Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, Woodstock, New York
June 24, 2018
Though a celebration had been planned for his 33rd birthday, the Karmapa said that he really did not need to be feted on this day; however, it would be good to celebrate with a cleansing smoke puja, the deities and protectors who are astrologically connected to his birthplace and time. Preparations were immediately set in motion to gather all the abundant offerings needed for the practice, known as “A Cleansing Smoke Offering: Clouds of Amrita Bringing Down an Auspicious Rain.”
The “clouds of amrita” refers to the smoke created by the traditional offerings of substances, such as special wood, medicines, grains and seeds, food, flowers, incense, sweets, and fine cloth. The smoke they produce ascends to the local deities as gifts, visualized to be as vast as space. In turn, the supplicants make requests, for example, that the holders of the Dharma and all who are truly benefitting others live long and healthy lives, that obstacles be pacified, and that all have excellent health, increasing wealth, and vitality. A large metal cauldron had been positioned outside the shrine building to receive these offerings, and as the puja progressed, the heaped plates on the wide table next to the Karmapa were taken outside and given to the fire.
Especially for this occasion, ten pages of Tibetan text were copied and given out before the practice had started. For the first time, the Karmapa had assembled the smoke offering practices he had composed in the past, which were inserted into the main practice. He combined the texts in an artful way to include a practice for the local deities at Tsurphu and a poem for those at his birthplace, entitled, “A Smoke Offering for the Local Deities of Lhatok in Bagor, Tibet.” After naming special places in the region and the local deities, the verses end with lines that could refer to any place or time:
You who have gathered here, please receive our offering torma—
This fine, fragrant smoke and beverage from a meal’s first portion.
Please be patient with anything that contradicted your wishes.
Through your efforts, may all be auspicious in this region of the world.
May all the diseases of humans and animals be pacified.
May everyone’s lifespan, virtue, and positive impact increase.
May everyone have the radiant splendor of a perfect jewel.
May all be fortunate wherever they may be, at home or abroad.
And not allowing any hatred or jealousy to arise,
Keep watch over everyone, bestowing your constant protection.
Once the smoke offering had ended, it was time to offer lunch to all who had come. As clouds drifted overhead, people sat underneath the two white tents set up on either side of the shrine hall, or picnicked on a blanket, or took a seat on one of the chairs that had been set in curving rows around central grassy rectangle. Encircled by bright pots of flowers, this area was to be the performance space for an afternoon of song and dance. However, as the luncheon finished and the time had come to cut the birthday cakes, it started to rain, lightly at first and then in a downpour, sending everyone inside or the brave ones, under an umbrella. The Karmapa quickly cut the birthday cake, which resembled the Tseringma torma with its sky-blue color and pink flowers. He then moved from the veranda of the shrine hall overlooking the courtyard and went into the Lineage Shrine Room above it. From below, he could be seen spreading the blinds of the tall windows and looking one-pointedly at the blue-grey storm settled in the sky before him. Soon the sky lightened and the rain slowed down to a few drops as the clouds lifted.
Two snow lions bravely took advantage of the shift and pranced out on either side of the courtyard to the delight of the audience. Their frisky dance finished off the rain and the rest of the afternoon performers enjoyed a dry sky and even glimpses of blue and the sun, quite contrary to the afternoon of thunderstorms the weather channels had predicted.
The songs and dances lasted until dinner and included masked dances from Bhutan with agile leaps as deer, tiger, and snow lion. While the Nepal Lo Mustang Association sang, the Karmapa returned to his seat on the veranda—perhaps he recalled his escape from Tibet in 2000 when he passed through Lo Mustang in the middle of winter. There followed women who sang and danced in their traditional chupa dresses, colorful blouses, and aprons with multicolored stripes. Five women in bright green blouses performed the dance of the drum, moving in fluid curves while beating their drums in unison. The former members of the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts (TIPA) who were part of the Marme Monlam at Madison Square Gardens, again offered their dance and song that ended with everyone joining in the festive tossing of barley flour and a vigorous “Ki ki so so, lha gya lo! (All victory to the divine!). The final song was that of the Marme Monlam, sung by a group of women holding lotus flower lamps.
After heartfelt thanks to the Karmapa from the Karmapa Service Society, expressing their appreciation for his presence here at KTD and wishing for his long life, the Karmapa came down the stairs from the veranda and stood in front of the shrine hall to give his blessing to each and every person who had come to this celebration—all the performers, the people from the Himalayan region, and the westerners. As they bowed, he touched their heads with his hand; afterward they received a long life pill that had been on the shrine during the four days of practice. In the end, instead of receiving everything himself, the Karmapa had turned his birthday celebration into offerings for others, both seen and unseen.