First English transcript/translation of 16th Gyalwang Karmapa 1976 Vermont TV Interview: 16th Karmapa’s 40th Paranirvana (Part I).

That called ‘Kagyu’ is no different from the previous teachings of the Perfect Bhagavan Buddha’s oral transmission, regardless of what lineage of Buddhism it may be, they are the same teachings. “

—16th Karmapa in Vermont (1976)

A few Karma Kagyu centres have been posting online about HH 16th Karmapa’s 40th paranirvana this year. Although the 16th Karmapa’s paranirvana is officially on the 5th November (he passed away in 1981 in a hospital in Zion, Illinois, just north of Chicago, USA), I offer this first post, a written transcript of a 16th Karmapa TV interview, as part of a forthcoming series of posts in the next couple of weeks to commemorate the 16th Karmapa’s paranirvana in terms of the words and teachings he kindly left us (most of which have yet to be translated into English).
Here is the first published English transcript of a Vermont TV interview in 1976. I have based the transcript on the English translation by Achi Tsephel, but also on the original Tibetan and changed it where it differs from the oral translation.
With the profound secret mantra symbol EVAM above his crown, the 16th Karmapa strikes a wrathful, powerful presence in the US TV studio, thankfully captured on video in 1976. Surrounded by Karma Kagyu senior lamas, such as Jamgon Kongtrul the 3rd, and other Karma Kagyu lamas, with oral interpretation by his personal secretary Achi Tsephel, it makes for fascinating and memorable images indeed.
Photo from the TV interview video

Jamgon Kongtrul 3rd during the TV interview 
The interviewer facing the 16th Karmapa directly seems almost transfixed to the spot when they do the opening prayers. There is an air of solemnity to it all, but at the same time, an air of satirical comedy, I almost felt like laughing out loud, as if it were all ridiculous. A subtle, wry smile throughout on the 16th Karmapa’s lips at the ultimate view that nothing was actually really happening, but ‘keeping up appearances’ nonetheless!
In the half hour interview, the Karmapa speaks about what Kagyu means as being the oral transmission of Buddha’s teachings from the Indian mahasiddhas, down to the Karmapas (the ‘Four Descents’), the essence of the Kagyu and Buddhist teachings and what if anything, differentiates Kagyu from other Buddhist schools. He then also speaks about the new Dharma centres opened up in the USA by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

It has been 40 years since the 16th Karmapa’s paranirvana, and yet as I stated before here when publishing for the first time the translated outline of contents of Volume Two and Three of the 16th Karmapa’s Collected Works, it is disappointing that not more has been done to translate and publish his words into English. I compiled the 16th Karmapa’s currently available translated works into an online catalogue here too and this new transcript has been added into that for public reference, see here. I hope to compile all those texts into a booklet at some point for people to freely download as one.

Despite doing this, not one person from the Karma Kagyu ‘camp’, with the exception of one devout European follower of the 16th Karmapa, Jerzy {thanks to him also for asking I do this transcript too), has shared or offered to support more  translations or research on the 16th Karmapa’s words. Nonetheless, there has been a lot of downloading of the 16th Karmapa texts provided for free on this website, which shows that people are definitely using and reading them!

Music? Calling the Lama from Afar  and I Miss You by Anything But the Girl…..’and I miss you like the deserts miss the rain….’

Written and translated by Adele Tomlin, 23rd October 2021. 

16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje in Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim.

Interviewer : Good evening, Vermont tonight departs from its normal format in order to bring you this special report, we have the high honour and rare privilege of presenting to you tonight the leader of the Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism.

His Holiness Gyalwang 16th Karmapa, heir to the unbroken lineage of sixteen generations of spiritual leadership since the 12th century. The Karmapa is with us here in our Vermont studio tonight, along with his personal secretary, Achi Tshepel.

Achi, I’m going to ask if you would, please, to introduce our guests on the set and to describe for us the general prayer, which we are going to observe, invoking the presence and blessing of the Buddha,

Achi Tsephel: Here is the high incarnate Lama who is sitting beside me here. Behind me here is venerable Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, who is one of the highest incarnate Lamas in this particular order.

And here we have Gendun Gyatso (Jigme Rinpoche). He is the representative of His Holiness in France, where they are building a monastery on an 500 acres area offered there. Then we have Ven. Bardor Rinpoche who is from Rumtek and Lama Tenzin Choenyi, who is the president of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Putnam County, Carmel, where a monastery will be built by His Holiness.

And we have the master of ceremony Umdze Thubten Sampo and Lama Puntsok next to him. Then we have Yeshe Namdag who works with Kama Tenzin Chonyi (President of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra). And then we have master of ceremony, Choepel Lobsang Gyaltsen, and then we have Lodro Sherab, the personal attendant to His Holiness.

Interviewer:  And now we are going to have this special prayer Achi. Perhaps you could tell us what this is about, before we start.

Achi : Well, in general, this is a prayer for peace and harmony. It is invoking the blessings of the three jewels to come in this particular area when the prayer is said, so that all sentient beings may be separated from the causes of sorrow and that they would ultimately become one with the ultimate realization of the Buddhahood.

Interviewer: Fine, can we start?


Interviewer: Ladies and gentlemen, His Holiness was born in Tibet in 1924, he was forced to flee his native land when the communists assumed control in 1951, at the request and invitation of the then king of Sikkim, he led a group of monks to Sikkim and  in 1959, established a monastery there. Now, his permanent residence is in Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim.

Acting as our translator for His Holiness tonight, is his personal secretary. Achi. Could I ask you, Achi, to welcome His Holiness to and on behalf of all the viewers, who are viewing our programme tonight?

Now, when we speak of the Kagyu Order of Tibetan Buddhism, in terms of those who are viewing us tonight, what essentially are we speaking of? His Holiness is the spiritual leader of 20 million people. And what is that? The precept, the concept, the theology of Buddhism?

16th Karmapa:   That called ‘Kagyu’ is no different from the previous teachings of the Perfect Bhagavan Buddha’s oral transmission, regardless of what lineage of Buddhism it may be, they are the same teachings   These had their original source among the Indian mahasiddhas, beginning with the great Mahasiddha Tilopa of India, which descended on him from Vajradhara and then were  passed down by Tilopa to the great Mahasiddha Naropa. As it is the Dharma of those siddhas, it is the Dharma of the Kagyu. In dependence on that, it is called Kagyupa [which literally means ‘oral transmission].

As it is the Dharma of Naropa,the Four Descents (kabab zhi), it is called the Kagyupa,

[Adele Tomlin’s note: the translator, Achi asked the Karmapa what is meant by the Four Descents, but the Karmapa did not answer, and replies in baffled way that Achi is asking him that question.  Achi does not translate that the Karmapa said that.]

Interviewer : Can I ask how, and I am sure our viewers would be most interested in how His Holiness came to be the Karmapa and the leader of all of the Buddhists in the Kagyu Tibetan Buddhism?

16th Karmapa: It seem to me that Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche would be the better person to answer that question.

Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche: As for the source, or origin, of the Karmapa there existed many predictions about it. First, that predicted by Lord Buddha himself in Sanskrit that the Karmapa is ‘the one of enlightened activity’ [Trinleypa], which means the embodiment of all Buddha activity, So how did the Karmapa arrive in the world? We can know this from the Sutra teaching of the Bhagavan Buddha which descended down from  Vajradhāra through the Indian Mahasiddhas, Tilopa and NAropa and so on, to the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. It has been an unbroken lineage up to  his present incarnation.

The first incarnate Lama ever to be recognized as such in Tibet, was the Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa [which means ‘knower of the three times]. The way in which the next Karmapa was recognized, and how the present Karmapa was recognized is that the Karmapas, before they leave their body, would leave a  letter in which he described his next incarnation.  

[added in by Achi] He would leave behind him, in written form, the name of the parents, the direction, the physical description of the environment. All these details would be left by the Karmapas before they left their bodies. As in the case of 15th Karmapa, then the abbot of the monastery and the head of the monastic order would go and look for that place.

[Author’s note: the letter of the 16th Karmapa, left to HE Tai Situ Rinpoche in an amulet, can be viewed here]. 

Interviewer:  So, he was discovered as an infant?

Achi: Yes, he was discovered as an infant.

Interviewer:   He, as I understand it, is on the same spiritual plane as HH Dalai Lama, who would perhaps in that terminology be more familiar to Americans.  Could I ask, what is the essence of his Holiness’ teachings?

16th Karmapa: The essence of Dharma, as the Bhagavan Buddha taught, is that all beings suffer from the delusional ignorance (ma rigpa) and delusional appearances, and the purpose of Dharma is to pacify and eliminate that delusional ignorance that causes suffering. 

As for the Dalai Lama, whom among the Tibetans is one of the main spiritual masters, as well as Sakya Trizin, Ven. Dudjom Rinpoche and so on, they all teach the same Dharma.

Interviewer:  Is there a difference in the teachings of the Kagyu order as opposed to perhaps other ones?

16th Karmapa: Generally, in terms of the result of Dharma practice there is no difference. However, in the Kagyu, there is the blessing lineage of the teachers, the reception of the blessings of those teachers (gyuka) mind qualities passed onto their students, the lineage of that. So there is that aspect.

Interviewer:  Is the basic practices of Kagyu, a meditative, contemplative type of life?

Achi {to the Karmapa]:  Generally, in our tradition, meditation is considered important, isn’t it?’

16th Karmapa: Generally, for one’s mind, understanding the meaning of Dharma is very important. After understanding the meaning, then the two-stage meditation of the generation and perfection stages are considered important. Then, finally, meditation on the ultimate nature is also important. These three are all important. 

Interviewer: Achi, this may be a terribly naive question for His Holiness, but we in this country, I presume, the Buddhists in this country, are in small number. If there are people who are viewing our programme this evening, who would have an interest in Buddhism and the Kagyu order, how would they go about investigating, learning and receiving the teachings of His Holiness?

16th Karmapa: There are various Dharma centres they can get the teachings from in Tibet and other places.  In America, there are various Buddhist centres which are founded and are presently being directed by venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. And there is a centre in New York too and teachers such as Khenpo Norlha and so on. Since in America now, there are many people who have some interest and hopes in Buddhism, there are now these centres and opportunities.

Though basically the essence of the practice is the same, it would differ in the lineage, the lineage of the practice and the relationship between the teacher and the people.

Achi: His Holiness says that there are different centres that fall under Vajradhatu and Dharmadhatus- they are the implements and the source where they can definitely come to understand the teachings.  Personally this second trip came about  because of this spontaneous interest in the teachings and because of this spontaneous interest,  Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche has felt that it is from my  presence in this country and around the world, many people who are looking and searching to understand this particular teaching, would benefit. For that reason, I have undertaken the task to implant the essence of the teachings as it was practiced in Tibet. Due to this great spontaneous interest, I felt that it was very important that the true essence of the teachings be established in this very country.

And His Holiness says that this has come about to the fact that during his first trip in 1974, he also visited Karme Choling center and traveled across this country.  To do that he has undertaken to build a monastery in Putnam County, Carmel, in the New York State where three hundred and fifty acres has been offered to be used for the Dharma teachings. 

And His Holiness says he has felt that this would be the best to build a monastery there, where people can benefit from libraries, the paintings, translations, where they can receive teaching from the abbot. And in all aspects it could be made available.

Interviewer: It is  a distinctive honour for Vermonters, I’m sure, to have him here and to know that there is the Karme Choling center in Barnet, Vermont, which is a community of about 150 followers of His Holiness. Is that correct, Achi?

Achi: That’s the centre, which was first founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and during his second trip here he has been very much encouraged by its tremendous growth and the fact how the students have been able to assimilate the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Interviewer: How long will he be here in this country?

Achi: His Holiness will be here approximately now, two more months until approximately ninth of March.

Interviewer: We have many viewers in Canada, will he be in Montreal and in the province of Quebec, Achi?

Achi: His Holiness says there are many centres all over the world, some come directly under his auspices. Generally all the Kagyu centers come under his personal auspices. Also, in Vancouver and Calgary and Montreal, Toronto, there are these Karma Kagyu Dharma centers. So this time, again, they have persistently invited His Holiness to bless them.

So now we have confirmed this, and soon His Holiness will be visiting the whole of Canada, after he will complete his United States trip.

Interviewer: Well, we are very privileged to have him here and we are sure that the community of Karme Choling will appreciate participating in the presentation of His Holiness today and his presence in Vajradhatu. 

Could I ask – we have about 90 seconds left –  if His Holiness would impart a blessing here today on those who are looking for an inner peace and some kind of serenity in a world that is full of turmoil?

16th Karmapa: I will recite something, [Calling the Lama from Afar].


Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, copyright October 2021.

Further Reading/Translations

Indestructible Mind Maṇḍala of the Karmapas, Tsurphu Monastery: Origin, history, rebuilding and ‘Praises to Tsurphu’ by 3rd and 16th Karmapas


 ‘TOWARDS SUPREME ILLUMINATION’: Guru Yoga Texts by 16th Karmapa and translations by the Karmapas’ first female translator, Freda Bedi

NEW TRANSLATION: THIRD VOLUME OF 16TH KARMAPA’S COLLECTED WORKS. Aspirations, Guru Yogas, Life-Stories, Songs, Supplications, Teachings and Letters.

3RD BARDOR RINPOCHE (1949-2021): Life-story, Swift Re-birth Prayer by 17th Karmapa, Letters of Condolence, Letter from 16th Karmapa and Self-Arisen Guru Rinpoche

NEW TRANSLATION: 16TH KARMAPA’S TRANSMISSION RECORD: Second Volume of ‘Collected Works’ and Kālacakra lineages



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