Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche the Shrine Builder

FIRST in a Series 

This story is part of a series leading up to the celebration of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s 90th birthday in September, 2013.  At the conclusion of this year’s Ten-Day Teaching, a large shrine dedicated to White Tara, the protectress of health and longevity, will be assembled at KTD as part of a three-day White Tara Puja for the benefit of His Holiness Karmapa, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, and all the teachers of the lineage. The White Tara Shrine will include beautiful statues consecrated by Khenpo Rinpoche.  To find out more, click here.

Khenpo Rinpoche in his workshop at Karme Ling; as his nephew Lama Karma Drodhul says, "Does Rinpoche rest when he has no teaching? Well, he goes to Karme Ling and then he is always in his work shop! Karmapa Chenno!"
Khenpo Rinpoche in his workshop at Karme Ling; as his nephew Lama Karma Drodhul says, “Does Rinpoche rest when he has no teaching? Well, he goes to Karme Ling and then he is always in his work shop! Karmapa Chenno!”

From the time of his boyhood in Tibet, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche had an eye for beautiful things and the ability to create them with remarkable precision.

“He is someone who was very creative even when he was little,” says Lama Karma Drodhul, Rinpoche’s primary attendant and assistant (as well as his nephew). “He was always sewing different brocades or had a knife with him for shaving wood, he was always building something. He was very, very good, even when he was a child.”

After completing his advanced dharma training, that same sharp eye for detail and beauty proved useful to him. He became Thrangu Rinpoche’s Chöpön (Shrine Master), caring for the shrines of Thrangu Monastery and traveling to build others around Tibet.

His Holiness Karmapa visits the Shrine of the Columbarium in 2010.
His Holiness Karmapa visits the Shrine of the Columbarium in 2010. Photo by Michael Erlewine.

“A few years he traveled with Thrangu Rinpoche, performing pujas in nomadic areas and we always have to lot of things to carry, including all the shrine stuff on horseback,” says Lama Karma.  “He tells stories sometimes that the other monks would say “oh Khenpo, you should pack, because you have a miraculous power to fit everything in that little suitcase.”

When Rinpoche was given the task of helping to establish a North American seat for the Sixteenth Karmapa in 1974, his work as a shrine-builder continued.

As he traveled around the country, teaching the dharma and helping to establish new KTC centers, shrines were created under his careful supervision.

“Rinpoche is an individual who doesn’t want us to see us do something sloppy,” says Lama Karma. “When we pack, he’s sitting right there and he wants to make sure everything packs well.”

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The shrine room of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. Photo by Robert Hansen-Sturm.
Special Amitabha Shrine.
Khenpo Rinpoche’s talent for hand-decoration of sacred objects shows in the fine placement of ornaments on a small stupa at the Karme Ling Retreat Center. Photo by Lama Kathy Wesley.

His role as a shrine-builder has been virtually unceasing and continually precise. He created KTD’s main shrine, the Stupa shrine, the North American Kagyu Monlam Shrine, the Karme Ling Columbarium Shrine and the annual Winter Amitabha Retreat shrine.

As he has continued to travel to various KTCs to teach, he has always answered his student’s questions and offered insights and instruction into the building of a shrine, much like his days on horseback in Tibet.

Amitabha Shrine at KTD. Photo, Stephanie Colvey.
Winter Amitabha Retreat Shrine at KTD. Photo, Stephanie Colvey.

“It’s different transportation but the packing and building is actually the same,” says Lama Karma. “We always have to set up and pack and then set up something – this is the way you put the ribbons on the vase, etc., there’s a unique style. And every time he shows you this kind of detail, he’s basically giving you a very special teaching.”

– Tracy Zollinger Turner, Columbus KTC 

Shrine for the North American Kagyu Monlam. Photo by Lama Yeshe Wangmo.
Shrine for the North American Kagyu Monlam. Photo by Lama Yeshe Wangmo.

You can participate in the White Tara Shrine project by “adopting” an 8-inch White Tara statue to take home after the September puja, or donating toward a 24-inch White Tara Statue to be given to Khenpo Rinpoche for his birthday. Proceeds benefit His Holiness’ activities at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. Click here for details.

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