KARMA PAKSHI AND A JATAKA TALE : A PLAY WITH DANCE AND A TIBETAN OPERA
3 March, 2012
On the evening of March third, the Monlam stage with its huge altar was transformed by the presence of four tall pillars arrayed across the front of the stage. In deep brown decorated in gold filigree, topped by lotus flowers, they supported the four animals—a tiger, garuda, vulture, and snow lion—that appeared to Milarepa in his famous dream. The four represent the main disciples of Marpa the Translator, through whom the Kamtshang lineage flows. In front of the stage, the rows of seats in the Pavilion are filled right up to the back while three screens on either side bring into the evening darkness the radiant and warm colors of the stage.
This is the setting for tonight’s play based on the life of the Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1206-1283). Written by the Gyalwang Karmapa in a contemporary idiom, the drama focuses on three events: the arrival of Orgyenpa (1230-1312), who would hold the Karma Pakshi’s lineage; the meeting of these two great lamas; and finally, Orgyenpa’s meeting and recognizing the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339). During the time of the Seventh Karmapa, such dramas, based on the lives of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other realized beings, were performed during the first fifteen days of the New Year, commemorating the time when the Buddha performed his great miracles. At Tsurphu, (the Karmapa’s main seat in Tibet), the custom was to practice the Twenty-Branch Monlam in the morning and present these dramas in the afternoon.
This year, with his usual hands on approach, the Karmapa has been involved in the rehearsals as well as the stage setting. This evening he can be found in the vast storage room just behind the stage where the performers are busy getting ready. His presence and interest in all that is happening bring a liveliness to the space. A Khampa weaves a red ribbon into his long braid and wraps it around his head. Orgyenpa is having his hair grayed with a white liquid. A member of the Karmapa’s administration is helping an actor, who will play an attendant of Karma Pakshi, fold the right pleats into his robes. The head of the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts (TIPA) will play Karma Pakshi, and his young son, who is missing two weeks of school for this special opportunity, will play the Third Karmapa as a child. With the gentlest of smiles and a touch of delight, His Holiness stands in front of the young performer who is in monks’ robes and wears the Karmapa’s activity hat. He lifts off the hat and places his hand on the boy’s head. Perhaps the Karmapa is recalling the time when he was a similar height and age, wearing the activity hat for the first time at Tsurphu.
In another corner of the hall, the performers from TCV Suja School are rehearsing their steps, the bells on their feet jangling. The Karmapa has a special connection with TCV Suja as the students are all refugees. During the first year he could travel, he went to the school and the students performed for him then as well. This evening, two boys, who came from Tibet ten years ago, sit next to their stringed instruments: a mandolin from Amdo, the dranyen, sometimes called a Tibetan guitar, from Central Tibet, and the piwang, a single stringed instrument from Eastern Tibet, the hardest to play, they say. The boys only learned about these instruments when they came to India, which underlines the importance of the Karmapa’s efforts to preserve Tibetan culture and encourage these performances.
Before the play begins, Sherab Tharchin comes on stage to give background information. He says that the Seventh Karmapa was quite difficult to meet. One had to wait days to see him, and an interview was brief. He was very skillful, however, and created the Prayer Festival of the Great Encampment. It took place in a tent with one hundred pillars, golden spires, and myriad decorations of brilliant colors and precious materials such as pearls and crystals. It was so magnificent that great masters said they could not tell if it was a dream or not. In the tent, mornings were devoted to prayer, and afternoons saw the performance of these dramas, which gave both entertainment and education. It is this tradition that the Seventeenth Karmapa is reviving.
Sherab Tharchin then gave a brief introduction to Karma Pakshi. Before the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, passed away, he said that someone would be born to carry out his wishes. Karma Pakshi was then born into the family of descendants of the Dharma king Trisong Deutsen. This Karmapa was famous for the miracles he displayed at the court of Kublai Khan and for creating the famous statue of the Buddha at Tsurphu. It is also said that he received teachings directly from Vajra Varahi. The accomplished master, Orgyenpa, was very famous but Karma Pakshi humbled him, so that he lost his pride,becoming Karma Pakshi’s student and a key figure in the Kamtshang lineage.
The first scene of the play takes place in the Karmapa’s quarters at Tsurphu. The sleeping monks provide comic relief as they try to wake each other up and pull themselves together. Echoed by a chorus, Karma Pakshi sings in a piercing voice about Orgyenpa coming from Latö: “He’s like the sky that covers the earth.” The next vignette is of Orgyenpa and his attendants on the road to Tsurphu where they are met by Karma Pakshi’s monks. In the following scene, Orgyenpa is formally escorted to the monastery, and the initially well-behaved crowd that has gathered to greet him turns into fractious chaos as they push and shove to get close to the lama for his blessing. It takes five strong Khampas with their staves to bring them under control. Recognizing this very familiar scene, the audience laughs and applauds.
When he meets the Karmapa, Orgyen still carries himself with a certain hauteur, but Karma Pakshi subdues him in a perfect recounting of what Orgyenpa had been thinking. The Karmapa then gives him the Gyalwa Gyamtso empowerment and offers him the activity hat and a text. Karma Pakshi also gives Orgyenpa a pointing out instruction:
Now, recognize that empty appearances are the dharmakaya, unimpeded energy is the sambhogakaya, and diverse appearances are the nirmanakaya. Therefore, all that could possibly appear is of one taste with the three kayas.
Sherab Tharchin then reappears to continue his narration. Karma Pakshi had said that when all the activities of this life were finished, he would come back to Latö and he asked Orgyenpa to recognize his reincarnation. Karma Pakshi was the first tulku, but this recognition of the Third Karmapa would become the first time a great master had recognized another tulku of a great master. In the final scene, Orgyenpa hears about a boy who says he is the Karmapa, so he sets up a high throne, figuring that only the Karmapa would dare to sit on it. The young boy appears and naturally climbs the stairs to sit on the throne. From his previous life, the reincarnation remembers conversations with Orgyenpa and what he had given the older master—the activity hat and a text. So Orgyenpa calls for the activity hat and places it on the boy’s head, first rather lopsidedly, which draws a laugh from the audience. As the finale, the Suja school dancers come on stage, their long red and white sleeves rhythmically waving to the pulsing drums.
Finally, our narrator explains that the next performance of Tibetan opera is based on a Jataka tale, recounting a previous life of the Buddha as the king Lodro Zangpo. The actors and actresses come from the Rumtek Opera Society, formed in 1961 during the time of the Sixteenth Karmapa, who was very fond of Tibetan opera. Sometimes, the group would perform for seven days in a row. Among the actors tonight are original members of the society, who have trained the new generation, helping to preserve this tradition started in Tibet by Thangtong Gyalpo (1385-1464). The opera ends with all the actors on stage and a lively Ki ki so so lha gyalo! All victory to the divine!
At the end, His Holiness is invited on stage where he gives long white scarves of thanks to the director of TIPA, the principal of the Suja School, and the head of the Rumtek Opera Society. The Karmapa speaks of his hope to revive the traditions of the Seventh Karmapa, noting that the teachings of the buddhas and bodhisattvas come in many forms, not just Dharma talks. The aspirations and prayers of the Twenty-Branch Monlam help countless living beings and seeing these lives of great beings can leave a strong impression on our minds, turning them more deeply to the Dharma. His Holiness then thanks all the performers and dedicates the merit of the evening toward sewing the seed of positive karma in all of us and toward the long life and freedom from obstacles of the great teachers amongst us, beginning with his Holiness the Dalai Lama. May peace and compassion pervade the world.
Aldershot, Hampshire, England – Morning, May 27, 2017
Early on this day of the Karmapa’s visit to the Nepali community in Aldershot, the double arch of a luminous rainbow filled the sky. It recalled his first visit to the US when rainbows followed him everywhere on the East Coast. The Karmapa was invited by the Buddhist Community Centre UK to this beautiful area of England, famous for its military garrisons and home to a sizeable population of Gurkha soldiers who have served in the British army. In 2006 they were allowed to live in England and in 2007, the Buddhist Community Centre UK was founded by Mr. Kaji Sherpa. He had the vision of establishing a Buddhist monastery to serve the growing Buddhist Community in this southeast region of the UK.
His daughter explained that about half of the Gurkha population in Nepal is Buddhist, and that her father felt a need for Buddhist guidance in this community, so a committee of Nepalis purchased a social club and completely transformed it into a …
Government agencies had for long suspected that the Karmapa was a “Chinese spy”, but a decision was recently taken to review the restrictions on his travel in an attempt to “engage” him.
Written by Rahul Tripathi | New Delhi | Published:May 24, 2017 2:26 am
The government is set to lift the travel restrictions imposed on Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa. The Home Ministry has proposed to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) that the Karmapa be allowed to travel to any part of the country, except Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, without seeking prior permission from New Delhi.
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, head of the Karma Kagyu (Black Hat) tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, was born in Tibet and escaped to India through Nepal at the age of 14. He reached McLeod Ganj, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile, in 2000. He lives in Dharamshala and is recognised by the Dalai Lama.
Government agencies had for long suspected that the Karmapa was a “Chinese spy”, but a decision was re…
May 24, 2017 – St Catharine’s and King’s College, Cambridge, England
Today His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa left London and travelled north to Cambridge, a city whose name has become almost synonymous with its world-famous university. The Karmapa’s visit to Cambridge was hosted by the International Buddhist Confederation’s Secretary for Environment and Conservation, Dr Barbara Maas.
His Holiness’s day in Cambridge began with an academic seminar on animal sentience and animal welfare science, and their significance for our relationship with and treatment of animals. Veterinarians turned animal welfare scientists, Dr Murray Corke and Peter Fordyce from the University’s Department of Veterinary Medicine, provided His Holiness with background about the complexities of assessing the wellbeing of animals and introduced him to some of the latest research developments that have transformed our understanding of animal awareness and suffering. These include a wide range of behavioural and physio…
During his first visit to the UK from May 17 to 28, 2017, the Karmapa, a prominent Tibetan Buddhist leader, joined former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams together with scientists, scholars and cultural figures for a dialogue on the environment hosted by the International Campaign for Tibet and Inspire Dialogue Foundation.
The round table discussion, held on May 24, 2017, was intended to bring together perspectives “between disciplines and generations” as the beginning of an ongoing exchange, according to Lord Williams, Master of Magdalen College and a noted poet and theologian. It involved figures from the arts and sciences, including Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre in London; James Thornton, the founding CEO of ClientEarth; Dame Fiona Reynolds, former Director-General of the National Trust; Dr Bhaskar Vira, Director, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute; Tracey Seaward, film producer …
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, made his first visit to the United Kingdom this month.
At 31 years old, Ogyen Trinley Dorje is head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, a reincarnation lineage that dates back more than 900 years. His Holiness was born in eastern Tibet but fled to India in 2000, where he now resides at the Gyuto Monastery near Dharamshala. He is the only reincarnate Lama to have been recognised by both His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese communist government.
The Karmapa’s 11-day visit began on May 17 and the first public event was held on May 20 in London’s Battersea Park.
“I would like to express my great delight at this opportunity that has come to pass for me to visit London, the capital of the United Kingdom, for the first time. Especially, I would like to extend my warmest greetings to all you friends who are gathered here. I have been waiting for a long time to visit the United King…
DHARAMSHALA, MAY 24: In a positive development for the Tibetan religious figure 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorjee, the Indian government is reportedly set to lift the travel restrictions currently in place.
The Home Ministry has proposed to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) that the Karmapa be allowed to travel to any part of the country, except Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, without seeking prior permission from New Delhi. The CCS chaired by PM Modi is a core committee on National Security with the MoD and the MEA among other significant panels, which offer directives on the Karmapa’s security and movement among other things.
The move in question has received a shot in the arm earlier this week when a delegation of monks from various monasteries in Sikkim met with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh urging permission for the Seventeenth Karmapa to visit Sikkim.
The delegation led by the Sangha MLA Sonam Kelyon Lama, who is the elected poli…
May 29, 2017 - The 17th Karmapa, one of Tibet’s leading Buddhist figures arrived in Toronto yesterday on his first visit to Canada. Known for his concerns about current global issues as well as for his spiritual leadership, the 31-year-old Karmapa will engage in a wide range of religious activities and will speak on environmental and social responsibility at various universities.
During his month long trip to Canada, the Karmapa will travel to Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. In doing so, he is following in the footsteps of his predecessor the 16th Karmapa, who travelled extensively throughout the country and was instrumental in introducing Canadians to Buddhism in the 1970s.
Head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is the 17th holder of a 900-year old lineage. Born in a nomadic family in eastern Tibet, he made headline news in 2000 with his dramatic escape to India, where he now lives near the Dalai Lama. The 17th …
Karma Kagyu Association of Canada (KKAC) May 25, 2017 11:25 ET
TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 25, 2017) - The Karma Kagyu Association of Canada (KKAC) is privileged to officially host the first Canadian tour of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje. The month long visit will begin with a large welcoming group upon his arrival at Toronto's, Pearson International Airport on May 29, http://www.karmapacanada.org. His Holiness's visit will proceed to Calgary and end in Vancouver while experiencing many of Canada's natural beauties in his travels across the country.
Born in June 1985, Karmapa was born into a nomad family in Lhatok, in the remote highlands of the region of Eastern Tibet. He was given the name, Apo Gaga, meaning "Happy Brother". In the months prior to his birth, his mother had wonderful, spiritual dreams. On the day of his birth, a cuckoo landed on the tent in which he was born, and many people in the area heard a mysterious trum…
This morning the Karmapa traveled to a northwest suburb of London to visit the impressive BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir, the largest Hindu temple in Europe. Marble and limestone have been brought alive by Indian artists, who carved every inch with intricate design. The founder of this Hindu bhakti tradition was guru Swaminarayan (1781-1830), famous for his support of the poor and encouraging women’s education. He was also known for his vegetarianism and opposition to animal sacrifice, positions that the Karmapa also supports.
At the temple, the Karmapa was met by Pujya Yogvivekdas Swami and offered the traditional greeting of a garland of flowers, a tika (the red mark of blessing) and a blessed cord. The Karmapa was then guided through the temple to see an exhibition on understanding Hinduism. Always curious, he asked many question of the guide. He then participated in prayers with the swami and other priests in two of the shrine rooms, both of white m…