When His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa comes to visit KTD, it takes a lot of work. Stepping into the breach is a small army of volunteers, bringing devotion for His Holiness and a willingness to do whatever it takes to make his visit a success. They are washing floors, emptying trash cans, parking the cars, standing in the rain to check badges while others are enjoying the teachings, cooking meals, washing dishes, serving the lamas at meals, planting daffodils, taking photographs, and manning the front desk. Caring for His Holiness – which means ensuring his comfort – is of the utmost importance. Besides caring for His Holiness, volunteers are caring for His Holiness’ guests – in this case, 500 KTD members, donors and friends who visited the campus April 19 and 20 (250 each day) for a morning and afternoon of teaching with His Holiness. Welcoming them, registering them, setting out seats and meals for them and making sure they have rides and parking places – a lot goes into hosting teachings by His Holiness at KTD.
This is hard work, but comes with one great perk: a dormitory bed at the monastery during His Holiness’s visit. This is something even money can’t buy. Space is limited and the demand great. Most of KTD’s beds are filled this week with monastics, lamas and the retinue of monks, nuns, advisors and security people traveling with His Holiness. And because security is so important, it’s not easy to get one of those volunteer slots.
“A lot of people volunteered, but they weren’t people we knew,” says Linda Patrik, KTD’s director of operations and a member of the planning committee that prepared for the visit. “We were looking for people with a long history of volunteering at KTD, people we knew to be reliable, responsible and hard-working.” Many people were invited to volunteer, based on their previous history of volunteerism at KTD when His Holiness isn’t there. Others came from KTD’s national network of Karma Thegsum Choling centers.
One such person is Cassandra Hogue, a long-time student of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche who comes to KTD from Philadelphia every six weeks to attend teachings and volunteer. She did lama service during meals, then ran to the front office to help with registration, badges and whatever else was needed. “It’s a way of practicing that is incredibly precious,” Cassandra says. “It’s a privilege to be able to offer my service to His Holiness the Karmapa, and not only when he is here. I also want to help Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche fulfill his devotion to his guru. [The 16th] Karmapa told him to build and maintain this place, and I want to support my teacher’s aspirations.”
There were almost endless jobs to be done, but a finite number of volunteers who could fill them. “We had to cap it at 20 because there weren’t enough beds,” Linda says. “And they had to be willing to do two or three jobs — park cars in the morning, wash dishes at lunch, and then clean the bathrooms at night.”
Everyone on site was involved. KTD literally couldn’t have done it without the volunteer help, both during the visit, and before — even long before.
Jacqui Gantnier, who trained in floral design and landscaping, has volunteered for KTD for 25 years, working in the gardens and arranging the flowers. She worked 12-hour days before His Holiness arrived, cutting back the old foliage, raking out the beds, planting daffodils and pansies, replanting the massive urns at the gompa entrance, arranging the plants and flowers beside Karmapa’s throne, to make the grounds and shrine room more beautiful.
“It’s skill that I have, and my way to give back because I’ve gotten so much from KTD on a personal and spiritual level,” Gantnier says. “Flowers are the symbol of generosity in Tibetan Buddhism, and they open your heart.” And the generous work of the volunteers opens our hearts.
— Anitra Brown
All photos, Stephanie Colvey
EDITOR’S NOTE: We could not include photos of all the wonderful volunteers who made His Holiness’ visit a reality; but here are the names of the valiant volunteers, who cooked, cleaned, worked security, picked up trash, helped visitors, took photos, wrote stories and generally assisted us during the visit. May all beings benefit. Karmapa Chenno!
Mary Ann Duncan
Fee Li Lie