K a r m a . K a g y u . T r a d i t i o n

His Holiness The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Thaye Dorje Visits the Central Coast of California
(photo © Karine Lepajolec)

The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa and his party of nine, including Thinley Tulku Rinpoche, left Menlo Park early on the morning of Friday, July 25, to travel to Santa Barbara for the Karmapa's first public visit in the United States. Their first stop along the Central Coast was to the San Luis Obispo BodhiPath Buddhist Center where they were served a generous lunch. Shortly afterwards, more than 200 people warmly welcomed the Gyalwa Karmapa at the Inn at Morro Bay. There the Karmapa blessed the local community and gave the lung (a reading ritual) for The Mahamudra Aspiration of True Meaning by the third Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. After the ceremony, the Karmapa made a private visit to the home of a dying man to offer his prayers and blessing.

Several local newspapers carried the story the next day including the San Luis Obispo Tribune, which printed a large photo of the Karmapa on the front page accompanied by an article headlined, "Energizing Visit -- Blessed Touch: Teachings From The Source." Andrew Schaffner from the San Luis BodhiPath Center was quoted, "It's receiving teachings from the source. The body of knowledge, the whole corpus, gets passed from one Karmapa to the next. Now that the Karmapa has come of age, he is the vessel for this entire corpus of knowledge for this lineage." In the New Times paper, Bart Mendel, Director of the Santa Barbara BodhiPath Center was quoted, "His Holiness is a Dharma King. He is a teacher who has vowed to reincarnate continuously over many lifetimes in order to guide beings from their suffering."

Continuing their journey down the coast, the Karmapa's party was escorted to Santa Barbara by Bart Mendel and Suzan Garner of the Santa Barbara BodhiPath Buddhist Center. Upon arrival, the group enjoyed a Tibetan style meal prepared by Hecate Gould, mother of Thinley Tulku Rinpoche.

The Karmapa gave the Vajrayogini Empowerment on Saturday, July 26, to about 130 ngondro practitioners under a big white tent in the garden of the Santa Barbara Center. Participants traveled from 10 different countries to receive this Empowerment given by for the first time by the 17th Karmapa. According to Shamar Rinpoche, receiving this Vajrayogini Empowerment (Tib. Dorje Phagmo) is particularly auspicious because His Holiness had been in retreat during the past year practicing this sadhana. The Vajrayogini Empowerment composed by the 8th Karmapa is of great importance as it is a main yidam practice for Kagyu practitioners. Even though His Holiness performed most of the Initiation in Tibetan with Thinley Tulku serving as translator, frequently the Karmapa addressed the group in English with explanations and instructions.

On Sunday, July 27, the Karmapa gave the Milarepa Empowerment to about 350 people at the beautiful and historic Lobero Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara, site of a Black Crown ceremony given by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa in 1980. Such an empowerment is an auspicious joining of the awareness of the recipient, the mind of a living realized master and the profound lineage of Milarepa (1040-1123). Renowned for having undergone immense hardships in order to attain enlightenment in one lifetime, Milarepa, a forefather of the Kagyu lineage, is considered to be Tibet's greatest poet and one of its most beloved yogis. Again, this was the first time the 17th Karmapa performed the Empowerment of Milarepa. At the conclusion of the Initiation Lama Khedrub, Spiritual Director of the Santa Barbara Center offered a mandala to the Karmapa. After the ceremony the audience was invited on stage where each person was individually blessed by the Karmapa and the ritual objects of Empowerment.

Several local reporters and a television station reported on the event. Bart Mendel was quoted in the South Coast Beacon newspaper as saying, "It's amazing to see someone so young manifest such maturity and brilliance. The Karmapa bestowed tremendous blessings on the entire crowd."

After the official empowerments, the BodhiPath Buddhist Center was quite fortunate to have the Karmapa spend several more days with them in Santa Barbara. During that time the Karmapa was able to rest, took in some local sites and enjoyed activities such as jetting out to sea on the Condor, a high-speed whale watching boat. The trip was quite a success as the group saw many dolphins, sea lions and whales swimming gracefully through the ocean.

The Karmapa departed Santa Barbara on Wednesday, July 30, with the promise of many returns to teach more extensively in the near future.

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