I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Karen Derris this afternoon about a trip which she took with 16 students from the University of Redlands in California to India to meet with the Karmapa in May of 2011. The idea for this meeting was generated in the Karmapa's office where he reached out from to discuss topics of concern to the world with students. Dr. Derris, a Harvard educated professor of religion, and her students, were chosen to meet with the Karmapa due to their keen interest in what he and his Buddhist religious orientation have to offer us in a search for a more humane world. Dr. Derris proved to be charming and exceptionally well educated about Buddhism and other matters during this interview.
The group from the University of Redlands had a unique opportunity to experience life in traditional Buddhist settings in India while living among Buddhist nuns and monks in a small village near Dharamsala, India. The Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is one of
the highest ranking lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. The primary theme of his discussions with Dr. Derris and the Redlands students was how our interconnectedness offers us the opportunity to change our world for the better working together from across the world.
Dr. Derris edited a book by the Karmapa dealing with this experience, "The Heart is Noble, Changing the World from the Inside Out." In his prologue to this book, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has written, "I am sure that readers who pay attention to what is discussed here and try it out on their own lives will not only feel happier within themselves, but will also contribute to making a happier, more peaceful world for the twenty-first century." Dr. Derris mentioned that the Karmapa often made references to the Dalai Lama, with deep reverence, during their discussions.
As a starting point towards showing a deep respect for the Karmapa and Buddhism Dr. Derris and the students agreed to observe the five Buddhist precepts during their visit to India, which includes refraining from killing, stealing, untruthful speech, sexual misconduct, and intoxicants. The Karmapa shared a powerful and beautiful vision for the world which has the potential for kindness and peace if mankind works together to make this world a better place.
Living a more wholesome and meaningful life with the Karmapa during this visit to India helped the group from California see the world through a humane Buddhist lens. Dr. Derris herself was so deeply influenced by this experience that she has become a vegetarian like the Karmapa, due to her new respect for the lives of animals and her search for a healthier life in body and mind. Now, there is a group of very bright University of Redlands students in California and their inspirational religion professor, Dr. Derris, who share the Karmapa's Tibetan vision of the possibility for universal compassion among mankind.