December 9, 2106 – Upper Bhattu, Baijnath, HP, India
In the early hours of this Guru Rinpoche day, the Sangha gathered at 2am in the shrine hall to practice the Eight Chapters of the Tenth Day. “The Tenth Day” refers the month’s tenth day devoted to Guru Rinpoche, and “Eight Chapters” refers to the stages of practice, such as the preliminaries, offerings, mantra recitation, and so forth. In the Tibetan calendar, this year is the fire Monkey Year and considered very auspicious since Guru Rinpoche was born in a Monkey Year.
This terma, or rediscovered, text comes from the nyingma master Guru Chöwang. It was brought to Palpung Monastery, Situ Rinpoche’s seat in Tibet, in 1740 and reinstituted three years ago here at Sherabling in India. Guru Chöwang’s terma is also performed at Tsurphu Monastery, the Karmapa’s seat in Tibet, and at his monastery in Rumtek, Sikkim as well as recently at the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya during January 2014, when the Karmapa himself presided and performed the role of Guru Rinpoche. For this ceremony in Bodh Gaya, Situ Rinpoche had kindly loaned his stunning appliqué thangka of Guru Rinpoche with his eight manifestations, which today hangs on the west side of the courtyard at Sherabling.
After the monks had recited the practice for three hours, they paused just before the prayers for auspiciousness and left to prepare for the vajra dance. Beginning at 6am, they performed wearing stunning robes of rich brocades and imposing masks. The first dance brought a powerful Mahakala and fierce protectors to set the stage for vanquishing negative spirits and their dark energy. The 16 offering goddesses appeared again followed by the sprightly skeleton spirits leaping and bounding while the multicolored ribbons of their skirts floated in the air. Finally surrounded by fifty other dancers, the main one with his flashing blue sword cut to pieces the torma (a sculpted offering) representing all negativity.
Following several more dances, the ceremony finished around 10am when the special guests arrived, including the Gyalwang Karmapa as well as rinpoches and lamas from India and abroad and government officials. They were all seated on the veranda of the monastery overlooking the courtyard. The Karmapa was welcomed with extensive praise, rich in the metaphors of the Indian poetic tradition. This was followed with praises of Situ Rinpoche and Garwang Rinpoche as well as Sikyong Lobsang Sangye. An introduction to the 10th day practice explained the importance of the vajra dance as an integral part of mental and physical training. Guru Rinpoche was introduced as the embodiment of all the buddhas, the fully awakened one who had brought to perfection the creative and completion stages of meditation. Following on this was a brief history of the Guru Chöwang’s Guru Rinpoche practice.
Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche was the next speaker, and he began with a praise of the Buddha and then the Karmapa as the one of great activity and the very embodiment of compassion. Bowing with respect in his body speech, and mind, he said how joyful he was that the Karmapa had come. Turning to history, Situ Rinpoche related that when he was five years old in 1959, he had escaped to India, and at the same time, HH the Dalai Lama and many Tibetans had sought refuge in the Noble Land as well. From that time to the present day, the Indian government and its people had looked after the Tibetan refugees with unsurpassable care and kindness.
Situ Rinpoche also thanked the thousands who had come for the occasion—Sikyong Lobsang Sangye, the representatives of the Ganden Phodrang, representatives from India’s Union and State Governments, the reincarnate lamas, the spiritual friends, the monks and nuns, and all the lay people from India and abroad. Situ Rinpoche remarked that it was the fruition of their karma, their pure samayas (spiritual commitments), and their aspiration prayers that had brought them here for this special occasion.
Turning to the Dharma, Situ Rinpoche explained that the essential point is this: Just like us, every last living being wishes for happiness and seeks to avoid suffering. Sacred science and philosophy can develop this idea in many ways, but it is critical that we personally recognize its truth and actually engage in practice. If not, then there is a danger of becoming the mere foam of Dharma, a mass of vacuous bubbles.
Situ Rinpoche thanked the Indian and State Governments, the Ganden Phodrang, the Central Tibetan Administration, and the Tsurphu Ladrang for making the Karmapa’s visit possible. The Karmapa has come for a very special day, Situ Rinpoche noted, the 10th day of the 10th month in the Monkey Year when the ceremonies encompass vajra dance as well. Further, the Karmapa himself is an emanation of Guru Rinpoche, forever inseparable from him. This is affirmed, Situ Rinpoche stated, in the words of the Buddha, in rediscovered texts, and in the pure visions of realized beings.
So this time is extraordinary—a day of great good fortune and of great blessing. Giving rise to utterly pure bodhichitta, he counseled, we should pray to Guru Rinpoche and to the Gyalwang Karmapa. If our bodhicitta, the foundation of all Dharma, arises purely, and if we have genuine faith and devotion, their blessings will surely enter into us.
In conclusion, Situ Rinpoche expressed his gratitude that the Karmapa could come and solicited him that for the benefit of all living beings and for the prosperity of the teachings in general and in particular that he engage in his awakened activity, which transcends the limits of our ordinary understanding. Situ Rinpoche made the aspiration that the Karmapa’s activity be pervasive as space and that his life and deeds be indestructible like a vajra, unchanging like a mystic cross, and unvanquished like a victory banner. He supplicated that in order to benefit all those to be trained on the path that the Karmapa hold them with his loving compassion and remain inseparable from them until they reach full and perfect awakening.
In closing, Situ Rinpoche transposed the words of the 8th Karmapa (from his Four Session Guru Yoga) and related them to the 17th Ogyen Trinley Dorje:
- All victors in one, Karmapa KHYENNO.
All buddhas in one, Karmapa KHYENNO.
All sugatas in one, Karmapa KHYENNO.
All-knowing one, Karmapa KHYENNO.
After a brief address by one of the Khenpos, the Sikyong Lobsang Sangay spoke, beginning in a lighter vein by saying that he had wondered what to talk about. He doesn’t know Dharma well, so he had to skip that topic. He could talk about politics but this is a Dharma event, so that is not appropriate. He could, however, speak of how fortunate he felt to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama teach at the Tso Pema (Rewalsar), a place sacred to Guru Rinpoche, and also how lucky he was to meet His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa on this special Guru Rinpoche day of ceremonies and vajra dance.
Lobsang Sangay also spoke of Nalanda University in India, and how today’s scholars explain that its destruction was a great loss for the whole world and especially for India whose economy and power diminished. Fortunately, however, Tibetan translators for years had taken great risks and undergone untold hardship (most perished before returning) to study at Nalanda. They brought their knowledge and texts back home, so that most of Buddhism and its Nalanda tradition, too, was preserved in the Land of Snows. During this and the last centuries, this transmission also allowed Tibetan Buddhism to spread throughout the world. Lobsang Sangay noted in passing that one aspect of Tibetan Buddhism that has elicited special interest among scientists, and many others, is the profound psychology found within the Buddhist tradition. The Sikyong concluded with a prayer for the Tibetans and for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Afterward, the Gyalwang Karmapa began his address with the same traditional praise of the Buddha as Situ Rinpoche had recited, and then he invoked Guru Rinpoche, with the famous four lines beginning, “Great Indian pandita so kind to Tibet, Padma Jungne, your form’s beyond birth and death.” The Karmapa then spoke of the almost seventeen years he had waited to come to Palpung Sherabling. In 2000 he arrived in India and has been staying a short distance away in Gyuto Monastery, just one and a half hours drive from Sherabling.
In the beginning, he related, there were plans for him to come and spend time at Sherabling, and even a number of preparations, such as several welcome gates, had been made, but in the end he could not travel. Several other attempts were made but they brought no results. Finally this year he could come on this auspicious day, which is devoted to his practice and the vajra dances.
The Karmapa recalled that from a young age he had a special faith in Guru Rinpoche, and so for him this day is one of a perfect time—the great occasion of the tenth day devoted to Guru Rinpoche in the Monkey Year—and a perfect place—the great monastic seat of Sherabling. When these perfections are brought up, the Karmapa noted, it is often in an attempt to make a big impression, but here on this day, they are really true for him. If you think about the present situation, he said, there’s no need to explain—they naturally arise in your mind.
The Karmapa closed with prayers for all forms of life to have well being and happiness, for the teachings to spread, for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all the nonsectarian holders of the teachings. In particular, he prayed for the people in Tibet and wished for the long life of Situ Rinpoche and the success of study and practice at Sherabling. That the monastery’s staff is performing their tasks exceptionally well is obvious to everyone here, he noted, as we have been enjoying the manifest results of their endeavors. The Karmapa encouraged everyone to continue working for the benefit of the teachings and carrying out their teacher’s requests.
The Karmapa remarked that before coming to Sherabling, many people had asked him, “Are you really going?” “You could not really blame them,” he said, “I myself could not really believe it. It is like a dream.” As the morning’s ceremony came to an end, Situ Rinpoche offered the Karmapa a radiant statue of Guru Rinpoche.
After lunch the vajra dances began with lively dancers clad in Chinese costumes and the sound of loud, popping firecrackers filled the air. Two snow lions came prancing in to be followed by a Taoist old man and a green long-life bird with flapping wigs and bobbing tail feathers. Finally a formal procession introduced a standing Guru Padmasambhava, tall and majestic, whose golden face and bright robes caught the light of the afternoon sun. A group of monks moved the statue around the courtyard and brought it to rest under the immense thangka of Guru Rinpoche. While his seven other manifestations took their places on either side of him, a wide shrine with tormas, lamps, and bouquets of flowers was arranged in front of them.
In a modern touch, five nuns danced the graceful heroines (dpa’ mo) carrying hand drums and curved sticks, their light steps and subtle dance punctuated by song. During their performance, beginning with the Tsurphu Labrang, the many representatives of monasteries, sponsors, and other lay people made their offerings to Guru Rinpoche and then wrapped long ceremonial scarves around the heads of the seven manifestations and all the dancers. By the end of the afternoon, they were covered in a sea of white.
After each of the seven manifestations had performed, the procession led by Guru Rinpoche left the courtyard, which was then transformed by a large platform of mats for martial arts. In a nonstop pace, groups of monks dressed in pants, simple shirts, and belts performed Tai chi, forms of karate, and acrobatic flips while individual performers amazed with their agility and speed. The various fast-paced actions flowed one upon the other without break. Impressive was their total focus, fluid coordination, and the complete giving of themselves to movement.
After a break, the main dancer returned in a fierce blue mask followed by some fifty others who descended the steps in seemingly endless waves to circle the perimeter of the courtyard. Tormas were given to all the dancers as a final gesture of dispersing obstacles. With this gift of removing negative energy and allowing goodness to flourish, the magnificent dances came to an end. The monks returned to the shrine room and recited the prayers for auspiciousness, spreading to the ends of the universe the benefits of the entire day’s practice.