What I Learned From HH.The 17th Karmapa

Many with an interest in Buddhism, hope to meet with HH The Dalai Lama or HH The Karmapa even if only for a few minutes. But what’s to be learned by those fortunate enough?

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In 2010 I had the opportunity to do that very thing. Something many people only dream of – meeting his Holiness the 17th Karmapa on a one-to-one basis.  It came out of the blue, totally unplanned from a young girl I’d been helping with English language. It turned out, her husband is the bodyguard of his Holiness the Dalai Lama, and in return for my kindness she wanted to arrange a one to one appointment with his Holiness the Karmapa. It would have been The Dalai Lama if he hadn’t been out of the country.  Of course I accepted the offer, not wishing to appear ungrateful. But in situations such as this, I would have preferred to have something to say, questions to ask and something constructive to base my appointment on.   The time came quickly,  in fact it was the following day, so even if I’d wanted to think something up I didn’t have time.  Arriving early afternoon in Norbulingka the home of his Holiness, I was shown into a small basic room with only a short wait, before being shown into something far

more regal. As I walked through the door passing many monks seated in meditation, I realised I’d completely forgotten what his Holiness looked like.  For this reason I found myself turning to every monk in sight with my hands in the prayer position in case it was him.  Before long however I saw His Holiness standing by his window. Compared to my height, he towered like a mountain, serene looking with an air of seriousness – but also a peacefulness. Unlike his Holiness the Dalai Lama, who’s laughter echoes around the whole monastery, HH The Karmapa appeared more refined.  We stood for a while quietly in each other’s presence, before he turned to me and asked

Do you have any questions for me? To which I replied, no your holiness, I just wanted to be in your presence.

For around 15 minutes we stood silently, no urge to speak just for the sake of it.  At the end, a photo was taken and I left with a blessing.  For months afterwards I reflected on that meeting with embarrassment. How could I waste such a valuable opportunity? There was so much I could have learned, so many questions I could have asked if only I’d been more prepared.  Now however, I realise the lesson learned, that sometimes being silent when there’s nothing to say is the best thing to do. Sometimes just experiencing the present moment is all that’s needed, no words or wasted time – just being present.

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