“How did we get so lucky?” This question arose again and again for those of us from KTD who had the good fortune to be with His Holiness Karmapa in Bodh Gaya for the Kagyu Monlam. I traveled from the U.S. with my dear Dharma sisters Amy McCracken and Susan Thompson, and we soon met up with other KTD friends already in India, including Charles Dawes, Amy Schwartz, Lama Zopa, and PC Chen. Along with approximately 10,000 other participants, we gathered daily for almost two weeks to watch the varied activities of Yi Zhin Norbu (Wish-Fulfilling Jewel), which ranged from incomparable Vajra Master to skillful and accessible Dharma Teacher.
Having been to all of the North American Monlams in the last four years, I was familiar with the chants, especially the transformative effect of the umze leading us through the aspirational prayers. What I did not expect were so many opportunities to be in close proximity to His Holiness at meetings for the public, for members of the Friends for Kagyu Monlam, and in a small group audience in Karmapa’s quarters (kindly organized by Lama Zopa for KTD members).
In these settings, we looked into his eyes and he returned our gaze, he gave us blessed objects with his own hands, and he astonished us with his magnificent presence. What luck indeed to see a living Buddha at close range.
Surely the blessings of Kagyu Monlam will continue to affect me long after my departure from Bodh Gaya. As will the way India worked me over physically and psychologically. Although I’ve visited twice before, the country immediately challenged a long list of “must haves” that I carry around with me: must have a warm room (it was the coldest winter in 40 years in a country where indoor heating is almost non-existent), clean sheets, hot water on demand, electricity 24/7, fresh fruits, veggies and whole grains, unpolluted air, and an inviolable zone of personal space around me. With reality constantly demolishing my imagined “needs,” the only options were: 1) to suffer, or 2) to be open to whatever arises.
Khenpo Rinpoche wisely predicted before I left that there will be difficulties, but he advised never to forget what is really important–bodhichitta. I can’t say that my behavior was always equal to his advice, but I did feel that he and Karmapa were orchestrating everything—from the most difficult trials to the most sublime events—as a way to encourage spiritual growth. What to do after receiving such protection and inspiration? What else but listen to His Holiness’s recurrent message during his teachings: Do something, this very minute, to benefit beings.