As one of the holiest men in the Buddhist faith, the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje showed his religious gifts from an early age, Dorje’s translator said at a Slifka Center lecture Tuesday.
Translator Michele Martin said Dorje, who leads one of the four Buddhist lineages, demonstrated extrasensory perception as a child. She said Dorje was aware of his importance at the age of four, when his mother was planning to offer some of her butter to a shrine for several Buddhist Lamas.
“[Dorje] said, ‘If you are offering it to the Karmapa, that’s me, so you can give the butter to me,'” Martin said.
About 30 people attended the talk about Dorje’s life and teachings. Buddhists believe Dorje, as the Karmapa, is the head of the Kagyu lineage. This lineage traces its roots directly to Buddha, said Ravenna Michalsen GRD ’08, founder and director of Lotus, the Buddhist society at Yale.
Martin, who has received degrees in both Russian Area Studies and Comparative Literature at Yale, is currently on tour throughout the United States and parts of Canada promoting the release of her new book, “Music in the Sky.” The book is divided into four parts, three of which are devoted to the 17th Karmapa’s life, teachings and poetry. The final section gives a brief history of the previous 16 incarnations of the Karmapa.
At the talk, Martin offered a brief biography of Dorje and a slide show with photos of the Karmapa throughout his young life. Dorje became the 17th incarnation of the Karmapa in 1992 when he was only seven, 11 years after the death of his predecessor.
Martin visited Dorje one month after he was recognized as the 17th Karmapa. A Buddhist for over 30 years, Martin said she was happy to find a place with Dorje.
“Because I knew Tibeten and English, I sort of got drafted into a job,” Martin said.
Martin said a Karmapa’s life is often difficult.
For years, the Chinese government bribed monks in Dorje’s Tibetan monastery to spy on him, Martin said. In 1998, two armed Chinese men found at the monastery admitted to being paid to kill Dorje.
In 2000, Dorje was forced to flee Tibet under pressure from the communist Chinese government, Martin said.
“There was a continual tension between the Karmapa and the people,” said Martin.
After what Martin described as a dangerous flight through Nepal, Dorje finally found refuge in the presence of the Dali Lama. Martin, who talked with several of the monks who accompanied Doje during his escape, said they did not feel safe until they were in the Dali Lama’s Indian residence.
Dorje’s current refugee status affords him limited movement to give talks and visit holy sites.
Michalsen said Lotus hosts Buddhism talks throughout the year. These lectures are open to the entire Yale community, she said.
“I think [these lectures provide] a great place for people to learn about Buddhism and come together in a nonacademic setting,” Michalsen said.