26th Story Update — Acharya Lhakpa Tshering: monk, scholar, accomplished meditator

Karmapa Center 16 is delighted to welcome Acharya Lhakpa Tshering to its Board of Directors. He will oversee fundraising for the center.

Lhakpa Tshering was born in a remote village in Dagapela in southern Bhutan. One of nine siblings, he and his family lived in an “environmentally friendly house” with no electricity or running water. 

At the age of five, he remembers his father offering a butter lamp every evening of the full and new moon in front of a black and white photograph on a shelf in a corner of the house. Growing up with no electricity, Acharya said the memory of a butter lamp in the dark is still very vivid in his mind.

Once in while, his father would take down the photo and wipe off the soot that had collected on it with a piece of cloth. Later, when he was in second grade, Acharya was able to read the caption below the picture: “HH the Sixteenth Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorji.” It was a photograph that his father had cropped from a Bhutanese monthly newspaper.

His father had the good fortune of meeting His Holiness, and Acharya kindly shared the story with us.


My Father’s Meeting with His Holiness

By Acharya Lhakpa

In 1966, at the age of 32, my father, Dawa Sherpa, traveled to Sikkim with two other companions from his village to make an offering to His Holiness the 16th Karmapa in Rumtek, on behalf of his late maternal uncle for his rebirth in higher realm. Traveling by foot and vehicle for a week, they arrived in Rumtek on the 15th day of the lunar month, a full moon day. Soon after their arrival at the monastery, His Holiness was scheduled to give a Black Crown ceremony. My father and his friends considered it auspicious that upon emerging from an audience with His Holiness, they were able to receive the blessings of the black crown. After the ceremony, my father made an offering to His Holiness and requested prayers for his uncle. His Holiness responded with gracious smile. For the sake of tendrel (making a spiritual connection), my father requested His Holiness to give him the transmission of Avalokiteshvara’s six syllable mantra. Today my father still has a vivid memory of the young, majestic Sixteenth Karmapa.

Though he never met His Holiness in person, from an early age, Acharya felt a connection to him through his father.
In 1993, Acharya enrolled at Rumtek Monastery’s Karma Shri Nalanda Institute in Sikkim, India, where he served as an assistant teacher and member of the student welfare committee.
During his time at Rumtek, he received many teachings and empowerments from His Eminence Gyaltsab Rinpoche, regent of the Karmapa lineage, who in turn had received the teachings directly from the 16th Karmapa. Acharya strongly feels that his mindstream has been blessed by the lineage and that through his own engagement on the Buddhist path, his precious human life has become meaningful.
Acharya completed his post-graduate or acharya degree in Buddhist Studies in 2002. He then served as co-librarian with Dilyak Drupon Rinpoche, taught at Karma Shri Nalanda Institute and acted as an editor for Nitartha international in Kathmandu, Nepal.
In 2006, at the request of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, he moved to Nalanda West in Seattle, Washington, USA, where he supports students as a resident teacher. He is also a visiting teacher at Nalandabodhi centers throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and Latin America.


If you’d like to share your memories or photos of His Holiness with us, please send them to: media@karmapacenter16.org.

As always, we offer our heartfelt thanks for your continued interest and support of KC16. May the Center be of great benefit to all beings!

24th Story Update: A Glimpse of Avalokiteśvara

What I saw […] was not His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa but radiant and resplendent Avalokiteśvara. It was totally overwhelming and breathtaking to witness other-worldly compassionate activity taking place in this human realm.

— Steve Roth, personal driver of His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa

There are many remarkable stories recounted about His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa by those lucky enough to have seen him, received his blessings, been his student or served him in a myriad of ways.

Steve Roth, an early student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, became the Karmapa’s personal driver during two of his visits to North America. In the story below, Steve describes his own extraordinary experience witnessing His Holiness perform the Black Hat Ceremony in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The story, “A Glimpse of Avalokiteśvara,” is excerpted from the recently released book, Radiant Compassion, The Life of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje Volume 2, by Gerd Bausch.

His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa with his personal driver, Steve Roth, in San Francisco, 1974

A Glimpse of Avalokiteśvara

By Steve Roth

During the 16th Karmapa’s 1980 third and final tour of North America, he visited Santa Fe, New Mexico and performed the Black Crown Ceremony. On November 3rd, I traveled in a VW bus from Boulder to Santa Fe with four other dharma practitioners, including Pema Chödrön. Upon arrival, we went to the local convention center where His Holiness was performing the Black Crown Ceremony. We had no idea which part of the ceremony would be taking place. We just wanted to see him.

We entered the convention center, and took the elevator up a few floors. It led to one of the portals that opened directly into a large indoor amphitheater. We were well above the amphitheater’s ground floor where fifty or so people were each receiving blessings from His Holiness after the Black Crown Ceremony. What I saw the instant we emerged from this portal into the amphitheater was not His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa but radiant and resplendent Avalokiteśvara. He was luminous white with many arms which were simultaneously blessing everyone. His hands were moving so rapidly bestowing potent and limitless blessings in so many different directions—this is quite challenging to describe. It was totally overwhelming and breathtaking to witness other-worldly compassionate activity taking place in this human realm. Avalokiteśvara’s transparent body was complete with crown, jewel ornaments, rainbow colored raiment, exactly as painted in countless thangkas. Then I blinked and saw His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa seated blessing people one-by-one. I don’t know what else to say, other than this knowingness that Avalokiteśvara thangkas are literally painted exactly as he appears in the Saṃbhogakāya. This experience resulted in a radically enhanced view of the sacredness and fathomless power of thangkas as well as increased devotion towards the Karmapa.

— from Radiant Compassion, The Life of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje Volume 2


If you’d like to share your memories or photos of His Holiness with us, please send them to: media@karmapacenter16.org.

As always, we offer our heartfelt thanks for your continued interest and support of KC16. May the Center be of great benefit to all beings!

23rd Story Update: A Lifetime of Beneficial Activity

It has been said that Karmapa Center 16 founding board member, Damayonti Sengupta, is a daughter of the Karma Kagyu lineage, of which the Gyalwang Karmapa has always been the spiritual leader. While our hearts are filled with loving grief due to Damayonti’s passing on January 26, at age 51, we remember with joy and gratitude the numerous beneficial activities of her lifetime, including locating and helping to secure the site of Karmapa Center 16 in Wadsworth, Illinois.

In 2014, in addition to her role as Manager of Nalanda West in Seattle, Damayonti took on the task of finding a suitable property near Zion, Illinois, where His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa attained parinirvana in 1981. 

It was the wish of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche to establish a center to commemorate his guru, 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. Through devotion to her guru, Dzogchen Ponlop, Damayonti set the wheels in motion to accomplish his wish, with guidance and direction from founding member and President Dilyak Drupon Rinpoche and founding member and Vice President Lama Phuntsok.

Dilyak Drupon Rinpoche (center), Damayonti Sengupta (left), and Tyler Dear (right) at Karmapa Center 16 Parinirvana Day Celebration in 2017.

Sophie Gordon, Karmapa Center 16 office supervisor, recalls watching Damayonti “navigate many obstacles with skill and grace. She embodied many of the excellent qualities to which bodhisattvas aspire, but in my experience, her equanimity was especially amazing! For me, she was equanimity in action fueled by unwavering devotion to her gurus, the lineage and all that the dharma has to offer. Her example was a vivid teaching. There are no words for how grateful I feel and how much I already miss her.”

Damayonti’s 49th day is March 15. If you would like to pray for Damayonti to support her journey through the bardo, it is suggested to first recite the Heart Sutra, followed by any type of nature-of-mind meditation practice, then finish by dedicating your practice to Damayonti and all sentient beings. 

If you would like to offer a gift in honor of Damayonti’s life and to help manifest her aspiration to complete the Stupa Project, you may do so by clicking on the button below.

22nd Story Update: A world of gentleness, kindness

Greetings dear friends of KC 16,

As we learned in the previous email, His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, taught extensively and intensively with physical gestures and by his mere presence. In the video below, Don Winchell describes how he also created the environment around him and the way it brought about unexpected transformations. 

A student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Winchell served on the support team for the 16th Karmapa’s 1976 visit to North America.

Don Winchell reflects on the environment around His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa.

Through this delightful example of the enlightened activity of His Holiness, may we all aspire to create a world of gentleness and kindness!

We have received wonderful responses to the stories we’ve posted, and some included a personal experience with the 16th Karmapa. If you’d like to share your memories or photos of His Holiness with us, please send them to: media@karmapacenter16.org.

As always, we offer our heartfelt thanks for your continued interest and support of KC16. May the Center be of great benefit to all beings.

Twenty-first Story Update: Wherever the flag is flown, the Dharma Will Flourish

Greetings dear friends of KC 16,

Many of us have seen the yellow and blue Dream Flag or Namchen Banner of the 16th Karmapa, but not many of us may know the story behind it. We had the good fortune to speak to the person who, at the request of His Holiness, sewed the original flag — Deborah Luscomb. 

Deborah is a longtime student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and a professional seamstress. At the request of her teacher, she oversaw the national textile production — from wall coverings, bedspreads and chair upholstery to banners, shrines and thrones — for the 16th Karmapa’s third visit to North America. The first special request from His Holiness of Deborah was to make a new brocade cover for the Black Crown hatbox. The second special request was to make the Dream Flag, which was raised on Midsummer’s Day 1980, at Marpa House in Boulder, CO. In this video, Deborah recalls what happened:

Several inches of snow whiten the grounds at the Karmapa Center 16, while in front of the main house the yellow and blue Dream Flag flies despite the weather, and dharma indeed does flourish. 

With best wishes for a peaceful and joyous 2021, we send you our heartfelt thanks for your continued interest and support of KC16.

Nineteenth Story Update: Parinirvana Day of the First Karmapa

Rinpoche and lamas performing extended practices in the KC16 Shrine Room.

On this auspicious day of the Parinirvana of Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193), the First Karmapa, KC16 Rinpoche and Lamas perform extended practices.

Historically, in Tibet, there were three “seats” of the Karmapas correlating with the sacred abodes of body, speech and mind of the Glorious Chakrasamvara. Kampo Nenang is the lower seat of “body”, Karma Gön is “middle seat” of speech and Tsurphu is the “upper seat” of the heart, or mind. Tsurphu became the main seat of all the Karmapas. Düsum Khyenpa attained Parinirvana at Tsurphu. We can see that the place of attainment of Parinirvana is important, and again remember what a special circumstance it is that His Holiness the 16th Karmapa attained Parinirvana in Zion, Illinois.  

Shrine for Düsum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa’s Parinirvana Day.

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.

Seventeenth Story Update: Celebrating HHK16’s Parinirvana Day!

KC16 celebrates the day His Holiness the 16th Karmapa attained Parinirvana according to the Western calendar. Therefore, November 5 is the day!

Each year a long guru yoga puja is conducted in alternating years of a composition by Chamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche and one by Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche. This year KC16 will be performing the guru yoga by Chamgon Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche.

Please join us in commemorating this auspicious day by dedicating your practice to His Holiness.

May all things be auspicious!  

Fifteenth Story Update: Tara and her connection to the Kagyu Lineage

White Tara by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. 

In a recent post, we learned that one of the main practices of the 16th Karmapa was Tara, but did you know that White Tara was His Holiness the 16th Karmapa’s’ yidam? We practice Tara for three main reasons: She is powerful, her blessings are fast, and she is immeasurably kind.

White Tara is practiced by all four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and is the main deity of other Buddhist practitioners and scholars, including the great master Atisha. She played an important role helping Buddhism flourish once again in Tibet, following some great obstacles, when Atisha was invited to Tibet to reestablish the teachings. Wondering whether he should go or not, Atisha supplicated the White Tara statue in Bodhgaya. She appeared to him in a pure vision and said his journey would be a complete success, that it would benefit many sentient beings, but it would lessen the years of his life. 

Due to his great bodhicitta, Atisha went ahead to Tibet and, as prophesied by Tara, accomplished the enormous task of revitalizing and reforming the teachings, and founding Kadampa Buddhism. With good reason, Tara has since been one of the four main yidams of the Kadampa lineage. 

Tara is also an important deity in the Kagyu lineage that began when Milarepa’s student Gampopa integrated the Mahamudra teachings of Milarepa with the Kadampa teachings of Atisha, including the practice of Tara. Green Tara symbolizes the fearless and compassionate energy of our mind’s true nature and the resolve to dispel suffering and fear, while White Tara is associated with longevity and healing practice. 

KC16 will join Nalandabodhi International for its fifth annual Tara Drupchen to be held online from September 24 to 27, 2020, offering prayers and smoke pujas in Tibetan. 

As a precursor to the Tara Drupchen, please enjoy this special audio file of Tara practice in Tibetan recorded in the shrine room at KC16:

We hope you will join us for the Drupchen! The event is free and everyone is welcome to participate by joining practices online, making prayer requests, aspirations, and offerings, and choosing to #gokind in thought, word, and deed. For information and registration please email: communications@nalandabodhi.org.