The Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, was the first Tibetan Buddhist leader to make extensive teaching tours to the West. His three tours to Europe and North America from 1974 to 1980 led to the global expansion of Tibetan Buddhist schools. This book presents the most in-depth analysis of the Karmapa’s contribution to the preservation and transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in exile. It is the first study to combine Tibetan life-writing and biographical materials in English with a thorough examination of the transformation of Tibetan Buddhism in the modern era of globalization. Drawing on a wide range of data from written accounts, collections of photographs, recordings of interviews, and documentaries, the author discusses the life and activity of the Karmapa through the lens of cross-cultural interaction between Buddhism and the West with a particular focus on Asian agency. The study shows that the Karmapa’s transmission strategies emphasized continuity with tradition with some openness for adaptation. His traditionalist approach and his success on the global scale challenge the popular assumption that the transmission of Buddhism is primarily a matter of Westernization, which, in turn, calls for a broader view that recognizes its complex and dynamic nature.
Meng Wang is a postdoctoral research associate at the Centre of Buddhist Studies at SOAS, University of London.
Part I: A Cross-Cultural Approach
Chapter 1: The Tibetan Perspective
Chapter 2: Western Context
Part II: Reception: Perceiving the Karmapa
Chapter 3: Faithful Translation
Chapter 4: The Emergence of New Narratives
Part III: Transmission (I): Preservation
Chapter 5: Politics and Patronage
Chapter 6: Preservation Initiative
Part IV: Transmission (II): Expansion
Chapter 7: Preparing the Ground
Chapter 8: Strategies on Tour
Appendix A: Rangjung Rigpe Dorje’s rangnam: A Brief Autobiography
Appendix B: Rangjung Rigpe Dorje’s namthar Composed by Thrangu Rinpoche: The Life Story of the Victorious One, the Great Sixteenth [Karmapa]
About the Author
The sixteenth in the lineage of Karmapas of Tibet—also known as the ‘Black Hat Lamas’— was one of the major spiritual figureheads in the twentieth century. From the cataclysm of being a refugee to India in 1959 to the time of his death, in 1981, he had instigated and enabled the spread of Tibetan Buddhism from the highlands of remote Tibet to be pervasive in Western culture. He was an inspiration to many people worldwide. Meng Wang traces and analyses this journey, in terms of the work done firstly in preservation of the precious Vajrayana tradition and then the strategy in spreading Buddhist teaching and practice to the West. The Life of the Sixteenth Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje is a valuable and timely contribution to our understanding of the phenomenal spread of Tibetan Buddhism to the West in the late twentieth century.
Meng Wang has produced an impressive and important biographical study of the Sixteenth Karmapa, one of the most important Tibetan lamas of the twentieth century. The book studies not only the life of the Sixteenth Karmapa but also the globalisation of Tibetan Buddhism and the re-establishment and transformation of Tibetan Buddhism as a global religion.
The Life of the Sixteenth Karmapa combines a scholarly study of Buddhist textual sources on the status of the Karmapa lineage with a succinct account of the Sixteenth Karmapa’s efforts to encourage the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in the West in the 1960s and 1970s, which led to the setting up of some 300 Buddhist centres worldwide. The Life sheds light on the pre-eminent role of those close to the Karmapa – notably Freda Bedi, Chögyam Trungpa, Akong Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche – in making that expansion possible, presents translations of two little-known Tibetan texts on the Karmapa's life, and provides valuable insight into the often-overlooked importance of Tibetan agency and tradition in the expansion process.
An essential work for anyone interested in the life of the sixteenth Karmapa. In this book, Meng Wang provides not only informative details of the Karmapa’s life, but also excellent translations of his autobiography and the biography by Thrangu Rinpoche. She also perfectly illuminates the historical context, both Tibetan and Western, which enabled the Karmapa to have such a cross-cultural impact in Europe and America.