Karmapa 900 Launches Yearlong Commemoration of Founder’s Birth: Karma Kagyu Lineage Looks to its Past with Gratitude, and to its Future with Hope

(December 8, Bodhgaya)  One could say it was many months in the making. One could also say it was 900 years in the making. In either case, the opening ceremony of Karmapa 900, the yearlong celebration of the 900th birth anniversary of the First Karmapa, was a magnificent display of gratitude toward the past, and optimism for the future of the Karma Kagyu lineage.  

The ceremony combined sacred song and dance by Indian classical musicians as well as traditional Tibetan performers, reflecting the commitment to preserving Tibetan culture as well as the deep respect for Indian culture that was expressed by His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who presided over the opening ceremony. However, as splendid as the performances were, the speeches were equally remarkable for their universal expression of trust placed in His Holiness the Karmapa as a spiritual leader for the 21st century, for the Tibetan people and for the world at large.

“We have the hope and we believe that there is an opportunity that the Seventeenth Karmapa will accomplish as much as all the previous sixteen Karmapas put together,” said the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile and chief guest at the Karmapa 900 event, Samdhong Rinpoche, in an unequivocal affirmation of the confidence placed by the Tibetan people in His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.

Prior to serving as Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche founded and headed the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies in Varanasi, and an accomplished Sanskritist and scholar. In addition, he is a highly respected reincarnate lama in the Gelug order. In strong expression of harmony and mutual respect, Samdhong Rinpoche emphasized the many historic ties that link the Kagyu and Gelug schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Samdhong Rinpoche noted that the Fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje, was one of the first teachers of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug order, establishing a relation of teacher and disciple between the Kagyu lineage and Gelug school. Speaking with great respect for the contributions that past Karmapas have made to Tibetan society as well as religion, Samdhong Rinpoche also noted that among the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Kagyu’s very name is a reflection of its direct and unbroken connection to the teaching lineage received from India.

Although unable to attend personally, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was present in the numerous expressions of gratitude and prayers made for his long life. Representing His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was Tsering Phuntsok, Minister of the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan government in exile, read a letter of congratulations from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. A venerable representative of His Holiness Sakya Trizin also read a message of support from the head of the Sakya order of Tibetan Buddhism.  The speaker of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, Penpa Tsering, shared the stage as well, lending an additional voice of support on behalf of the Tibetan people.

 In addition, Drigung Rinpoche sent a delegation to represent him at the ceremony, as did Khamtrul Rinpoche. As such, in a remarkable show of solidarity among the sects of Tibetan Buddhism, senior representatives of Gelug, Sakya, Drugpa Kagyu and Drigung Kagyu all participated in today’s celebration of the founder of the Karma Kagyu.

Regents of the Karma Kagyu order, His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche and His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul  Rinpoche took the stage alongside His Holiness, while countless other senior Karma Kagyu lamas were also in attendance for the momentous event. Speaking as president of the Karmapa 900 Organizing Committee, Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche read a poem that he had composed especially for the occasion.

The expressions of support were not limited to representatives of the Tibetan secular and religious communities. The chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, governor of Bihar too sent a letter stating, “I am glad to know that the opening ceremony of the 900th birth anniversary of the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa,  is going to be organised under the auspices of His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje on 8th and 9th of December, 2010, at Bodhgaya…” The governor of Bihar Devanand Konwar also wrote in a warm letter of support: “I am happy to learn that Karmapa 900 Organising Committee is celebrating the 900th birth anniversary of Dusum Khyenpa… and many other related activities under the auspices of His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje.”

Reflecting the long centuries of historical ties between the Karmapas and Sikkim, the governor of Sikkim, B.P. Singh, and the chief minister of Sikkim Pawan Chamling, both send strong messages of congratulations as well.

The stage ground seats 5,300, but was already full even before the morning’s program began. As people continued arriving, hoping to witness the grand event, the grounds were ringed with those content to stand watching from outside. More than 1,800 viewers logged in to the live webcast, ensuring that disciples and supporters of the Karma Kagyu lineage around the world were able to participate as well. In another display of the inclusive spirit of the Karmapa lineage, the ceremony was translated and broadcast live in eight Asian and European languages.

As such, an untold number of viewers from all around the world were watching the Karmapa 900 opening ceremony. What they saw no doubt dazzled their eyes. But what they heard and felt surely warmed their hearts as well. His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa listened to the Indian singer performing a sacred song of the Indian master Tilopa with respect and rapt attention, and looked to the speaking statue of Dusum Khyenpa with gratitude. As all eyes turned to the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa during this opening ceremony of Karmapa 900, what the audience saw was a vision of a glorious future and what they heard was a joyful song of hope.

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