his efforts to provide nuns with same opportunities to study that the monks have and also to give them the option of taking full ordination. “Some from the older generation have had trouble accepting this,” he recounted, “so I had to explain it to them on their terms using a traditional point of view.” Actually, he said, in explaining the essence of it, he returned to the Buddha’s teachings, becoming more traditional than they were, so they could not object. “It would be difficult to eliminate all our differences,” he remarked, “ but we can certainly reduce them.”

The next question asked how to live life so that when it comes time to die, we have no regrets. “Usually during the day we do a lot of things and at its end, we can bring to mind what we did and reflect on it.” Then we can develop the feeling of contentment and ease, he said, because we have become conscious, or mindful, of what we have accomplished. Usually we are not aware of what we are doing, so reflecting on how our day has gone will increase our mindfulness to the point that we can be mindful in the moment of what is happening within us. Likewise, he said, if we think that we only have one day more to live, what would we do? How would we make that day meaningful? This can also help us to live our lives so that we have no regrets.

How should we understand taking rebirth? was the next question. When we ask the older generation, they take the teachings literally and say, for example, that if we do something very negative, we will be reborn in the lower realms. For the younger generation, however, it is easier to speak of states of mind, understanding these realms as different kinds of consciousness. The Karmapa replied that both understandings⎯as a mental state and as a place of taking birth⎯are possible. Good and bad rebirths depend on the karma we have created, and further, not only are we reborn in one of the six realms, but there are also the differences of our particular place of birth, the surroundings, the type of body we have, our mental state, and so forth.

“When we speak of the three lower realms,” the Karmapa explained, “they can be understood from the point of view of their cause and of their effect. Their cause is a mental state.” For example if someone becomes very angry, this can propel them into a rebirth in a hell realm. We usually speak of the hot hells, he said, and the mental state of anger feels as if we are burning, so it is like being in hell. Similarly, the hungry ghosts suffer from having huge desires and great miserliness. Their throats are said to be as thin as a needle and their stomachs as big as a mountain. This can be read as a metaphor for the mental state of needing a lot and being unable to give. So the answer to your question, the Karmapa concluded, is that taking rebirth is both: a mental state as a cause and a particular kind of rebirth as a result.

The following question asked for the meaning of the name Karmapa, and he replied that before Buddhism spread in Tibet, there was a variety of different names, but once Buddhism arrived, people were given names in relation to the Dharma, so for example in Dharamsala you have many people with the name Tenzin, bestowed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Some lamas’ names, the Karmapa continued, are Tibetan and others are not. For example, Dalai means “ocean” so Dalai Lama means “the Ocean-like lama.” Also Karma from the name Karmapa is not Tibetan but Sanskrit and means “activity;” “pa” means “the person doing something” so all together the name means “the one who performs an activity” or “a worker.” What kind of work does the Karmapa do? He performs the activities of the Buddha. During the time of the first Karmapa, the name Karmapa was not public knowledge; it was only with the Second Karmapa that the name became well known.

The next question stated that originally Buddhism came from India and then when it arrived in Tibet, it divided into different traditions. Were these divisions beneficial or not? The Karmapa replied that when Buddhism spread from India, it underwent divisions depending on geography. There is the northern tradition of China and the southern tradition found in Thailand, and other countries.

In the beginning, Tibet had only one tradition, the Karmapa recounted, and when Buddhism spread, there were not just four schools but many more. Again, these differences were geographical; for example, he said, the Sakya school refers to the Buddhism from the place with gray-colored earth, and the Geluk school is known as the tradition from the mountainous area of Ganden where Je Rinpoche founded his monastery.

Fundamentally, however, the differences between the traditions are not great, the Karmapa stated. The situation resembles Tibetans saying that they from from this or that village, but in general they are all Tibetans. What is different are the names of the lamas and the monasteries and the ways of explaining emptiness, compassion, and bodhicitta, but from the ultimate point of view, he remarked, the differences are small. It is actually important, he concluded, that we have these different ways.

The main point here is that there is not a great difference between the various lineages. When we speak of Dharma, he commented, the main thing is that we transform our character and way of thinking; we become better people and can bring positive changes to our society. In general all religions have customs and it is easier to follow these than it is to effect deep changes within us.

The last question queried if one could be a Buddhist and also drink alcohol. The Karmapa responded that drinking alcohol is not included in the usual ten unvirtuous actions that are taught in Buddhism; however not drinking is part of the upasaka vows, which include not taking intoxicants. There is a debate, he noted, about whether drinking alcohol is in itself unvirtuous or not, but he would not discuss that here. The main danger with drinking alcohol, he said, is that we forget to be conscientious or careful about what we are doing and this can bring a range of problems. For example, there are rules that we should not drink and drive because this can be very dangerous, so we need to keep the potential for negative results in mind.

At the end of this lively and engaging discussion, the Karmapa was thanked by the organizers who also encouraged the young people to apply to their lives as much as possible the excellent advice they had received. The morning’s session ended with the Karmapa offering blessing cords to all those who had attended.