Return to Tsurphu (June 1992)

On the day the swan circles the edge of the lake
And leaves its fledglings in the darkening swamp
The day the white vulture soars in the
depths of the sky,
You will wonder where the man Rigdröl is.

O Fledglings, I feel untold grief for you.
Now I will not explain much; this is but a jest,
Yet unified with ultimate reality.
When the Lord of the Path is held
by the king of birds,
In prayer I aspire that we gather in great joy.[1]


His Holiness the 16th Karmapa fled Tibet in 1959 and since that time Tsurphu Monastery had been without a Karmapa in residence. Thus the arrival of the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa was greeted with great anticipation. When word reached the Tibetans that the reincarnation of the Karmapa had been found and hat he was being brought to Tsurphu Monastery, thousands of his followers gathered in great joy.

On June 15, 1992, His Holiness arrived in an entourage of seven jeeps followed by two trucks along the main road to Tsurphu, which was adorned with greetings and filled with the aroma of burning incense. The motorcade was flanked by riders on horseback, with each horse and rider fully arrayed the noblest attire. As the motorcade moved slowly up the winding road towards the Monastery, the melody of the religious mescal trumpets called gyalings (rgya gling) welcomed the Karmapa back to his main seat, established so many centuries earlier by the 1st Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa.

The Karmapa first stepped out of the vehicles at his Summer Palace, about 15 minutes from the main entrance to the monastery. Accompanied by his parents and members of the search party, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa received monks from Tsurphu and Chinese and Tibetan officials who had come to pay their respects.

After tea, His Holiness was driven to the main entrance of the monastery, where he mounted a white horse. The 17th Karmapa was escorted on horseback through the front gate in a traditional grand procession, surrounded by monks holding a huge canopy overhead, with other carrying colorful banners and flags. As he entered the main gate, monastic dancers arrayed in traditional costumes and masks as snow lions and other figures performed around him.

His Holiness was seated in a special throne prepared for him in front of the main temple, where he was offered symbolic Snow Lion’s milk, amidst the magnificent and sacred spectacle of the performance of the Mahakala Bernakchen dance.

His Holiness was then escorted into the main Lhakhang, where he took his seat on the throne of the Karmapas. He was presented with elaborate offerings of Buddha statues, Dharma texts and precious objects.

A blessing ceremony was held for the thousands of devotees eagerly waiting to be close to His Holiness, which went on for many hours. As dancing and singing in the courtyard continued for many hours into the late evening, opera singers resplendent in their colorful costumes and masks together with some other singers celebrated this historic arrival of the XVIIth Karmapa to Tsurphu Monastery–home and original seat of all the glorious Karmapas.