The leader of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu lineage, His Holiness the Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje is beloved by millions of people the world over. He is known as an advocate, an innovator, and a luminary in the Buddhist world and beyond. The Karmapa has passionately expressed his commitment to environmentalism, as well as his mission to restore the full ordination of nuns in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with his Holiness about TBRC’s mission to preserve and make accessible Tibetan texts.
His Holiness the Karmapa blessing the TBRC office
On Thursday, March 26 2015, the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center had the great honor of hosting His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa in our office for lunch. This was certainly one of the most exhilarating days in all of TBRC’s exciting history.
His Holiness the Karmapa at the TBRC office
During the visit, His Holiness blessed the TBRC offices and had a lively conversation with TBRC staff members over a vegetarian lunch. His Holiness took time to discuss his own interests in Tibetan textual preservation including his project, Adarsha, with TBRC staff and Board members, among other topics. Surrounded by precious volumes of the Kangyur and Tengyur in the TBRC library, all enjoyed a relaxed atmosphere.
After lunch, TBRC staff presented to His Holiness the many facets of TBRC’s work, mission, and future directions. Currently the largest digital Tibetan library in the world, TBRC holds over ten million pages of scanned text, all of which are now backed up in Harvard Library’s long-term preservation service. TBRC seeks out texts and makes them available online in the form of scanned page images for download, a detailed bibliographic search service, but also as eTexts, which are catalogued and organized into a searchable digital library. During the staff talks, His Holiness mentioned that he searches for texts in the TBRC library with great frequency, and that he hopes to encourage others to do the same.
Following the presentations, TBRC staff offered the Karmapa a very rare text, authored by the 8th Gyalwang Karmapa: “The Treatise on Kriya Tantra and Yoga Tantra.” TBRC founder Gene Smith had intended to present His Holiness with this manuscript when they met in 2008, but could not locate the text at that time. TBRC staff were delighted to locate the text and offer to his His Holiness on behalf of Gene Smith, fulfilling Smith’s wishes posthumously.
The 17th Karmapa receiving a rare text from the TBRC archives
In response to the offering, His Holiness kindly gave a brief teaching to the TBRC staff and Board members in attendance. Calling TBRC founder Gene Smith, “a lord amongst scholars of Tibetan Buddhism”
His Holiness stated:
“Gene’s accomplishments for the preservation and propagation of the literature of our tradition are inestimable… his passing was a terrible loss for our tradition and for all of us, but, because you are continuing his work and enacting his vision, that loss is not total. I thank you for doing this, and I urge you, please, to continue.
TBRC is the most important organization that exists in the world for the preservation of the literature of dharma and Tibetan culture. I use the TBRC website all the time, because in traveling as I do I can’t carry a huge number of books with me everywhere. As soon as I get access to the internet, I simply download from your site whatever I need. So it’s made a huge difference in my life and for our tradition.
As for the future, like you, I share the vision and intention of digitizing all of the literature of Tibetan Buddhism and all secular Tibetan literature. So let’s work together, let’s help each other, let’s share all the information we have, and continue in this task, so that together, we can get it done.”
His Holiness speaks to TBRC staff and Board members in the library: “I share the vision and intention of digitizing all of the literature of Tibetan Buddhism and all secular Tibetan literature.”
Following the teaching, His Holiness presented TBRC with a beautiful Shakyamuni Buddha thangka, which now hangs prominently in the TBRC office.
The Karmapa signing this Buddha thangka, His gift to TBRC
As a closing act of generosity and kindness, the Karmapa wrote the following calligraphic inscription for TBRC:
The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, which I deeply admire, has rendered incomparable service to the spiritual and secular traditions of Tibet.
The 17th Karmapa gracefully and powerfully links the wisdom of his ancient lineage with the concerns of a rapidly shifting modern world. Likewise, TBRC stands at the intersection of the ancient and the modern, using digital technology to make the wisdom of Tibetan text available to all online. We could not be more pleased to have the allegiance of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa as we move forward with our shared mission to preserve and make accessible all Tibetan text in existence.
The 17th Karmapa producing a calligraphy in the TBRC office
His Holiness poses for a photo with TBRC staff and Board members