Memories, Dreams and Reflections of the 16th Karmapa: The Zen Master Who Jumped


by Ken Holmes

Paris, January 1975
Probably the most well-known Buddhist in France at the time was Japanese master Taizen Deshimaru: an impressive figure in the true “here and now” strict style, it was said. I acted as go-between for meetings between him and the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa. As chance had it, my first trip to him and his dojo was on the day in France when they celebrate Epiphany, the visit of the Kings. I found Deshimaru wearing a golden crown and heading a large table of disciples. He had obviously had the slice of almond pie with the hidden magic bean that makes someone king for the day. He subsequently met with His Holiness on several occasions and was invited to attend an empowerment that was to take place in an immense public hall.

I had been present on several occasions when Tibetan Rinpoches—seriously-respected masters in their own sphere—became like children with their daddy when in the Karmapa’s presence. He would pull them around by the hair, tease them and teach them with alternating sunny humour and great seriousness. His authority was always total and natural: it went without saying. His “job” was to be Buddha for them. I knew this but the Zen master did not… yet.

At the empowerment, Taizen Deshimaru was given a place of honour, along with some of his monks, on the stage, almost directly in front of His Holiness. He, of course, had his dignity and esteem as a Zen master should. Next to the stage, I saw him, as the ceremony evolved, growing increasingly uncomfortable with being in the amazing aura of the empowerment. He seemed to be oscillating between being a master and being a learner. His Holiness picked up the damaru (hand drum) and chanted as he beat it slowly from side to side, looking directly at the Zen master. At the end of the passage, His Holiness gave the powerful final flourish of the drum like a thunderclap and the master literally jumped. His Holiness smiled. The master relaxed and seemed to recognise something. Able to exhibit every mood necessary to help and guide anyone, the Karmapa is a teacher of teachers.

Ken Holmes
Director of Studies
Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery

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