REPORT ON DAY ONE
(23 December, 2011)
Before a crowd composed of disciples and delegates from nearly every state in India and from 44 countries around the world, Karmapa 900 Delhi began a three-day gala event to commemorate the 900th birth anniversary of the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. Today’s event was focused on paying tribute to the Indian roots of the Karma Kagyu lineage.
To open the day’s activities, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa travelled to the National Museum of India to pay solemn homage to the relics of Lord Buddha enshrined there. With the aim of creating harmony among all faiths, a gathering of leaders from virtually all the major world religions gathered at Rajghat, the monument to Mahatma Gandhi, joining their voices in interfaith prayer.
Hindu priests opened the event at Gandhi’s memorial with Vedic chants, and were followed by prayers from the Jain, Jewish, Parsi, Christian, Sikh, Muslim and Baha’i spiritual traditions. Several hundred followers attended the interfaith gathering, which marked the first public activity of Karmapa 900 Delhi.
Following the formal event, the leaders joined Gyalwang Karmapa for tea and a lovely exchange of views in an informal setting.
Meanwhile, back at the main venue for Karmapa 900 Delhi, before the afternoon session even began, the crowd already filled the ballroom of the Grand Hotel and began spilling out into the adjacent outdoor patio. Advance registration had been closed within a week when the number of attendees hit 850, yet visitors who had travelled from overseas to attend pleaded their case to be allowed admission without having registered. In the end, nearly a thousand people were on hand when His Holiness arrived to commence the session.
A traditional Tibetan procession escorted a rare and exceptional statue of the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa renowned for having uttered human speech. For centuries the statue attracted pilgrims from all over eastern Tibet to Ripa Barma monastery in Kham, where it was housed until the communist Chinese invasion of Tibet. The statue was brought to safety in India shortly before Ripa Barma was destroyed, and currently serves as the most precious holy object at the rebuilt Ripa Barma Monastery in the state of Karnataka.
After His Holiness and the chief guest had offered a lamp, a brief account of the historical ties between the Karmapa lineage and India was offered by the master of ceremonies, Choechung Wangchuk, member of the parliament of the Tibetan administration in exile. To begin with, the First Karmapa trained intensively in the cultivation of bodhicitta and meditation techniques taught by the great Indian mahasiddhas Saraha, Tilopa and Naropa. His lineage then transmitted those teachings for the next 900 years in Tibet.
Dusum Khyenpa’s years of solitary yogic practices took him to caves and forests all across Tibet and into India. His biographies recount an encounter with a tiger while he was doing meditative retreat in modern day Indian territory. For the next 500 years, most of the Karmapas, up to and including the Ninth Karmapa, maintained close relationships with Bodhgaya. They sent offerings to maintain the holy Mahabodhi stupa and corresponded with senior gurus in north India. The Twelfth Karmapa made the journey to India personally to visit the holy Buddhist sites of India, the MC related. In recent times, the 16th and 17th Gyalwang Karmapas each fled Chinese-ruled Tibet to seek refuge in India, thus renewing the First Karmapa´s special bond with India, he said.
Next on the afternoon’s schedule was an address by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa himself. The Gyalwang Karmapa first clarified that he does not see Karmapa 900 as a celebration of himself, but rather as an opportunity to recollect the qualities of the great masters of the past and gain inspiration in seeking to emulate them.
He went on to describe the close ties between India and the Karma Kagyu lineage that he transmits. “Our teachings too were born and took root with the Mahasiddhas of India….The masters of this lineage were able to hold these teachings in such a way that the lineage never became just the reverberation of words, but rather became a true lineage of experience and realization.... This lineage continued in an unbroken way through the ages, first originating in India, then abiding for many hundreds of years in Tibet. Now, once again, this noble lineage has returned to the noble land of India. I think that this is something that we should all be very proud of. This is something that we should all be very inspired by. It is a marvelous fact that this lineage remains alive today, and has once again returned to the noble land of India.”
The Gyalwang Karmapa described the tireless activities of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in spreading the message of compassion and peace to the world. “Basically,” the Gyalwang Karmapa noted, “what His Holiness the Dalai Lama is doing when he delivers this message is propagating the wisdom of ancient India. This wisdom of ancient India was also the pure nectar that was held for hundreds of years in the snowy land in Tibet, and this pure nectar is now being shared as a gift with the entire world.”
Nevertheless, he quipped that in terms of copyright, one would have to say there was no question but that India was the holder of the copyright to Buddhism! (See full text of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s talk here)
His Holiness’ speech was followed by a dazzling display of his affection and appreciation for the Indian roots of his Dharma lineage. Last year, in preparation for the Opening Ceremony of Karmapa 900 in Bodhgaya, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa had begun a search for the original texts of dohas, spontaneous songs of realization sung by highly accomplished masters. Many such dohas exist today only in Tibetan translations, while the original Sanskrit texts are largely lost.
Nevertheless, His Holiness located the vernacular Indian text of a doha by Tilopa, a great mahasiddha from Bengal and contacted Shree Sangita Vidvan Nanda Kumar, a scholar and singer committed to researching and reviving India’s ancient song heritage. His Holiness requested him to set the doha verses to music, following traditional doha song forms as faithfully as possible.
The result of this research were two dohas performed in Sanskrit by Vidvan Nanda Kumar and a team of accomplished musicians that included his wife Radhika and son Sumukha.
The singer began with Sanskrit verses that he composed in homage to His Holiness the Karmapa. Following that, the audience was witness to an event of deep spiritual as well as historical significance, as Vidvan Nanda Kumar sang Saraha’s doha publicly in Sanskrit for the first time in over a millennium.
They next performed a spontaneous song of realization by Tilopa, a great Mahamudra master in the Karma Kagyu transmission lineage.
With the public performance of these two Sanskrit dohas, set to historically accurate music, the singers accomplished His Holiness the Karmapa’s wish to revive this Indian Buddhist song form that had been all but lost to history.
The next portion of the afternoon’s program was given over to speeches by four honoured guests. First to speak was the internationally revered meditation master, Gurumaa, who spoke movingly of how extraordinary it is to have a living master who is willing to return to benefit beings and also capable of pinpointing the time, place and parents to whom they will return. She spoke of the Buddha nature in each of us, and reminded the audience how fortunate they were to have a spiritual master such as His Holiness. “A living master is the best example of what you can become. You can choose to be that, or you can choose not to be that,” she said. “But the guru provides the living model to follow, if we choose to,” she said.
Next to speak was Dr. BK Modi. Although best known as Chairman of the Indian conglomerate Spice Group, Dr. Modi has made lasting contributions to the flourishing of Buddhism in India in modern times, and is currently patron of the Mahabodhi Society of India. Dr. Modi noted that when the Nalanda tradition was being destroyed in India, Tibetan’s stepped forward and gave that tradition a home in Tibet. “We must acknowledge the hardship and dedication with which the people of Tibet preserved this knowledge.”
Kalon Tenpa Tsering, the primary representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Delhi and one of the longest-serving members of the Tibetan administration in exile, also spoke as an honoured guest.
As chief guest at Karmapa 900 Delhi, the final speaker of the afternoon was Shri Wajahat Habibullah, Honourable Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities. Presenting a sophisticated vision of a secular India that still welcomes a diversity of religious views and practices, he observed that India had not only given birth to many of the world’s major religious traditions, it had also offered the gifts of that wisdom to the world.
“His Holiness’ presence among us reminds us of our duty to ourselves and our duty to the world,” said Shree Habibullah. He called for the world to truly act on the principles of compassion preached by all faiths. “I believe,” Shri Habibullah said, “that it is time to return to the wisdom of the great being, of which His Holiness is the reincarnation.”
Finally, His Holiness presented mementoes to the chief guest and esteemed guests on the dais, and the crowd joyfully dispersed, buoyed by the beauty of the vision of Buddhism returning to India articulated during the afternoon, and by the prospect of a day of teachings from the Gyalwang Karmapa tomorrow.