Karmapa visits Princeton, discusses women’s rights, social activism, environment| Apr 1, 2015
Women’s rights are a reflection of the degree to which everyone enjoys basic human rights, the 17thGyalwang Karmapa said in a lecture on Wednesday.
Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel Alison Boden introduced the Karmapa, noting that Karmapa literally means “the one who carries out Buddha-activity” or “the embodiment of all the activities of the Buddhas.” The Karmapa was born in Tibet and fled to India, where he has continued his training as a monk, Boden said.
The Karmapa explained that he was born into isolation and had no opportunity for formal education as a child. However, he was still recognized as the Karmapa at a young age. The important title has sometimes burdened him and brought him a multitude of challenges since childhood, he said.
Though his life has been difficult, the hardships he has faced have increased his empathy, he said. He is now able to have increasing concern for the challenges that other people face, becoming sensitive to a host of issues including gender, he added.
“We cannot assess the degree to which women are empowered in this society. The degree to which they possess the rights thataretheir rights,” he said. “We need a mutual understanding, and this understanding has to be real. It has to be founded in basic human benevolence and caring for each other."
The Karmapa said he works to inspire people to support and facilitate the empowerment of women around the world. Though famous historical steps have been taken for women’s empowerment, including women’s suffrage and the election of female presidents in some places, these steps are not enough to truly empower women, he said.
Societies are still not equal even though many countries appear to have reached gender equality through legislation and social pressure that protect the rights of women, he said. He added that he believed the solution is to develop love, understanding and authentic concern for one another.
There are also two different kinds of activists, the Karmapa said.
Because we live in an interdependent world, everyone’s actions affect each other, and so everyone is an automatic activist, he said. The intentional activist, however, refers to those who have visions and seek to achieve specific goals, he explained.
“We need to be both kinds of activists,” he said. “We need to take responsibility for our own views and behavior as individuals.”
People also need to focus on stewarding the environment and solving other societal issues, he said, and it is important to have pure intentions throughout this process.
People cannot approach activism with arrogance or pride or the mentality that they are somehow better than others, he added.Sometimes, a soft approach is as necessary as a loud and raucous approach, and activists can often be unwarrantedly aggressive, he said.
The Karmapa also used the idea of smoking to explain the concept of motivation. Despite all the public knowledge of the harms of smoking, many still partake and one is only inclined to change when he or she feels a strong motivation to do so deep in their hearts, he said.
Only a similarly deep conviction to change the quality of the environment will result in anything happening, he added.
When asked his opinion on homosexuality, the Karmapa said that love is important, noting that his answer differs from the traditional Buddhist answer.
“If the relationship is founded on true and genuine love, it is authentic,” he said. “But if a relationship is based only on desire and not on love, then whether it is a homosexual or heterosexual relationship, it still is not going to be very good.”
His current visit is only his third visit to the United States, he explained. He wanted to see American universities due to his encounters with American university students in India, he said.
The lecture, called “A Buddhist Perspective: Gender, the Environment and Activism,” took place in the University Chapel at 4:30 p.m. It was sponsored by the Office of Religious Life and the Princeton Environmental Institute.