On the 8th day of the Tibetan new year, the Year of the Water Snake, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa made a pilgrimage to the Dhamek stupa in Sarnath, one of the holiest sites for Buddhists. By 8:00 a.m., the monks, students, and foreign visitors staying at the Vajravidya Institute had made their way to the stupa, which sits amid a cluster of ruins on the site where the Buddha first turned the wheel of the dharma, teaching the Four Noble Truths.
Pilgrims from many countries were also present, despite the early hour. Some touched the stupa reverently with their foreheads, while others circumambulated it. Still others watched with curiosity as the Vajravidya monks readied a small shrine for the puja. The stupa had been garlanded for the occasion with bright orange carnations and small streamers of white flowers. It looked majestic and festive.
Shortly after 8:00, the Tibetan gyalings sounded His Holiness’s arrival. Led by an escort of Khenpos wearing ceremonial yellow hats and carrying incense, he walked the long path to the stupa, stopping to accept khatas and greet people along the way. He completed one kora around the stupa and then offered three prostrations before settling onto a simple throne at the front of the assembly of monks and lay people.
For about half an hour, the assembly chanted aspiration prayers, many of them familiar to those who have attended the Kagyu Monlam either in India or abroad. The monks recalled the deeds of the Buddha and made prayers for auspiciousness and wellbeing during the coming year. They prayed for the Karma Kagyu lineage and for the lamas’ long lives. Delicious mango juice boxes were passed around.
Occasionally, the voices of pilgrim groups chanting from the sutras mingled with the chants of the Tibetan assembly. And in one lovely instance, a group of pilgrims, dressed in white as is customary for many Southeast Asian traditions, circumambulated the stupa while casting curious glances at His Holiness. Their leader, a monk robed in orange, was unabashedly filming the puja from his place at the head of the line.
It is said that making aspiration prayers at holy sites is one of the best ways to accumulate merit. In making this trip to the Dhamek stupa on the auspicious 8th day of the new year, His Holiness made this activity possible for many others, generating countless virtue for his students and for the many spectators and pilgrims who witnessed his activity. As Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche reminds us so often, we can all share in the vast merit of others’ virtuous actions, simply by rejoicing in them. On this simple yet profound occasion there was much reason to rejoice.
— Amy Schwartz