Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In the Splendid Dharma Tent: His Holiness Karmapa’s Second Visit to KTD (Part 1)

Orgyen Trinley Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, visited America for only the second time this month. While those of us who had heard rumors that he might be coming waited eagerly for news, the staff at Karmapa’s North American seat—Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) in Woodstock, New York—were faced with the challenge of preparing for the visit on terrifically short notice and without officially being able to tell people that Karmapa was coming, given that India (where His Holiness is living now after having escaped from Tibet over New Year’s 1999-2000) issued his visa at the very last minute.

Karmapa’s first stop was Washington, D.C., where His Holiness the Dalai Lama was giving teachings and the Kalachakra empowerment. There were a lot of Tibetan Buddhist dignitaries on hand for that event, but Karmapa’s arrival caused something of a stir—“collective gasps” was one description that I read—when he walked on stage for his first day at the teachings. Word had not yet spread widely that he was even in the United States.

Karmapa’s second stop was at KTD and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. I’ve always heard that when one plans to attend a major teaching or empowerment, any obstacles that arise beforehand are the result of previous bad karma that is somehow being cleared; if this is true (and I have no reason to doubt it), I cleared some serious karma through a series of miscommunications about registration for the event that cropped up just before I left home and continued through the first morning of the event itself.

Was my payment due before the event or at the event? If before, was there a deadline I had to meet for payment and could I meet it on very short notice? Who at KTD had the authority to give me the correct answer to my questions? (Many thanks to Lama Kathy Wesley for routing my frequent pesky questions to the right people.) Would my luggage and I make it onto our scheduled plane at the very busy, crowded Orlando airport? Would I have to arrange for a taxi up to KTD, or would there be shuttle buses? Could I make it through Security and over to the registration tent at the KTD gate without having the requisite badge? With a long history of motion sickness when I’m not driving, would I throw up on the bus ride along the twisting road up and down the hill to KTD? (The answer to this last question was “Almost.”)

Throughout all of these obstacles, the mantra “practice patience” kept repeating in my thoughts—a vivid reminder that the Buddhist teachings on the Six Perfections are real challenges to old, ingrained mental habits. So easy to get petulant; so hard to be patient!

But with obstacles finally overcome and patience thankfully preserved, I found myself once again entering the Gate of Dharma.

There have been many changes at KTD since the last time I was there. The new building is complete, and occupied. The old Meads Mountain House, the stagecoach inn that has housed KTD’s offices and staff for several decades, is deserted and barricaded, slated to be demolished later this summer. (Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche presided over a closing ceremony for the house just recently.) The funky old bookstore space with its nooks and crannies and unexpected traffic patterns…my favorite patio table where I admired the surrounding mountains and enjoyed many meals outside…the steep stairs with the narrow steps…the slanting bathroom floors…the cracked walls…the cramped showers…the ancient windows and rickety furniture…never again will KTD’s guests have the opportunity to experience these things!

The new bookstore spaces—with books and gifts on one floor and statues and thangkas on another—are a vast improvement and a great delight; Namse Bangdzo may well be the best Buddhist bookstore in North America.

Since I’m not staying at KTD this trip, I’ll have to wait to report on what it’s like to spend time in the new building—though I did have a chance to eat in the new dining hall on one of my last trips, and it is a big, beautiful space with spectacular views of the surrounding trees—a place worthy of Karmapa.

And so I journeyed up the hill past “Welcome Home” banners and prayer flags, through the Dharma Gate to the registration tent, past a long row of purple porta-potties, around the shell of Meads Mountain House, and through the bright new Gampopa Gateway—now dedicated to my refuge lama, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche—and into the splendid dharma tent, erected over the central courtyard of the monastery to protect the hundreds of us in attendance from rain and sun.

And once again, I was reminded of the great gatherings that assembled around notable teachers in old Tibet, where people traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles to hear the dharma from masters in an unbroken lineage and to receive heart-to-heart blessings that are, so often, life changing.

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