Karen Derris: A Professor and Her Students Engage H. H. the Karmapa

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, Daniel Aitken speaks with Dr. Karen Derris, scholar of South and Southeast Asian Buddhist traditions and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Redlands. For the past several years, Karen has had the rare opportunity of working one-on-one with His Holiness the Karmapa as an editor of his most recent book, Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. You’ll hear Karen share the deep impact of working under the Karmapa’s direct guidance, which she describes as like being “inside a sutra” and among the most profound experiences of her entire career. Karen also shares stories from her travels to Gyuto Monastery in India, where she and her students met with the Karmapa for a three-week dialogue. Karen describes how this rare connection with the Karmapa had a profound influence on her students’ professional aspirations, leading to deeply meaningful service-oriented careers. Additionally, their conversations helped inform the message of Interconnected, which offers a twenty-first century model of interdependence in support of a truly global society.

INTERCONNECTED: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

Plucked from a humble nomad family to become the leader of one of Tibet’s oldest Buddhist lineages, the young Seventeenth Karmapa draws on timeless values to create an urgent ethic for today’s global community.

We have always been, and will always be, interconnected—through family, community, and shared humanity. As our planet changes and our world grows smaller, it is vital we not only recognize our connections to one another and to the earth but also begin actively working together as interdependent individuals to create a truly global society.

The Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is uniquely positioned to guide us in this process. Drawing on years of intensive Buddhist training and a passionate commitment to social issues, he teaches how we can move from a merely intellectual understanding to a fully lived experience of connection. By first seeing, then feeling, and finally living these connections, we can become more effective agents of social and ethical change.

The Karmapa shows us how gaining emotional awareness of our connectedness can fundamentally reshape the human race. He then guides us to action, showing step by step how we can change the way we use the earth’s resources and can continue to better our society. In clear language, the Karmapa draws connections between such seemingly far-flung issues as consumer culture, loneliness, animal protection, and self-reliance. In the process, he helps us move beyond theory to practical and positive social and ethical change.


“We are now so interdependent that it is in our own interest to take the whole of humanity into account. Hope lies with the generation who belong to the twenty-first century. If they can learn from the past and shape a different future, later this century the world could be a happier, more peaceful, and more environmentally stable place. I am very happy to see in this book the Karmapa Rinpoche taking a lead and advising practical ways to reach this goal.”—His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“Now more than ever, His Holiness the Karmapa’s teachings provide tools for all of us—beyond background, nationality, and culture—to work together in our interdependent, interconnected worldwide community. Everyone, and the world itself, will benefit from the profound teachings in this book.”—Pema Chödrön, author of When Things Fall Apart

“The Karmapa illuminates a major paradigm shift that is already underway—from independent and unconnected to interdependent and interconnected. As a visionary thinker, he shows us how this shift can lead us to a healthier planet and happier lives. As a heart-centered spiritual leader, the Karmapa shows us what we need to do to get there.”—Chade-Meng Tan, author of Search Inside Yourself

“This important new book will convince you that a commitment to social and environmental justice flows naturally from mindfulness of interdependence. The Karmapa’s vision of a heart-centered spiritual practice fills one with hope, even as it addresses the most serious challenges facing us today. One of the most influential Tibetan Buddhist teachers of our times, the Karmapa has written a courageous book that will change how you see your place in the world—and inspire you to act to make it a happier and kinder one.”—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness

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Dr. Karen Derris is a scholar of South and Southeast Asian Buddhist traditions, professor of religious studies at the University of Redlands, as well as the Virginia Hunsaker Chair in Distinguished Teaching. Her research focuses on the intersection of literature, ethics, and history in pre-modern Buddhist traditions, as well as the central importance of community in Buddhist ethical and spiritual development. Dr. Derris received her PhD from the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University in 2000.