ON OCTOBER 21st, 2015, the Tibetan Tsurluk lunar calendar anniversary, Lamas and guests gathered at Karmapa Center 16 to mark the 34th anniversary of the parinirvana of the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa. The previous Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, passed away on November 5th, 1981 at the American International Clinic (now Cancer Treatment Centers of America) in Zion, north of Chicago, Illinois. The Karmapa Center 16 is located approximately 5 miles west of the exact parinirvana site, in neighboring Wadsworth, Illinois. This year marked the first time the anniversary of His Holiness’ passing was officially commemorated in this historic area itself.
In the days approaching the anniversary, Lamas and guests gathered from around North America preparing the shrine, feast substances and elaborate torma offerings. On the morning of October 21st, Venerable Dilyak Drupon Rinpoche lead a Guru Yoga practice of the 16th Karmapa composed by Rangjung Rigpe Dorje himself, with recent additions by H.E. Gyaltsab Rinpoche. After tea and lunch breaks, practice concluded with a Mahakala puja.
Lama Phuntsok shared his mixed feelings recalling the parinirvana in 1981, when he was present in Zion. Although the occasion being commemorated was a sad one, he was happy that the 16th Karmapa’s legacy was being recognized in this landmark area. Lama pointed out that while ordinary beings die wherever their karma propels them, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa was a fully realized being and thus made a conscious choice to pass in this specific place. Lama said that although he does not know what His Holiness’ reasons were, he is certain that it is important for students of the Kagyu lineage to remember and mark this site.
Lama Rabten explained that the site of the 16th Karmapa’s parinirvana is, for our lineage, a pilgrimage site equivalent to the four major sites of the historic Buddha’s life. Specifically, the Zion area is equivalent to Kushinagar, the site of the Buddha’s parinirvana. We don’t need to travel all the way to India to connect with the blessings of the lineage and accumulate the merit of pilgrimage – we have a sacred site right here in North America.
Lama Tenam and all the other Lamas expressed a shared aspiration that Karmapa Center 16 can host annual commemorations of the 16th Karmapa’s parinirvana, that many Lamas and dharma students can gather here to practice, and that this beautiful, relaxed place can gradually develop as a major pilgrimage site.