Memories, Dreams and Reflections of the 16th Karmapa: Under Karmapa’s Black Crown

by Joost Willems
The Karmapa was due to arrive at  Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on June 11 1977. I was part of a group  organising a coach for the his party in Belgium and we all went down to Paris to receive him. I had heard  many stories  and was very curious to see him.  He came off the plane and got into a limousine driving towards the VIP reception hall. He got out of the car about 50 or 60 meters from the outside stairs  leading into the hall. I could see him getting out of the car and noticed that he was aware of the circular waves of movement created by the 120 or so people standing around his car. As he walked through the crowd up the stairs in my direction, I felt  embarrassed because I was somewhat taller than him. So I bent my knees and as he came by he brushed my bended knees. He turned his head to the left in recognition and broke into thunderous laughter while slapping my shoulder.  It was  shocking but funny and I felt relieved at this joyful meeting.
In the press conference hall he  introduced a  Tibetan lama whose rayban sunglasses made him look somewhat mafioso. He had just arrived in Paris from India. Yeshe Norbu said: “This man is going to be very important in the West”, and introduced him: “Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rrrrrrrrrrrinpoche”, emphasizing the rrrs of the last word.  He then continued: “You will hear from him in the future.”
A few days later the Karmapa was at the Dordogne in France. Unexpectedly I witnessed my first Black Crown ceremony. When  the Karmapa gave the abhisheka afterward he used only one small Bumpa for close to 400 people, while pouring the abhisheka water lavishly.  Traveling with him, I noticed that this phenomena  happened frequently.
One event in particular stands out from his tour through Europe. His Holiness was invited to Leewarden, a small town in the north of Holland. The Black Crown ceremony was scheduled to be held in a small sports hall. On this occasion just 80 or 90 people were present. Looking at it for the 20th time or so, I watched His Holiness and the monks chant introductory prayers until the Black Hat was about to be raised to his head . At this essential part of the ceremony Yeshe Norbu had a naughty smile on his face. Holding it on his head in a challenging way, he smiled and surprisingly lifted his head upwards a bit a couple of times showing underneath a smaller hat, with all the colors and gold lines of the hat above it. I couldn’t believe my eyes and asked other people for their perception of this ceremony. They confirmed what I saw : ‘Yes, yes, yes, did you see that as well???!!’
That time was unforgettable. I haven’t seen the 17th Karmapa yet but I’m eager so see him …again.

edited by Naomi Levine


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