Retrospective of the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa's visits to America (Shambhala)

Remembering the Sixteenth Karmapa's First Visit to America

An account of the first visit by the Sixteenth Karmapa to America in 1974.Excerpted from Warrior King of Shambhala: Remembering Chögyam Trungpa by Acharya Jeremy Hayward.


There had been a tremendous fundraising effort that enabled us to welcome His Holiness [the Karmapa] in a style appropriate to a dharma king. But there was no way we could have known what would actually happen. Perhaps [Chögyam Trungpa] Rinpoche himself did not quite anticipate the effect that His Holiness would have. He had been rather diffident about His Holiness during the years before that, giving us the impression that he was mostly some kind of figurehead. But when His Holiness arrived at the airport in New York, Rinpoche prostrated to him right there on the tarmac, and from that moment on Rinpoche went into an energy state that we had never seen before. Everything changed.
At various times throughout Rinpoche's life, every few years or so, there would be a sudden change of direction for the sangha. The visit of His Holiness Karmapa was one of those times. Rinpoche traveled in advance of His Holiness' arrival. He would often keep everyone up all night with preparations.
Rinpoche arrived in Boulder to set up the situation there for His Holiness' arrival from Karme Chöling, the new name that His Holiness had given Tail of the Tiger, meaning "the dharma place of the Karma Kagyus." By then a large hall that had once been the home of the Freemasons had become the main shrine hall of Karma Dzong. This was newly painted and had the prajnaparamita mantra, "Om Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha" inscribed all around the walls. Many new banners were designed for the first time for this occasion and a high throne was built for His Holiness …

His Holiness finally arrived in Boulder, with his entourage of monks blowing their gyalings, instruments like Tibetan oboes. Rinpoche, wearing a Tibetan outer garment, lead His Holiness into Karma Dzong carrying burning incense in the traditional way. His Holiness gave many teachings and abhishekas - blessings or empowerments. An abhisheka can be simply a way for a great teacher to bring the blessings of the lineage to the participants, or an empowerment to actually practice a particular vajrayana practice. In this case the abhishekas were simply to bring blessings …
Regardless of my own reticence, His Holiness did have a profound effect on many people and indeed on the spread of genuine dharma in the West altogether. With his tremendous kindness, his warm smile and powerful radiance, he was like the sun warming, nourishing, and cheering up the world wherever he went. He was inquisitive about everything he saw. Once in Los Angeles he pointed to all the many joggers and asked, "Where are they all going?" When he was told they weren't going anywhere but were just running he broke out into astonished laughter. He loved all animals, but especially birds. He had a large cage in his room in which he kept birds of many varieties and seemed to understand and communicate with them.

Perhaps his majesty and radiant compassion were most powerfully to be felt during the Black Crown ceremony, which he performed in every city he visited. In this ritual His Holiness ceremonially holds on his head a black crown, a replica of one that was given by Yung-lo, Emperor of China, to the fifth Karmapa. The original was said to have been made from the hairs of dakinis (female deities who protect the teachings) after Yung-lo had had a vision of the Crown on the fifth Karmapa's head. As the Karmapa holds the crown on his head, he slowly recites the mantra of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. It is said that during those few minutes he brings to earth the transcendent form of Avalokiteshvara and radiates the bodhisattva's pure compassion. He sat on the high throne, so that all could see him and as he sat there he truly seemed like the dharma king he was said to be - that is, a perfectly enlightened being in human body. It certainly was a magnificent occasion.
© 2008 Jeremy Hayward. Excerpted with Permission; all rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Shambhala Archives; all rights reserved.


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