For the majority of the European disciples, this was the first time they were seeing him in person. The 28 year old Karmapa heads the 900 year oldKarma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and is viewed an as authoritative spiritual leader of the 21st century.
The Karmapa's trip coincided with Sagadawa, the holiest month in the Tibetan calendar, when Buddhists commemorate and honour the life of Shakyamuni Buddha. Tibetans believe that the merit of any good deeds that you perform during this month is multiplied by one hundred thousand, so it is an appropriate time to engage in all forms of spiritual activity, including studying Dharma and listening to teachings.
The topic for his first public talk was to be "Ancient Wisdom for the Modern World: Heart Advice for a Meaningful Life". "That's too long for me," he joked, and everyone smiled.
"How to live a meaningful life?" He screwed up his face and pursed his lips in mock puzzlement— the audience laughed.
Once he had everyone's attention, he went on to share his own thoughts and experiences, amidst doses of humour and irony. By examining his own life, His Holiness skilfully clarified what makes a life meaningful, and gave a thought-provoking insight into the reality of being the Karmapa.
The happiest days of his life were when he was a little nomad boy, free to run across the meadows of Tibet, with the snow mountains in view. Then, everything had changed when, at the age of seven, he was recognised as the 17th Karmapa, removed from his family, and taken to Tsurphu Monastery, near Lhasa in Tibet. The greatest change in his life came about because of his decision to leave Tibet and go to India. His motivation in so doing was to be able to travel widely, which China would not allow.
"Everything that has happened to me in this life was not by my choice, it fell upon me," he said. "If I'm to speak to you about a meaningful life, perhaps I should ask myself first whether my life is meaningful, and whether I am happy about my life or not."
The first point to understand is that a meaningful life requires effort. There was no sudden transformation, he explained, when he received the title Karmapa, and he has no special power. Instead, he has always had to work hard on his motivation, study hard, and put in a sustained effort to make his life meaningful. The second point to understand is that living a meaningful life may carry a cost on the personal level. If someone has a job and a family, it might be different, but for His Holiness, his personal life and being the Karmapa cannot be separated.
A meaningful life requires being able to fulfil the role you have in life, he explained. The title 'Karmapa', derived from the Sanskrit word for action, means the one who carries out the activities of the Buddha. "Its action man," he quipped. "My activity is to accomplish benefit for the lives of other beings. If the Karmapa's life is of benefit to others it is meaningful. If I can't do that, my Karmapa life is a failure."
We do not exist in isolation, and in order for our lives to have meaning, we depend on the existence of others whom we can benefit. "Karmapa's activity, and my aim, is to benefit sentient beings. My meaningful life is totally dependent on other sentient beings," he elaborated. "Because you have so much hope and aspiration in me, I can become stronger even though facing lots of challenges. I can be more patient because of your aspirations."
In conclusion, His Holiness tackled the question of happiness and whether he was happy.
"I'm not so happy," he admitted, "But a meaningful life is more than happiness. Happiness is temporary. A meaningful life has to be purposeful. Not just for me but for other beings. We are interdependent so we live interdependently. So if I am to live a purposeful and meaningful life, I have to live it for the benefit for others. I can find meaning and dignity in working for the benefit of others. That is the essence and purpose of my life."
As his speech sunk in, it left many in the audience stunned and mesmerized. This indeed was the way of the Bodhisattva.
Karmapa Rinpoche reached Delhi on 10 June after a fortnight-long religious tour of Germany, one of his aides told NDTV.