The 17th Karmapa's 1994 Journey to China

In September of 1994, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje received a formal invitation from the Chinese government at his main seat, Tsurphu Monastery in Central Tibet, to visit Beijing. It has been traditionally, throughout the centuries, that the Karmapas have made the journey at least once, to visit the leaders of China. The Second, Third and Fourth Karmapas served as the state tutors of the Yuan Dynasty, and the Fifth Karmapa received the title of (Dabao) Prince of Dharma, from Emperor Chenzu of the Ming Dynasty.

Loga, the mother of
H.H. the Karmapa
On September 18, 1994, His Holiness and entourage, including his parents, teachers, attendants and senior monks from Tsurphu Monastery, left on the first leg of their journey to visit Lhasa, where they stayed at the Tibet Guesthouse for one week. He visited, performed prayers and made offerings at the most sacred temples in Tibet, the Jokhang and the Potala Palace. He also visited the main Gelugpa monasteries in Lhasa: Drepung, Sera and Ganden Monasteries, where he made offerings to the Buddhas in the large assembly halls, of these vast temple complexes.  

He also visited the main temple of the Panchen Lama, Tashi Lunpo Monastery in Shigatze, where he offered (mangja) a tea ceremony which includes the offerings of tea, money and khatas to all the lamas and monks. The night before he and his party left for Beijing, a grand ceremony was held for him in Lhasa, attended by leaders of the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

His Holiness Karmapa and his party arrived in Beijing by air, on September 25, 1994. They were picked up and escorted by cars to the main government Guesthouse. He was soon met there by Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, an 80 year old Tibetan, who is the Vice-chairman of the CPPCC (Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) and the grandfather of the late Jamgon Khongtrul Rinpoche, the third. Mr. Luo Gang, the State Councilor and secretary-general gave that evening a banquet in His Holiness's honor.

The next day the president of the Chinese Buddhist Association, Zhao Puchu met with Karmapa in the Guangi Temple. The following day the CPPCC Chairman, Li Ruihan met him in Zhongnanhai, the Grand Palace and seat of the Chinese government. When Karmapa entered the meeting hall, Chairman Li rose to greet him, Karmapa offered a khata and expressed greetings, wishing him a long life. Chairman Li also presented Karmapa with a khata and said, "On behalf of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, I express my warm welcome to the 17th Living Buddha Karmapa and hope you will have a good time in Beijing and other parts of the country."

On the 30th of September, he went to pay homage to the Buddha's relics in a temple in the Western Hills outside Beijing, in the morning and attended a National Day reception party in the Great Hall of the People, in the evening.

October 1st marked the 45th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic and tens of thousands of people gathered at Beijing's Tiananmen Square to celebrate this occasion. With his younger brother, Tsewang Rinzin who is also a tulku, Karmapa went early in the morning to see the national flag raising ceremony at the Square. He attended the festivities throughout the day in the Summer Palace, frequently receiving state leaders and was deluged by reporters and cameramen.

That evening, Karmapa was very excited to see the elaborate fireworks display, "Flowers" in the sky. He rushed around, joining the crowd to watch this impressive event as fireworks flashed continuously throughout the dark skies. Even Umdze Tubten Zangpo, Karmapa's reading teacher, an older monk who has traveled extensively and was with him often, in his previous life, was impressed by the spectacular display, saying, "It's raining flowers, a good omen for prosperity".

President Jiang Jemin and other state leaders went over to meet the Karmapa. When Karmapa presented President Jiang with a khata, the president said to him in Tibetan, "Tashi Deleg" (Good luck and auspicious times). Then he added afterwards, "I hope you will study hard, so you can make a valuable contribution to the prosperity of Tibet, when you are grown up." His Holiness was happy to have had the opportunity to meet President Jiang and Chairman Li.

Manjushri representing the wisdom aspect
The next stop on the pilgrimage was a place sacred to Manjushri, (the divinity representing the wisdom aspect of the Buddha's mind) called Wutai Shan. The Five Sacred Mountains of Manjushri are where Manjushri is said to assist in the guidance of beings who have recently passed away. The third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje also gave teachings here. On October 3rd and 4th, Karmapa and his party visited nine Han Chinese and Tibetan temples and was warmly greeted and welcomed by the head Lama along with over a thousand monks and nuns.  

His Holiness and Umdze La climbed up the mountain to visit the cave sacred to Chenrezi (Avalokitesvara), where the sixth Dalai Lama was said to have done a meditation retreat. There is a spring inside the cave and it is believed to carry the spirit of this Dalai Lama. Karmapa sprinkled this sacred water on his head and also drank some.

The next stop on their itinerary was the coastal town of Tianjin. This was the first time Karmapa had seen the ocean! Here he was given the opportunity to take a ride on a ship around the seas off Tianjin. He had a great time, quite excited at all the sights he could see from the ocean, looking through the ship's telescope.

After returning from the port town, the party then flew from Beijing to Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province. They visited the 1,000-year-old Qixia Temple and the head abbot there presented Karmapa with a complete set of Chinese language version of the teachings composed of 7,241 volumes of the Buddha called the Tripitaka. They also visited an astronomy observatory in the mountains of Zijing Shan and the Nanjing Radio Factory in the city in the afternoon. Karmapa was very interested in all the latest technological developments and asked many questions about the things he saw and how they worked.

They then went by train from Nanjing to Suzhou, a city known for its beautifully designed house gardens. From Suzhou, they flew to Shanghai, where arrangements were made by the local government officials for him and his party to stay in the famous Shanghai Mansions. From his window in the guesthouse he had a clear view of the city's Huangpu River. He commented on the amazing bustle, so much traffic, and so many bright lights. He was taken to the "Pudong New Area" where there is a building boom. The vice-mayor, Zhao Qizhen briefed everyone on the massive urban construction, taking place throughout Shanghai. In the evening, the Shanghai Mayor, Huang Ju sponsored a large banquet in honor of Karmapa's visit.

So far, the schedule was so packed that no one in the party had had a moment free. So, a shopping trip was arranged to visit Shanghai's biggest department store. As others in the party shopped around, Karmapa went over to the toy department and was fascinated with the large variety of electronic toys. The manager presented him with a remote control toy truck that he played with as soon as he got back to the guesthouse.

 On October 13th, Karmapa and his party flew from Shanghai to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. This was to be the last leg of their journey. In Chengdu, Karmapa visited the city's zoo and he showed great interest in all the small animals. On Oct. 15th they went to the sacred mountain of O'mei Shan. He and his party climbed to the summit in a steady drizzle. As soon as His Holiness reached the peak, the sun emerged from behind the clouds flooding the mountain's top with a beautiful golden light. On the morning of Oct. 17th they flew from Chengdu back to Lhasa to return home to Tsurphu Monastery.


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