Shortly after four o’clock in the afternoon, the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje arrived at his European seat, Kamalashila Buddhist Institute, Langenfeld in western Germany not far from Bonn, ending the thirty-four year wait for his return and fulfilling the hopes and prayers of his European disciples.
The centre was founded at the behest of the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, who advised his students to establish a shedra where people could study Buddhist philosophy and practice in the Karma Kagyu tradition.
His Holiness’s cavalcade halted outside the village church at the foot of the short hill close by the Institute, enabling himto walk the final hundred or so metres. With great dignity he took his place in the traditional Tibetan ‘golden procession’ reserved for high Lamas. First came a monk bearing a white khata, and then incense bearers. The Karmapa himself came next , under the shade of a golden parasol, signifying both his status as the one to be honoured and also the power of the Dharma to shelter us from the ‘heat’ of cyclic existence. He was followed by a line of monks and nuns, some beating drums, some blowing white conch shells or Tibetan trumpets, and still others carrying auspicious banners and two large blue-and-yellow ‘dream flags’. Both sides of the road were lined by hundreds of people who had come to welcome him, not only devotees, but also the inhabitants of this small village, the majority of whom are devout Catholics. This was a powerful demonstration of the relationship of mutual respect and tolerance which has been successfully built between the Buddhist Institute and the local Christian community.
The 17thKarmapa passed through the gates of the Kamalashila and went directly to his residence on the upper storey of the building.
The second stage of the official welcome took place in the shrine room. The assembled guests– Rinpoches, monks, nuns and laypeople–rose as one when he arrived, and remained standing as he prostrated three times at the shrine and lit a butter lamp. Prayers, a mandala offering, and an offering of representations of enlightened body, speech, and mind were followed by an essential ingredient of all Tibetan celebrations, sweet rice and Tibetan-style butter tea.
Movingly, Hors t Rauprich, President of the German Karma Kagyu Community, spoke of how the 16th Karmapa had entrusted his students with the task of establishing Kamalashila Buddhist Institute. Now the Karmapa had returned, it was time to offer the ownership of the Institute back “to the Lotus Feet” so that the Karmapa could use it “to support your Buddha activities in this part of the world”. He and Lama Kelzang Wangi then presented His Holiness with a red folder containing the deeds to Kamalashila Institute.
It was His Holiness’ turn to speak. He began by expressing his delight at arriving in Europe and at Kamalashila, an exciting and joyful occasion, and explained that his mission was to continue the work begun by his predecessor, the 16th Karmapa, who “became one of the most important lamas to spread Tibetan Buddhism in the West”, forging strong Dharma connections with his students as well as connections of deep friendship.
“I hope and wish,” the 17thKarmapa announced, “that those inner connections can be rekindled and continue to become more stable and strengthened in the future…. Since I was seven years old, people told me about this centre and that lots of friends were waiting for me. We have waited for a long time, and now it has happened.”
His Holiness beamed down at his European students, and the faces of those in the crowded shrine room filled with happiness. The Karmapa had returned.