Eighteenth Story Update: The Joy of Birds

His Holiness the 16th Karmapa in Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii. November 1976. “Feeding peacocks in Valley of the Temples.” Photo courtesy of Kagyuoffice.org website. 

Dear Friends of KC16,

During the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, adoptions and sales of pets have similarly soared around the world, bringing companionship, comfort and joy to many. His Holiness the 16th Karmapa understood that joy and extended his deep compassion and love to all animals, though most especially to birds.  

The connection between the Karmapa lineage and birds is legendary. The 10th Karmapa created artwork around birds, while the 13th Karmapa was renowned for his ability to communicate with his feathered friends. According to many students and attendants, birds literally flocked to the 16th Karmapa. Observers remarked that the Karmapa treated his birds as disciples, and they often displayed signs of meditative accomplishment in his presence.

A longtime student of His Holiness, Mary Jane Bennett, recounts a story in The Miraculous 16th Karmapa, when the Karmapa once said to her, “I don’t have to buy birds, you know. I just have to look at them and be with them. Being with them is my best medicine.” Bennett writes that she “could see that was true. After any journey to visit animals of any kind, His Holiness would return with a rosy glow on his face. When His Holiness lay dying in a hospital near Chicago, one of his close disciples, a driver and bird procurer, Steve Roth, brought a rare purple breasted gouldian finch and left it in his room. The joyful sound of birdsong would accompany his passage to parinirvana.”

Years before, Roth had asked the Karmapa why he liked birds so much. His Holiness replied, “Just try to sense their joy!”

What birds are you seeing and hearing around you? Pause, look, listen, and just be with them, as His Holiness says. Can you sense that powerful, compassionate connection with birds – or other animals? Can you feel the joy?

We send you all our best wishes and thank you for your continued interest and support of KC16.

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