Losar Long Life Ceremony for His Holiness the 17th Karmapa
Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
9 February, 2016
For one week over 100 lamas were keeping an intensive retreat on the special Karma Kamtsang practice of Amitayus: The Three Roots Combined. The retreat was held in the meeting room of the Monlam Pavilion, in the symbolic presence of a life-like image of the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa. So advanced was the practice of the Three Roots Combined, that only lamas who had completed their three year retreat could meditate on it; a core of practitioners who had accomplished a 7 day retreat on the deity was a pre-requisite for making the long life offering. However, in order to enable everyone to partake in the ceremony, the Karmapa bestowed a public empowerment of Amitayus on the last day of the year.
At dawn on the first day of Losar the Lamas' retreat culminated in a special Losar long-life offering to the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa. The image of Dusum Khyenpa was moved from the retreat room to the main stage of the pavilion, as the 17th Karmapa supervised the stage set for the New Year..
At 4:30 am the retreat lamas took their place onstage in order to complete the preliminary rituals. wearing yellow chogu robes, and started with the barche lamsel chant to Guru Rinpoche to clear obstacles.
Dusum Khyenpa was now centre-stage, enthroned directly in front of the enormous gold robed Buddha, whose third eye was beaming light from a replica Kohinoor diamond. Soft gold clouds complemented the rays of light from his body on the painted background. Eight shalse tormas rose up beneath the Buddha and under them were two more tiers of offerings. The delicately carved golden Japanese pagoda shrine, with its softly moving wind chimes, was adorned with massive offering bowls holding the eight ordinary offerings.
There was also a Losar shrine with the particular offerings associated with the Tibetan New Year. A container of barley grains was holding a septra, a butter torma mounted on wood, showing one of the auspicious symbols, the 8-spoked dharma wheels, and a white multi-petalled lotus beneath it. Next to it was the auspicious chemar (barley flour mixed with sugar and butter) with a septra of the 4 harmonious friends - monkey, elephant, hare and bird. Beneath them stood a container of green winter wheat shoots and a life-like sheep's head, grinning happily with a corn cob between its teeth— symbols of the hope for natural abundance in the year to come: bountiful harvests and fertile livestock. A small mountain of kapsey (fried Tibetan biscuits), brick tea and bowls of fruit and nuts completed the offerings. A scroll painting of the three headed Amitayus, visualised in the long life practice, remained onstage after the public empowerment of the previous day. Gyaltsap Rinpoche and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche were seated on thrones to the left and right respectively of HH Karmapa's throne.
The Karmapa made a grand entrance to the sound of gyalings, sweeping through an aisle in the audience before taking his seat and donning the black Activity Crown. The Karmapa embodies the three roots: he is guru, yidam and protector in one. In an instant we were in the presence of spiritual royalty, the 17th in the lineage of Dharma Kings.
The long life offering ceremony could now commence. The great assembly included the eminent Rinpoches of the lineage: Jamgon Kongtrul, Goshir Gyaltsap, Yongey Mingyur, and the young Bokar Yangsi Rinpoche. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche were the main sponsors while Gyaltsap Rinpoche also officiated as the Vajracharya or Vajra Master.
The prayers that began the Long Life ceremony vibrated in a minor key so deep they could reach the depths of the stoniest heart to inspire devotion. In this grand ceremony, as ritualised as that of any ancient royal lineage, the recipient of the offerings was first visualised as the deity. As the chanting continued, Gyaltsap Rinpoche circled a long-life arrow with 5 coloured pendants through the air, gathering the 5 elements that support and balance the life-force. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche offered the traditional long life substances (white mustard seeds, durva grass, red sindhura, the supreme medicine, yoghurt, a mirror, bilva fruit, and a right swirling white conch); as well as the 8 auspicious symbols seen so often on Tibetan banners and in temples, and the seven articles of royalty: the dharma wheel, the precious minister, queen, jewel, elephant, steed, and general. While the chanting continued, monks served tea and sweet rice in palm leaf cups to the assembly.
The Karmapa tossed chemar into the air to conclude the ceremony. In the final mandala offering,Gyatsap Rinpoche held the mandala plate while Jamgon Rinpoche stood beside him holding another plate with tormas to symbolize the mandala offering. Each of the Labrangs offered one of the 5 aspects of the Buddha: Tsurphu Labrang offered the body representation, Palpung, (represented by Tsewang Drakpa), made the offering of speech, Lava, the offering of mind, Ralang, the offering of quality and the CEO of the Monlam, Lama Chodrak, the offering of activity.
Ceremonial music signalled the completion of the ritual. With Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche acting as incense bearers, the procession moved with slow dignified steps to escort the Karmapa, as the deity, back to his 'palace'.