By James Gimian,
Publisher of the Shambhala Sun
I was twenty-five when I saw the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa for the first time. It was 1974 and I was part of the hosting team for his ten-day visit to San Francisco. I’d been a Buddhist for several years by then, finding my way to Chögyam Trungpa after dropping out of college because it just didn’t seem relevant.
In four years at Stanford, I had majored in protesting the Vietnam War, fretting over Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb, becoming a vegetarian, and dropping LSD. In so many different ways, I thought I’d “seen the light.” But when the Karmapa did the Black Crown Ceremony at Fort Mason that Sunday in October, seeing the light took on a whole new meaning.
Our cover story this issue is about the Seventeenth Karmapa, the successor to the Karmapa of my early dharma years. This young Tibetan Buddhist teacher is being hailed by some of the world’s media—and many Buddhists—as the potential leader of Buddhism in the West. It might seem like another of our profiles of important Buddhist teachers, and it is that. The Seventeenth Karmapa is the leader and inspiration for the Kagyu, or “practicing,” lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, which has given us in the West so many great teachers over the past forty years.
But something more seems to be going on here as well. This leader of an esoteric tradition of wild Indian yogins and nettle-eating poets is now convening discussions about Buddhists committing themselves to being vegetarian, environmental stewardship, and the equal status of women. The Buddhism of my twenties was about a three-month seminary and long solitary retreats.
Many say, as we do on our cover, that this is about a generational change. His Holiness “speaks the concerns of his generation,” which is certainly true if my own twenty-something daughter's exploration of meditation and Buddhsim is any indication. I’ve learned a lot as I’ve watched Jenny pursue her own dharma path with a fierce independence, while at the same time respectfully seeking counsel from her elders.
Moreover, she has a yearning for deep practice and serious study that inspires me—for her and her generation. This is mixed in her life with an effortless vegetarian and healthy food culture, a well-developed yoga practice, and an energetic outdoor activities schedule.
We say to ourselves that there is no part of our lives that wouldn’t benefit by mixing it with the practice of meditation, as this magazine’s ongoing reporting of our emerging Mindful Society shows. For the next generation of practitioners, like His Holiness Karmapa himself, this is not an afterthought.
Young practitioner Jessica Morey, profiled by Andrea Miller in this issue, takes it a step further when she says that compassion, the ideal of the bodhisattva, is her motivation for trying to make the planet a better place. At Stanford in the ’60s, we had David Harris’ inspiring antiwar speeches about and his personal example of the virtues of nonviolence, but compassion wasn’t part of our vocabulary and the meditation practice that produces it wasn’t part of the landscape.
Yet I feel like she’s talking about me when Jessica goes on to say that “my friends want to be in the world, yet deeply rooted to a spiritual practice. I see that as the work of our generation—integrating dharma into community, into everyday life, into our jobs and relationships.”
So, yes, this is about generational change and the generational transmission of the dharma. But it seems to me that the next generation of Buddhists want pretty much the same things as I did when I was young, and do now: a contemplative, gentle, and mindful society, where I can blend personal meditation practice and service to the bigger society. This can only happen when the dharma is deep yet not cloistered; relevant yet not watered down. After all, generational change is still about coming back home, and bringing with you the realization gained on the journey.
Tears overcame me in New York City when I heard and saw the Seventeenth Karmapa for the first time. It was as if past and present worlds, the best of the old and the emergence of the new, had been joined in one. And I feel the same way when I encounter a young practitioner steeping themselves in meditation practice and concern for their world.
This is an issue of the Shambhala Sun that genuinely makes me happy to work here. I’m inspired to follow all these shining lights in the years to come.
Click here to browse the entire January 2010 issue.