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Karmapa 900 Opening Ceremony—Day Two:
Protecting the Karma Kagyu Teachings

(December 9, Bodhgaya) - As thousands gathered before daybreak for Karmapa 900, the image of Buddha Shakyamuni was already basking in golden light beneath the painted sun on the Karmapa 900 stage.  From dawn to dusk, this second day of the commemoration was devoted to the protection of the Karma Kagyu teachings received from Dusum Khyenpa, whose 900th birth anniversary will be celebrated throughout the upcoming year.  With 108 smoke offerings in the morning and 100,000 offerings to Mahakala in the afternoon and evening, the day of practice was centered on Mahakala, whose history as Dharma protector of the Karma Kagyu is nearly as long as the lineage itself. 

Morning Smoke Offering Ceremony

In the darkness of the pre-dawn hours, the crowd repeatedly rose to its feet respectfully, as the Karma Kagyu’s seniormost lamas entered and took their seats one after another: His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, His Eminence Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche, Bakyoe Rinpoche, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Khenpo Lodrö Dönyö Rinpoche, the young Drupön Dechen Rinpoche and many, many others. His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa himself then took the stage, and donned his black Action Crown with great dignity.

As it had on day one, the “speaking statue” of Dusum Khyenpa arrived escorted by a spectacular ceremonial procession. As the statue neared the front of the grounds, three masked figures entered the stage, representing three major Dharma protectors—Mahakala, Mahakali, and Vajrsattva. After dancing a joyful dance of welcome, the three protectors offered khatas to the precious image of Dusum Khyenpa, to show their respect and to welcome it.

The Gyalwang Karmapa offered some comments for the occasion. Noting the long association of Six-Armed Mahakala with the Karma Kagyu lineage as its particular protector, His Holiness explained that the offering ceremony was being held as an expression of gratitude to the Dharma protectors, principally Mahakala, for their service in ensuring that the lineage could flourish over the past nine centuries.

However, simply relying on Dharma protectors to ensure the longevity of the lineage was clearly not sufficient, His Holiness said. Referring to comments that Samdhong Rinpoche, Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, had made during his speech as chief guest of Karmapa 900 the previous day, the Gyalwang Karmapa stated that harmony among the sangha was an essential condition for the protection of the Dharma. The need to maintain pure samaya with one’s lama is also exceedingly important, His Holiness continued.

The Gyalwang Karmapa further reminded the audience that we have all been born in an era when the Dharma has greatly declined and is well advanced in its slide towards extinction. As such, the Gyalwang Karmapa said, we should feel ourselves to be extremely fortunate to have met the Buddhadharma, and in particular the teachings of the Kagyu lineage. Yet we must not allow ourselves to simply rest contented, but must make active efforts to ensure that the teachings of the practice lineage remain available long into the future, His Holiness said.

The remainder of the morning session was taken up with the offering practice itself. By noon, 108 clouds of incense smoke had been offered from 108 incense furnaces (sang khang in Tibetan) specially constructed around the stage area. The morning sky filled with fragrant smoke, as the most aromatic substances harvested in Lachen in northern Sikkim were burnt as thankful offerings to the Karma Kagyu protectors. 

Gazing up into the exceptionally blue and beautifully cloud-specked sky above, many observers commented that the sky itself looked remarkably like the sky in Tibet.

Mahakala Practice

During the afternoon, accompanied by many lineage lamas, monks, nuns and lay yogis and yoginis, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa performed Mahakala practice at a sacred site associated with Mahakala half an hour’s drive from Bodhgaya. Many centuries earlier, Six-Armed Mahakala had appeared to the Indian mahasiddha Shawaripa as he practiced in a cave set in the mountain above.  As such, Mahakala practice is greatly enhanced by being performed on such a spot consecrated by the deity himself.

Meanwhile, back on the Karmapa 900 stage in Bodhgaya, His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche was leading thousands of monks and nuns in an extensive 100,000 Offerings practice to Mahakala. The altar was adorned with a full set of metal armor, forged according to the traditional design, and offered to the protector.

Grand Conclusion

The day concluded with the Gyalwang Karmapa and other lineage lamas re-joining Gyaltsab Rinpoche on the Karmapa 900 stage to complete the 100,000 Offering practice. When the ritual was complete, His Holiness shared some final thoughts with those assembled.

His Holiness observed that the elaborate celebration had taken a tremendous deal of work. It was one thing to work hard to make an event a success, but it was quite another, he said, to exert oneself in one’s tasks in a way consistent with the Dharma. The Gyalwang Karmapa observed that Karmapa 900 had virtually moved in and turned Tergar Monastery upside down, and extended his heartfelt thanks to Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and to Tergar Monastery itself for their generous support and tolerance.

The purpose in holding such an event commemorating Dusum Khyenpa’s 900th birth anniversary is to recollect the kindness of the lama, His Holiness explained. In the past, there had been little need for such commemorations within the Karma Kagyu lineage, the Gyalwang Karmapa said, because the strong emphasis on practice had ensured that we always kept our lamas in our hearts or on the crown of our heads, and practiced according to their instructions. But in the 21st century, the Karma Kagyu has moved far from its mountain seats and hermitages, and has taken up residences in bustling towns and cities full of distraction, he noted. Karma Kagyu practitioners thus need to be reminded of the deeds and the great qualities of the past masters.

Indeed, in order to enhance the devotion that is so fundamental to the practice lineage, it is essential that we understand the reasons why our past masters are valid objects of veneration, respect and devotion, His Holiness stressed. Karmapa 900 is aimed at creating an opportunity for us to learn more of their great deeds and at inspiring us to develop their great qualities within ourselves.

Yet this Karmapa 900 celebration is just a beginning, His Holiness said. There is the possibility for it to become a first step towards again establishing a firm base for the Karma Kagyu and to spread it just as Dusum Khyenpa had done.

As the sun was setting, His Holiness finished his final comments, the opening ceremony came to a successful conclusion and the crowd dispersed, hearts overflowing with a sense of hope and great, great joy.

With that, the two days Karmapa 900 events were over. Yet as the Gyalwang Karmapa noted, the year of celebration has just begun—and, under His Holiness’ guidance, a whole new era worth celebrating seems poised to begin as well.

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