Yesterday, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa "returned" to his North American seat, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, the beautiful monastery near Woodstock, New York, marking the first visit of the Gyalwang Karmapa here since the site was graced by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje.
Before arriving to ascend the grand throne at KTD, His Holiness made a brief stop at Kagyu Thubten Choling, a Buddhist retreat center guided by Lama Norlha, a master in the lineage of the venerable Kalu Rinpoche. Of the many sparkling qualities of His Holiness that have charmed his audiences, one that seems to be taking on a special brilliance is his delightful and spontaneous sense of humor. At Kagyu Thubten Choling, after a lengthy ritual reception, His Holiness gave a brief welcome address under a tent outside the main retreat center building. To the surprise of many under-dressed devotees, the upstate New York air was a frigid forty degrees Fahrenheit, with a whipping wind that seemed to at times threaten to blow the tent down.
In the midst of expressing his delight to be present with the devoted students gathered there, His Holiness quipped, "And, given the weather today, I can also say to you, 'Welcome to Tibet!'" As the wind continued to have its way with the tent's canvass, on which were mounted banners containing photos of the Buddha Shakyamuni, His Holiness, without missing a beat, remarked, "I think the buddhas and bodhisattvas are as happy as we are on this special day; so much so that they are not content to stay posted to the wall--it seems they would like to come down and join us!"
The reception offered to His Holiness at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra was breathtaking. The sharp yellows and reds of dharma robes and ceremonial hats filled the visual landscape like spring flowers. The members of this community have been waiting, and longing, since 1981 (the year of the Sixteenth Karmapa's passing in Zion, Illinois) for the Karmapa to once again take his seat here. A palpable joy filled the air that this return had finally come to pass.
Yet the Karmapa enlightened the hundreds gathered here, inside the monastery's main shrine hall and outside in a large tent with closed circuit television screens, with a different perspective of his absence from these grounds over the past quarter-century. "In reality," he said, "the Gyalwang Karmapa has never been separate from you." His Holiness pointed out that the community at KTD, through the efforts of Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, President Tenzin Chonyi, and many others, had, over the years, persevered diligently to ensure the continuity of a mandala of the Karmapa's activity. Within this mandala, the Karmapa said, there vividly lives the heart of the Karmapa--a heart that thrives within the minds of all his devoted students.
Even still, the masters and students at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra are, undoubtedly, overjoyed with the good fortune of having the radiant, face-to-face presence of the Karmapa before their eyes once more.