(15 October, 2014 – Dharamsala)
An international delegation of women’s rights activists met today with His Holiness the Karmapa as part of their global campaign for women’s empowerment. The group came seeking spiritual advice to sustain them in their work as gender activists,and requested the Gyalwang Karmapa’s blessing for their activities on behalf of women. The non-profit organization, We for WE, is active in 16 countries. Its delegation visiting the Karmapa included women’s rights advisers, ambassadors and activists from Canada, Ecuador, Malta, India, Rumania, Serbia and Venezuela.
The NGO’s founder and president, Sarbjit Singh, asked His Holiness to describe his own work, and to give a message to all those committed to working for women’s empowerment. In response, the Karmapa said: “In my view, women’s empowerment, or women’s rights, are human rights. Each human being has the basic wish to be happy and to avoid suffering, and has the right to act to pursue this wish. This is not just a right, but is something that each of us should have and deserves to have. Therefore I do not think of working for women’s rights as a fight for power, but as a question of making available to women something that all human beings should have.
“When I am working for women, I have in mind that every being with the capacity to experience pain or happiness deserves to have the same opportunities to seek happiness and avoid suffering. In my case, I have put special efforts into working for women who have given up lay life and become nuns, and particularly toward making a complete education available for them. I have been trying to create full opportunities for them. But in the future, I hope to be able to do something to benefit not just nuns and not just Tibetans and Himalayans, but all women. Therefore I fully support you and all those who are working for women’s empowerment. I hope you will take heart at the progress that has been made already, and keep going. I am sure this work can have great results.”
The Ecuadorian member of the delegation spoke of the heartache of listening to the pains and problems faced by those she is seeking to benefit, and asked His Holiness for advice. “What does happen sometimes when we have a strong wish to help others,” His Holiness told her, “is that as they tell us of their suffering, we start to feel that we do not have the capacity to help them. It is as if we can feel our battery running out. In these cases, the main thing is to shore up our own inner capacity. We need to strengthen our own mind. First we strengthen and guard our hope, our courage, our loving compassion and our happiness. Then we can give to others. This mental strength we have given ourselves becomes the resource we draw on in working for others.”
The Serbian delegate asked His Holiness’ advice on working in contexts where there is violence, prompting a short teaching on the nature of violence. “Sometimes we treat violence as if it were something physical,” the Karmapa observed, connecting his comments to the state of affairs in Iraq today. “But actually violence comes from inside, from a state of mind and heart that is not peaceful. If we want to control or address violence, we need to apply measures that are not just physical. Hatred and jealousy are the most common causes of violence, and they are both mental. Therefore any solution to reduce or end violence must also address these causes.”
In response to a question about not being affected personally by violent surroundings, the Gyalwang Karmapa noted that our own fear can harm us and limit our ability to respond wisely and make positive contributions to a situation. “We need to cultivate strong positive qualities within us so that we do not have those fears,” he said, speaking in English. “We need more love. We need more compassion. The more of these positive feelings you have, the better you will be able to face difficult situations.”
A woman from Rumania asked whether we can really create our own future or whether our life is determined by circumstances. “Of course, we can create our own future,” he replied. “But our lives are interconnected. They are interdependent, and so there are some environmental and cultural conditions that affect us. Those conditions might already be set, but this does not mean you cannot create a new future for yourself. But first you need to recognize the effect of those conditions, and then you create your future, taking those conditions into account.”
A Venezuelan delegate asked His Holiness what he considered to be his life’s purpose. He responded by explaining how he was given the name Karmapa at the age of seven, and went on to add that he does not feel that his life has any special purpose unique to him. Rather, he continued, we all share similar responsibilities for others, and therefore our lives all have a similar purpose. “I would be content if my existence gives hope and encouragement to others,” he said.
One of the questions the group posed to the Gyalwang Karmapa was whether he believed it was truly possible to empower women and bring about gender parity. “I definitely think it is possible,” the Karmapa replied. “If you compare the situation today with some decades or centuries back, we can see that great progress has been made. But it is not enough. There is a great deal of work still to be done. However, we can take heart by looking at how things do change. I strongly believe, and also have a feeling, that it will happen.”
Later this week, the senior nuns of the Tilokpur Karma Kagyu nunnery will be undergoing a three-day workshop in leadership, team-building and communication skills arranged for them by Kunkyong Trust on the advice of His Holiness the Karmapa. The training will be provided by Jagori, a highly-respected local organization committed to women’s empowerment, and forms part of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s broader initiative to provide the training, resources and educational opportunities needed for the nuns to flourish individually and as a sangha.