The Karmapa Center 16 celebrates Parinirvana of His Holiness

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, with Tyler Dewar translating, welcomes guests to the celebration of His Holiness’ Parinirvana.

The annual weekend celebration of the Parinirvana of the 16th Karmapa

Under a full moon shining on the waters of Lake Michigan, the annual weekend celebration of His Holiness, the 16th Karmapa’s Parinirvana opened with a teaching by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche on Friday, November 4, at the Illinois Beach Hotel in Zion, Illinois.

Damayonti Sengupta, founding board member of The Karmapa Center 16 (KC16), greeted the audience, many of whom had traveled long-distances to be there, hailing from Asia, Europe, Canada, Mexico and numerous cities across America. Sengupta introduced the President of KC16 Board of Directors, Dilyak Drupon Rinpoche, who was present at the time of His Holiness’ death; Board Vice President and caretaker of the Center Lama Phuntsok Samkhang; and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, who envisioned the Center and was a life-long student of His Holiness.

FRIDAY NIGHT TEACHING: Manifesting loving-kindness and compassion

After extending a warm welcome to everyone, Rinpoche gave a teaching on loving-kindness and compassion that illustrated how his teacher, the 16th Karmapa (HHK16), manifested those qualities at all times towards all creatures throughout his life.

Rinpoche spoke about the physical and mental challenges present in our world today, about our fear that this is the worst time ever. Yesterday looks better, he said, even though the problem is the same. He then referenced an interview with His Holiness during the Cold War. Rinpoche recalled that His Holiness burst into laughter when the journalist asked him about current international tensions, replying “The world is always the same!”

We all want to make the world a better place, Rinpoche continued, but who will do that? You or me and how shall we do it? If we focus on the material problems and potential solutions, we miss the point of who is suffering, the people who are going through the hardship and pain. Looking beyond the labels, race, religion, the differences, we then see the similarities — we all are looking for freedom, joy and happiness. “If we can connect heart to heart, the boundaries do not exist, there is no judgement,” he said. “When we connect brain to brain, there are so many differences, so many concepts about differences. When we pay attention to the person, we connect with the heart of loving-kindness and compassion.”

Research today now shows what the Buddha taught over 2500 years ago — that all sentient beings possess loving-kindness and compassion. Buddha’s teaching to love all sentient beings without bias is present in every wisdom teaching of the world. “The one who manifested that unbounded love for all was His Holiness, my teacher,” Rinpoche said.

Rinpoche then gave the remainder of the talk in Tibetan, with Nalandabodhi translator Tyler Dewar translating into English.Though it is difficult to image all the enlightened qualities of HHK16, Rinpoche said he had the good fortune of being nurtured as a young boy by the 16th Karmapa and as his attendant, he witnessed His Holiness’ many activities. There are many profound instructions given by gurus and teachers, Rinpoche said, but the most profound teaching is the life example of a master, seeing how a great master uses the teachings to help self and others. While many people teach loving-kindness and compassion, His Holiness’ conduct manifested those qualities all the time towards all creatures. His mere presence — his great humor and joy — gave relief to many who met him. “His service focused on beings who needed his help,” Rinpoche said. “We only saw him performing benefits for other sentient beings. We hear the word bodhisattva thrown about, but he is the true example.”

Rinpoche cited several personal examples of His Holiness’ altruistic activities and said that the flourishing of the Buddhadharma and Vajrayana Buddhism in the West is due to the vision HHK16. He spoke about His Holiness’ visits to the West, his encouragement of young lamas to establish centers here and his intentional blessing to America by passing away in Zion. He was the first Karmapa to display Parinirvana outside of Tibet. Parinirvana, Rinpoche explained, is when the enlightened mind of a great master parts with the enlightened body and dissolves into the space of true nature.

KC16 is an important project, Rinpoche said, because it is a physical commemoration of the life example of His Holiness, and when we recollect his life example full of loving-kindness and compassion, we can extract blessings to manifest those teachings in our own life.

Karmapa means “one who manifests enlightened activity.” Karmapa makes manifest all the compassionate actions of the Buddha. “The actions of HHK16 matched the meaning of his name,” Rinpoche said. His Holiness focused on others. When we focus on another human being, heart to heart, then self focus naturally disappears, and we are freed from delusion or confusion of a superimposed self-image. Research corroborates that, Rinpoche said, confirming that those who focus on others have greater joy and happiness.

Concluding the evening’s talk, Rinpoche said, “We are celebrating the immeasurable heart of compassion that manifested in this master. We are trying to emulate that experience of joy and caring and loving-compassion.”

Tea and snacks were served after Rinpoche’s talk, allowing old and new friends to greet and meet each other.

SATURDAY TEACHING: The spiritual journey

After a torrential morning downpour, the rain stopped in time for guests to gather at KC16, located on 10 bucolic acres in the township of Wadsworth, Illinois, five miles from the hospital where His Holiness passed into Parinirvana on November 5, 1981. Everyone took a seat in a large tent erected next to the barn on the property for Rinpoche’s teaching. Damayonti welcomed everyone to the Center, the blessed land and blessed teacher, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. Tyler again translated for Rinpoche.

Rinpoche began the teaching by recounting the story of the Buddha and his journey of awakening. An Indian prince, Siddhartha was full of curiosity about discovering the meaning of life and the real truth behind what we see, hear, feel and experience. That genuine enthusiasm led him on a “beautiful journey,” which he achieved under the Bodhi Tree. “It was a moment of awakening,” Rinpoche said. “Awakening is very short. It is the journey, the dream, to that moment that makes it beautiful.” Of course, awakening is also beautiful, he said, but it is one moment. The path is what is really exciting.

What the Buddha showed us was not just about the moment of awakening but also about the journey of what did and didn’t work. We have all chosen a path for living, Rinpoche said; the Buddha’s teaching involves living a life of caring for others, with wisdom, love and compassion. “His teaching is a genuine science of mind and way of living,” Rinpoche said. “It is controversial as it is other-centered not ego-centered. Like pure water — and we’ve had a lot of water today! — Buddha’s teaching can quench the thirst of beings’ minds tormented by thoughts and emotions.”

However, a good container is necessary to hold the nectar of dharma, he said, or it cannot be put into good use. If the container is not good, then no matter how profound the teaching, it is difficult to bring the wisdom and compassion to others. The vision for KC16 is to create a pure container to hold the dharma and share it with “as many limitless beings as possible.”

If the container could be anywhere in the world, then why in Zion, Illinois, Rinpoche asked. Because this is where His Holiness passed into Parinirvana. “That moment,” he said, “is the most potent moment.” Zion is a “sacred place of our most important master of the 20th Century. His Holiness dissolved into the dharmakaya right here in Zion.”

There is a spiritual power in the earth of a sacred place, and it influences the activities performed there, Rinpoche continued. “A sacred place has the energy to bring more joy, compassion, love and awakening from deep state of delusion.”

Rinpoche then told the story of the first Karmapa’s spiritual journey that took place 1400 years after the Buddha and finished with the spiritual journey of the 16th Karmapa that brought him to the United States.

So, how do we connect with the 16th Karmapa, Rinpoche asked. If we recollect His Holiness, then a connection is made, he answered. To properly recollect, one needs the experiential connection of directly seeing the presence of the Karmapa. “That is why we are building the stupa,” Rinpoche said, “to establish the center as a commemoration of the Karmapa so people can make a direct connection with him.”

The goal also includes building a museum and library to learn about the Karmapa through texts, videos, photos and other memorabilia.Together we will accomplish that goal, Rinpoche said. No single skill will make it happen; rather it is everyone’s contribution who is interested in making a connection. Rinpoche invited everyone back to the Center to do retreat, work practice and/or provide financial support. “With everyone’s help, the power of the blessing will blaze.”

Rinpoche concluded the talk by thanking everyone who helped with the weekend and thanked the leaders of the Wadsworth Village before inviting guests to view the relics of His Holiness and other masters on display at the front of the tent. Nalandabodhi translator Chris Stagg explained the significance of each relic.

In the evening, KC16 gave a dinner party for the guests — held in the barn! Dilyak Drupon Rinpoche shared how the project began, recounted being in the presence of His Holiness, the importance of this project and praised the work of staff members, honoring Lama Phuntsok who oversees and cares, on an ongoing basis, for every detail at the Center. Damayonti then thanked by name the major donors and volunteers. She highlighted the importance of each contributing donor at any level and the vital work of volunteers, which is a beautiful and fortunate opportunity for everyone to make a meaningful connection with the life example of the 16th Karmapa. The evening was a joyful celebration!

PARINIRVANA SUNDAY: Puja and prayers

Early Sunday morning, the day of His Holiness’ Parinirvana, sandhill cranes, Canada geese and other flocks of birds passed over the tent where the 16th Karmapa Guru Yoga and puja were held in Tibetan. The puja began at 8 a.m., included a short break for breakfast, and ended at noon. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and Dilyak Drupon Rinpoche presided over the puja, with Lama Phuntsok leading the chants as umdze.

Lunch was held in the barn, with Wadsworth Mayor Glenn Ryback and Village Board Trustees Ben Dolan, Doug Jacobs and Jim Zegar and their families, including Charlie, the Zegar’s dog. The Wadsworth dignitaries attended the afternoon session of Guru Yoga held in English, with Nalandabodhi member Stephanie Johnston leading the chants as umdze.

At the conclusion of the puja the weekend guests departed, brightening the gray, foggy day with their bright, warm smiles. The joy of being together — the presence of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and Dilyak Drupon Rinpoche and practicing on the sacred land of His Holiness’ Parivnirvana — was evident: it a brilliant display of blessings received.