The opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Tibetan Autonomous Region is an incomparable blessing, especially a trip that includes a visit to the seat of H.H. the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa in Tibet. Located about 2 hours from the capitol, Lhasa, Tsurphu was established by the first head of the lineage, Dusum Khyenpa.
Today, it consists of many magnificent buildings spread out in a beautiful valley near a roaring river. Innumerable prayer flags cover the nearby mountains; they look like sanctified, multicolored spider webs. Caves and retreat huts, perfect for prolonged meditation, also dot the mountains above the monastery.
Because the Chinese government forbids the open expression of devotion for H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama in Tibet, as well as the fact that Ogyen Trinley Dorje secretly left Tsurphu in 1999 to escape Chinese control, I did not know what to expect when I arrived.
I did not anticipate seeing pictures of His Holiness; on the contrary, I thought that his presence might be effaced. So when I walked into the impressive, recently built library and encountered a 30-foot tall, three-dimensional gilded refuge tree, I was overwhelmed to hear a recording of our beloved Yizhin Norbu chanting “Karmapa Khyenno.”
His picture graced the throne below the objects of refuge; indeed, we saw representations of Karmapa throughout Tsurphu and in many other places we visited in Tibet: shrine rooms of other lineages, restaurants, hotels . . . even our driver had a picture of His Holiness in his car.
His audience hall was intact, and the attendant lama there touched us with a tassel Karmapa had used to bless pilgrims when he was still in residence. In his private quarters, I–and a handful of other pilgrims–saw his childhood library, filled with books about cars, natural history and the world beyond Tibet’s borders.
When we noticed books of fairy tales on his shelves, we recalled his comment on his first visit to KTD—that we in the audience looked like the characters he had read about in his youth. Such experiences made me marvel at the ingenious ways he finds to connect with his followers, to pull us ever more securely into his mandala.
As our group traveled into more and more remote regions of Western Tibet, as the atmosphere thinned, and Mount Kailash loomed before us, Karmapa’s protection extended far beyond the boundaries of Tsurphu.
– Photos and commentary courtesy Karen Lucic