Before dawn we run through dampened streets to the stupa to take the sojong vows. On one side are piles of rubbish with cows and dogs feeding on the remains. As I approach the gate, the sirens scream as His Holiness Karmapa gets out of the car surrounded by bodyguards and walks down the steps to take his place on a meditation cushion in front of a red brocade hanging, emblazoned with a gold phoenix in the center of the shrine.
We repeat the vows in Tibetan following the tones of his voice, then recite the prayers in Sanskrit in a mesmerizing melody that seems to come out of the ancient earth of mother India. As dawn breaks we get cups of tea and buns to break our fast. The stupas with marigold garlands catch the early morning light.
Karmapa circumambulates the inner kora and then reappears to sit facing a blue Buddha to perform the Medicine Buddha puja. An old man holding an incense burner wafts the pungent smoke in our direction.
At mid morning the Kangyur procession begins as the Gelongs and Gelongmas each hold a text of the sacred canon covered in a gold cloth and walk slowly, eyes cast downwards, around the outer kora of the temple. (I count seven Gelongmas this year, a small increase since last year.) Then they move solemnly down the steps to walk the inner kora. I try to stand close to the front of a jostling excited crowd of Tibetans and Chinese. European faces are not as numerous as in previous years, it seems. Mingyur Rinpoche, Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, all in brocade hats, pass by. And then there is the buzz of frenzy as HH Karmapa moves into view, his face as full as the moon. Click go the cameras. The sight of Karmapa’s face close up is so fulfilling, it feels like all wishes come to fruition in one instant of perfection.
Later in the morning Khenpo Tsultrim Rinpoche appears helped down the steps towards the bodhi tree by Ponlop Rinpoche. At this moment his face is radiant and clear and he appears stronger than I expected.