Setting the Stage for Guru Rinpoche

Tsechu Day 2
January 8, 2014

After the Konchok Chidu empowerment on January 5, over the loud speaker came the names of participants in the Tsechu. Traditionally, all the names are read, beginning with the Gyalwang Karmapa, his heart sons, other tulkus or reincarnate lamas, the khenpos, and so forth, but this year more than four thousand monks and nuns have come and there's not enough time. In the shrine hall, each category of the sangha has its own place, beginning with the forty tulkus and rinpoches who sit on the stage in rows near the thrones of Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche.

Generally, monasteries are divided between monks who focus on performing the ritual ceremonies and those who focus on studying the great philosophical treatises. This division is reflected in the seating for the rest of the monks. At the head of the main aisle on the right is the Dorje Loppön, who is in charge of the shrine and the practice, and next to him are seven chant masters. The row of monks on the other side is led by the head khenpo from the Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies in Rumtek.  Filling the rest of the seats on either side of the central aisle are forty monks playing drums of soft green that stand on long brown handles as the row of rhythmic circles punctuate the space between the thangkas above and the low platform where the monks sit. The chanting is slow and spacious with time to reflect on the meaning; the music also moves at a stately pace, sometimes slowing down into pauses of silence. Everywhere in the shrine hall, one's eyes meet a pleasing feast of color and shape, all perfectly proportioned to the vast space and the burgundy sea of monks and nuns.

The key element of the shrine preparation was added on January 8th, the second day of the practice. In the early morning, participants arrived to find the Karmapa's carved wood chair with its curving back covered in white silk, sitting in the middle of the stage, lined up directly below the image of Guru Rinpoche and between the thrones of Jamgön Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche. This was rather puzzling because if the Karmapa were coming to the practice, he would have been sitting on a throne. Why, then, was the chair there?

The riddle was soon, and surprisingly, solved. As the previous morning, the Karmapa came into the shrine hall with his usual long stride. Today, he first stopped at the tent for the television crew before he walked along a path between the long rows of maroon cushions. All of the paths had been precisely calculated the night before by a crew with tape measures. During the time that the Karmapa was moving in the shrine hall, a larger than life-size statue of Guru Rinpoche was carried onstage and placed on the white chair with a table and offerings set in front of him. The statue is perfectly sized to look like a magnificent Guru Rinpoche presiding over the practice. His face expresses an alert awareness and a slight smile. He wears a brocade cloak and the lotus hat whose peacock feathers seem to have just descended from above. At this time, the monks and nuns are chanting the extensive praises to the kayas, (bodies or dimensions), of Guru Rinpoche and his eight manifestations, which begin:

Hung Hri. The lama's dharmakaya is unfabricated, free of mental constructs.
The lama, Lord of Dharma, is the sambhogakaya of great bliss.

2014.1.8 Setting the Stage for Guru Rinpoche 蓮師初十修法


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