The 17th Karmapa of Tibet

Mmmm... Na na, na na!!

Years ago, I was flipping through a yoga magazine.  I turned the page and stopped, staring.  A photograph of a young man beamed back at me.  He was wearing crimson and yellow robes, his head was shaved, and he radiated the most beatific calmness.  He was smiling gently and staring straight into the camera.  I stared at that picture for a long time.  It’s not often that you see a pure soul, but I knew he was one.  His eyes were so clear, his face so unguarded.  He was beautiful.

I had no idea who he was, but I cut the picture out, made a collage and placed him in the center of it.  I hung the collage on my wall, directly across from my bed, so I could see it anytime I was falling asleep or waking up.  I would often pause in the middle of folding clothes, brushing my teeth, or putting on my shoes to stare at the picture, and breathe in a sense of peace and awe.  When I cut the picture out, I made sure to preserve the tiny caption at the bottom that read, “His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa of Tibet.”  I had never heard of him, but I thought the title might ring a bell someday.

Today was the Dalai Lama’s birthday.  I went to the temple, along with thousands of other people, to celebrate.  I was standing near the back of the mass, taking pictures of monks in colorful robes, and tiny children with dirty faces.  A Tibetan woman on the stage began speaking, and I stood up on my tiptoes to see.  She was thanking India for hosting the Tibetan Government in Exile for over fifty years, and reading the names of the Tibetan government officials who have served for the last twenty-five years.  My eyes wandered from her to the monks sitting on the stage, and came to rest on a face that was very familiar.  His eyes were clear, and his face was shaped like a full moon.  He radiated a peace and calm that I could sense even from the back of the crowd.  I was transfixed.  Minutes later, he stood up with a crowd of monks and disappeared into the temple.

I went straight out and bought a beautiful postcard from an Indian vendor on the street.  It is of the Dalai Lama, and the 17th Karmapa.  The Dalai Lama is facing the camera, kind of hunched over in his sweet Dalai Lama way, grinning at someone just beyond the photographer.  The 17th Karmapa is turned in toward the Dalai Lama, his profile strong in the light.  He seems to be looking out at a sea of people, though it is impossible to tell, as the camera doesn’t show.  But there is a small smile on his lips, like he is amused to be looking out on this world he lives in.  It is a stunning picture, and I came home and stuck it up on my wall.  I keep finding myself looking at it as I pass by on my way to wash clothes, or hang them in the sun to dry.

Okay, okay, fine.  I admit it.  I have a little crush on the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa of Tibet

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