February 13, 2015
The stupa is peaceful on this clear midmorning. Light falls through the Bodhi Tree, glancing off its shiny leaves and weaving its way through the spread of the ancient branches. Beneath its canopy Thai pilgrims, all dressed in white, follow ocher-robed monks around the stupa, the call and response of their chanting reverberating off the carved stone walls. A few seasoned pilgrims have gathered along the path, having noticed that a red carpet has been laid from the main gate, its triple arch covered in rose buds, down the wide flight of steps, along the marble path and into the temple; another red carpet circles the entire inner circumambulation path; and on the far side, the low stone lotus flowers marking the path of the Buddha have been overlaid with a thirty-foot strip of maroon silk, embroidered in a long row of gold lotuses.
Slightly after ten, the Gyalwang Karmapa appears at the head of the sacred precinct’s stairs and walks down the red carpet into the main temple to bow at the feet of the golden Buddha. He offers five alms bowls filled with fruits of the season—oranges, pomegranates, grapes—each one decorated by a single pink lotus. The final offering is a new set of golden robes for the golden Buddha, followed by the famous praises of the Buddha, chanted by his entourage and led by the Karmapa. It begins:
Skilled in means, you took birth in the Shakya clan.
Though others could not, you vanquished Mara’s forces.
Your body resplendent as a golden Mount Meru,
O King of the Shakyas, I prostrate to you.
The Karmapa then walked around the stupa and back up the red carpet into the reception hall of the Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee. After a few moments, he reemerged and entered the temple grounds one more time to take the long circumambulation around the outside. The wide path behind him is filled with followers who go with him as he exits the grounds and moves along the broad walkway, its pink stone dappled with the shadows of bodhi leaves. Here the crowd following the Karmapa fans out into a more spacious grouping as he moves quickly along to his car waiting at the last steps.