The Karmapa Meets the Villagers of Lagenfeld
June 1, 2014, Kamalashila Institute, Lagenfeld, Germany
Kamalashila Institute came to Lagenfeld in 1999 when it purchased the monastery of the White Fathers, a Christian order of monks whose mission in Africa was to train their followers in various crafts. Their building had been empty for many years, and the village was concerned to have the right people purchase it. So before approving the sale to Kamalashila, the village council sent members to the Institute’s previous location to speak with its neighbors, who gave favorable feedback, and so the sale went through.
Kamalashila opened with a grand ceremony, presided over by Thrangu Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche, and many lamas; it was made festive by the performance of the Twenty-One Tara Dances and the rich pageantry of the Tibetan Buddhist rituals. On this day, the doors were opened wide to the villagers, who were all invited to come, and this inaugurated a positive relationship with the village that continues to this day.
The citizens of Langenfeld are Rhinelanders, known for their tolerance and sense of humor. After the Second World War, the men worked as bricklayers and plasterers, rebuilding the cities of Cologne and Bonn, so their mentality is not limited to a small village, but more open and broad. Yet they also have a close sense of community that comes from proximity and their shared Catholic faith.
The Lagenfelders feel that the Buddhists are enriching their village. They have a concern that it might decay, that their children could move away, and leave the parents living alone or the houses empty. People feel that Kamalashila keeps the village alive. One said, “Before we had white-robed monks walking through our streets. Now we have red-robed ones. This makes us happy.” The Catholics of the village enjoy their religious festivals, and from among all the Christian faiths, the Catholic sense of ceremony is perhaps closest to the Tibetan world, making it all the more familiar. There is even one person with a home in Lagenfeld who attended the Black Crown Ceremony from the 16th Karmapa in 1977.
The villagers appreciate the Buddhists’ dedication to practice and that when people come to seminars at Kamalashila, they get up at 5am. The members of Kamalashila have also reached out to the church members. The President of Kamalashila, Horst Rauprich, for years has invited the whole village to a festive gathering after carnival, an important church holiday in Germany. He gives a talk about the Karmapa, thus preparing the villagers for his visit, so they all know the name of the Karmapa. One local person said, “It’s like the Pope coming to our little village.”
In celebration of the Karmapa’s visit, Lagenfeld’s streets were lined decorated with its traditional flags, and the Tibetan flag flew at the village hall. The people were delighted that when the Karmapa arrived, he stepped out of his car and walked up the sloping street from the church to Kamalashila. One villager noted, “We haven’t had this kind of festivity for a long time.” Later the Karmapa retraced his steps to visit the church and spend some time there.
When asked about the relationship of the village and Kamalashila, the mayor Herr Schomeisch echoed the positive sentiments that reigned in the village: “After the monastery was bought by Kamalashila, all the people of Lagenfeld said that nothing better could have happened with the old monastery than the arrival of the Buddhists. We are all terribly proud and happy to have a Buddhist institute and teachers here in Lagenfeld. There’s a great harmony between us in the village, the Institute, the teachers, and the visitors.”
On this Sunday afternoon of June 1, rows of white chairs were set out on the grass flecked with tiny yellow and white flowers, stretching out in front of the stupa, its long streams of bright colored flags floating in the breeze. This was the day that the people of Lagenfeld were especially invited to meet the Karmapa. Hundreds came from little children to the village elders. After a warm greeting by Horst, mayor Schomeisch gave an elegant and moving welcome to the Karmapa. “We in Lagenfeld are very proud that this is first place you visited in Europe. That so many people from the village have come here to see and listen to you is a sign of their deep respect for you and your tradition. For the last fifteen years, we have made many warm and friendly connections with the Institute. You will always be a most welcome guest here in Lagenfeld.” The mayor then presented to the Karmapa the flag and coat of arms of the village.
The Karmapa then responded with a warm “welcome to all the kind neighbors of Kamalashila. This is my first trip to Europe and it began with Germany because it is my main seat here. I am very happy to be received with so much joy, and I would like to thank you for this.” The Karmapa then spoke of the plight of the Tibetans who lost their country in the 1950s. There were 100,000 people who had to seek refuge in other countries, and at that time, Germany was very generous in helping the Tibetans.
The Karmapa also spoke of his own story, mentioning that the role of Tibetan lamas is not just to promote the Buddhist teachings, but also to take on social responsibility and seek to benefit the society as a whole. To carry such a charge is not easy. In his case, for example, he had to leave his homeland, his family, and his monastery, which was very painful for him. “I don’t know if I’ll ever have a chance to return.”
Now that he is twenty-nine, the Karmapa said that he would like to extend his wish to help others beyond India to include the whole world and all traditions, so that he can contribute to everyone’s welfare. He felt very encouraged by his visit to Germany, even before landing when he was flying over the country and seeing how green and well-tended the land was, so he knew that people cared about the environment. While in Germany, he has had many wonderful experiences, including the especially heartfelt reception here in the village. The Karmapa made the aspiration, “I hope that everyone can work together to create a harmonious and peaceful world.”
He added that he was especially happy such a wonderful stupa had been built. He saw this as an auspicious sign of the excellent connection with the people of this country and made the wish that it continue for generation after generation, bringing many benefits and blessings. He closed by expressing his deepest appreciation and thanks.
Afterward, dressed in their Sunday best, children from the village brought up trays with stacks of flags, covered in designs and quotes expressing the Dharma and all kinds of good wishes. The children strung the flags around the perimeter of the stupa, adding another layer of color and joyfulness. After their work was done, all the children posed for a photograph with the Karmapa, who looked especially happy.
Sunday evening, Kamalashila hosted a reception for important people from the village so that they could be with the Karmapa in a more informal atmosphere. Tall tables with navy cloths around which people congregated and harp music in the background gave an elegant tone to the evening as did the nouvelle cuisine style of the Tibetan food that was served by young Tibetans who have a restaurant in Bonn. The Karmapa spoke of his feeling a close connection to the town, of his desire to protect the environment in Tibet and the Himalayan region, and to promote the education of monks and nuns so that they could become leaders in their communities. The Karmapa also recalled a recent visit to the Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach in nearby Eifel. He participated in the hour of prayers with the monks and felt especially at home as the monastery was founded in the same century as the lifetime of the first Karmapa who lived 900 years ago. He also must have felt in familiar territory because the monks practice meditation and are artists, as well creating beautiful metal work and famous bells.
When the party drew to a close, the guests moved to the lawn outside the dining room where a local band and an a capella men’s choir performed. With a population of around 600, Langenfeld has over twenty musical groups. The Karmapa, who has composed many songs himself, swayed gently to the music and seemed to really enjoy himself. Couples danced on the terrace to the band’s captivating music. The evening was a fitting end to a special and wonderful visit —festive, elegant, and warm with friendship.