Memories, Dreams and Reflections of the 16th Karmapa: A Death “To Die For”


by Ken Holmes

England, late 1977

I think we were in Birmingham at the time … but not sure. It was towards the end of the six-month trip around Europe, during which Katia and I served the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa as multi-tasking aides: getting visas, cooking, fixing, promoting… Throughout the journey, His Holiness had been buying birds and I sometimes accompanied him on bird-seeking excursions. Jamgon Rinpoche explained to us that this was not just a hobby of His Holiness but that the birds were his former disciples, now blessed to be born close to him. I have particularly fond memories of evening returns from long avian sorties, with His Holiness next to me and Jamgon Rinpoche behind, fulfilling their daily commitment to Mahakala practice, reciting it by heart, making mudras and occasionally clapping theirs hands as I drove them through the dark.

One evening, Tsultim Namgyal, His Holiness’ personal attendant at the time, sought us out to usher us into a dimly-lit room in the house lodging the party. He made a gesture to keep quiet. There was a bird cage on the far side, with two good sized birds on a perch, next to each other, physically dead but mentally in deep samadhi. The feeling around them and all over the room was one of immense stillness and the sense of a profound centre that cuts through everything and carries you into somewhere timeless.

When birds die in normal circumstances, they keel over and you find them dead – stiff on the cage floor. The fact that these two died together and standing so perfectly in samadhi was a living proof of His Holiness’ power of “liberation through contact” and of his ability to draw beings into his inconceivable blessing. The birds stayed in samadhi for a couple of days. Then, their minds liberated, their bodies eventually fell down.

Ken Holmes
Director of Studies
Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery

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