Karmapa Confers Long-Life Empowerment on Tibetan Community of Washington
(May 8, 2015 – Lynnwood, Seattle) In his final meeting with Tibetan communities during this trip, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa granted an Amitayus long-life empowerment and delivered a Dharma discourse to an audience of 1,350 people. This event, organized by the Tibetan Association of Washington, represents the eighth time during his two months in the United States that His Holiness made time to meet with Tibetans in various parts of the country.
He was welcomed by the traditional costumed dancers that have greeted him when received by Tibetans across the continent. The formal program included speeches by Tashi Namgyal Khamshitsang, the Member of Parliament representing North America in the Central Tibetan Administration and President of the Tibetan Association of Washington, Tenzin Chokey. The TAW President warmly thanked the Gyalwang Karmapa for all he has done on behalf of Tibetan culture and religion, and for his work on behalf of women’s rights, and particularly for Buddhist nuns.
His Holiness the Karmapa was regaled with a musical performance by local Tibetan children. Among the tunes they presented him was an original tune of welcome, with words and melody composed especially for the event by members of the local community, including the lamas of Sakya Monastery. The youngsters, most of whom were elementary school age, enacted gestures of welcome as they sang in Tibetan at the top of their voices. Their vocal enthusiasm drew fond smiles from the audience as well as the Karmapa, who then gave them individual blessings.
Before beginning the Amitayus empowerment, the 17th Karmapa made introductory comments on the practice of giving long-life empowerments. He related that when he was younger, for many years, the only empowerments he was able to give were Amitayus and Chenrezig, because his main teachers had been unable to travel to Tibet to transmit the lineage to him. He recounted that he used to long to be able to give more impressive empowerments, smiling wryly as he described his childish attitude.
Reflecting on the evident incongruity of giving empowerments to extend life while following the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence and the inevitability of death, His Holiness the Karmapa said, “Some people think that the Vajrayana practiced by Tibetans is strange, since it prolongs life and promises immortality.” Actually, he explained, the practice of conferring long-life empowerments preserves the centrality of the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence. It offers us support in acknowledging, accepting and facing the inevitability of our own deaths, he said, and encourages us to ensure that we make the life we do have fully meaningful.
If our concern is to ensure longevity or enhance our vitality, the Gyalwang Karmapa remarked, there are many conditions that we should be looking after, both physical and mental, including food, physical exercise but also our conduct and our general outlook on life.
Urging the audience to care for their health, His Holiness observed that often people only control their diet when they are sick. “Actually, we should view our food as medicine,” he said. “It is the medicine that we are taking every day.”
Noting, however, that the mental conditions have an equal or greater effect on our health, the Karmapa emphasized the harmful effects of stress and urged his audience to take care not to succumb to stressful or negative states of mind, but cultivate a positive outlook. Combined with the right physical conditions, he said, this will allow us to enjoy sound physical health, which is beneficial not only to us individually, but to our families and all of society, he said.
It is important to broaden our motivation, the Karmapa said, to maintain a clear sense of responsibility to care for others, and not just for ourselves. “If we bring to a long-life empowerment just the motivation of wanting to have a longer life, this is not a sufficient motivation for us to receive the full benefits,” he told them. “By contrast, if our aim in having a long life is to be able to benefit others, then that is a worthwhile motivation.”
He pointed out that having a long lifespan in itself places us in certain danger. “Inconceivably large numbers of animals are killed to sustain our life and so many have to suffer and lose their lives for us to stay alive, and to enjoy health and comfort. This should give us a heightened awareness of the great responsibility we have to make our lives meaningful for others and not just for ourselves.”
With those preliminary comments, the Karmapa conferred the empowerment of Amitayus, the Buddha of Boundless Life. He directed additional remarks to the Tibetan community that had gathered, beginning by emphasizing the importance of maintaining the Tibetan language and expressing his appreciation for the Tibetan Association of Washington’s effort to that end. (The association offers classes every Sunday afternoon in Tibetan language and culture to area children.)
He reminded those gathered of the regrettable presence of competition and hostility within Tibetan history of the past, underscoring the value of the hard-won sense of unity and shared identity that had developed under His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s skillful leadership. It is important for Tibetans to gain a clear understanding of why His Holiness the Dalai Lama is such a worthy object of their devotion, he said, so that they can truly appreciate and safeguard what they have received from him.
The Gyalwang Karmapa observed that a diversity of opinion was healthy and positive, but should be expressed in a way that Tibetans do not lose sight of all that also unites them. “What we hold in common is more fundamental than what distinguishes us,” he said.
He stressed the importance of recognizing that all Tibetan Buddhists follow a single teacher: Lord Buddha. “It is of great benefit to have the Dharma expressed in a variety of different ways,” he added. “However, when we go for refuge, we all go for refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. There is no ‘our Buddha’ and ‘their Buddha,’” he said. “There is no ‘our Dharma’ and ‘their Dharma,’ or ‘our Sangha’ and ‘their Sangha,’” he told them.
As he has reminded other Tibetan communities across the continent, the Buddha warned that his teachings would be destroyed by conflict among the holders of the teachings. “Somehow, we always seem to expect the threat will come from outside and seek to blame external forces,” he said. He thus urged his audience to look within themselves to ensure that they were not undermining the Dharma from within.
As the hour grew later, His Holiness the Karmapa remained speaking warmly with his fellow Tibetans, until the scheduled program had drawn to its close. After he departed, the large community lingered in the hall, taking blessings from his throne and enjoying one another’s company. Many were deferring a long drive home, for Tibetans living in the nearby cities of Vancouver, Canada, Portland, Oregon and Olympia, Washington had traveled to Seattle for the event.
Seattle and the surrounding King County area itself is home to approximately 350 Tibetans. The relatively long and rich history of Tibetan settlement in the state of Washington began in the first half of the 20th century, when five or six Tibetans families answered a call for lumberjacks. In 1960, just one year after the beginning of the mass exodus of Tibetans fleeing Tibet, His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche, head of the Phuntsok Phodrang, arrived in Seattle, accompanied by His Eminence Dezhung Rinpoche. A grant from the Rockefeller Foundation enabled them to participate in a research project on Tibetan culture and religion at the University of Washington, and thus Seattle became the seat in exile for the Phuntsok Phodrang, one of the two branches of the Khon family that share the responsibility for upholding the leadership of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. When Tibetans were granted visas to immigrate to the United States beginning in 1990, another 50 arrived in Seattle. Over time, this sound beginning has served as the basis from which has grown the flourishing community that hosted His Holiness the Karmapa today.
Next stop on the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa’s agenda is a visit to the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche.