At the time of His Holiness’ Parinirvana, per the movie Lion’s Roar, the medical facility where His Holiness was being treated was called the American International Clinic. As of January 2015, the facility is now operating as a location of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Lama Phuntsok reports that the original two-story building (top right) is still there but has been remodeled, and new/extended additions have been attached. His Holiness’ room (middle right) had window(s) facing the park, which must have been on what is now a solid windowless wall (in the area behind the small tree on the right side of the large photo).
The hospital did not allow more than three people to stay in His Holiness’ room at any given time. There was a separate apartment building nearby where attendants stayed (Dilyak Drupon Rinpoche, Lama Phuntsok, etc.), those who were not permitted to stay with His Holiness at all times. The attendants’ apartment building is visible on the right side of photo, behind the no parking sign (top left).
The Significance of Northern Illinois
His Holiness 16th Gyalwang Karmapa passed away in the American International Clinic (now operating as a location of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America), in Zion, IL, on November 5, 1981.
For Buddhist practitioners, the death of a teacher such as the 16th Karmapa is called Parinirvana—enlightenment, or complete awakening—and the place surrounding the location of such an occurence becomes a holy place. Similarly, Buddhists today celebrate the Buddha Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha of our time)’s parinirvana, or enlightenment, and pilgrims visit the four major sites/places associated with Shakyamuni Buddha’s life. Therefore, by building a temple here, students and practitioners from around the world will see this stupa as a holy pilgrimage site and are invited to come to visit the temple, have retreats, visit the city and contribute to the local economy. The retreat center and meditation hall are open to all who are interested without discrimination.
Our teacher the 16th Karmapa said that building stupas are good activities to benefit the environment and beings. In general, a stupa is a symbol for the enlightened body, speech, and mind of the guru—most essentially, the mind of the guru. Stupas are built for the protection of the environment and to prevent natural disasters.
It is not an accident that His Holiness attained parinirvana here in Illinois, in the United States. This area is considered to be a sacred site, and we wish to honor His presence there by offering a stupa as a monument to His great being, and as a place for current and future practitioners to gain merit. If one practices at this stupa, following one’s teacher’s advice, relatively obstacles are removed and ultimately one can achieve enlightenment.
The Karmapas have a strong connection to the United States. The 17th Karmapa’s first foreign visit was to the United States in 2008.
Karmapa Center 16’s Mission Statement
The mission of Karmapa Center 16 is to commemorate His Holiness the 16th Karmapa with a stupa, memorial, meditation hall, retreat center, and place to learn and study about the history of Buddhism and the Karma Kagyu lineage. The center is in close proximity to the place of his passing, or parinirvana, and offers the opportunity for interested visitors to pay respects, conduct pilgrimage, meditate, visit and learn.