Posts Tagged ‘memories’

Paris, 1977

Mainly because of having just inherited a superb Citroen DS (same model as the French President’s), I got to drive HH the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa in Paris, a city he did not know. One day, he wanted, as he often did, to go and buy birds. We were told that these were sometimes reincarnations of his previous disciples, with the mixed karma of being reborn an animal but an animal nevertheless close to the Buddha. I took him to the famous Quai de Mégisseries, with its row of bird shops but he quickly perused all of them without interest. We left and he started directing me, “Left here, now right…” into completely unknown territory. After some ten minutes, I assumed he was having a huge joke at my expense (he had a wonderful sense of humour), as there was no way he could have any idea of the layout of Paris. My tangible anxiety at being totally lost changed briefly to relief and a sense of triumph when he said “Left” and I could see the street sign saying it was a cul-de-sac: joke over. Delighted, he got out of the car and walked straight into the pet shop at the end of the street and directly to the birds he wanted. Back in the car, with the birds on board and seeing me completely lost, His Holiness directed me skilfully home to where he was staying. I simply marvelled. Better than SatNav? Of course – who wouldn’t want a SatNav with the Karmapa’s beautiful voice and protective presence?

Ken Holmes,
Director of Studies,
Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery.

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Grandfather Burt is a very secretive man with some interesting stories to tell about his meetings with His Holiness the 16th Karmapa. If we hadn’t met in a dark corridor one evening, he would never have revealed a single word. But on that auspicious occasion our minds joined and I jotted down his personal memoir.

‘When the 16th Karmapa was visiting one day he told me he wanted to buy some mules. What on earth do you want mules for?’ I asked him. He explained that these are not the mules we all know as mules; they are in fact a cross between a canary and a wild song bird which are noted for their enchanting song. By chance we found some breeders of ‘mules’ nearby in the heads of the valleys.

After a short journey, we knocked at the door of the Jones house and Mrs Jones invited us in. The Karmapa was in robes of course and Mrs Jones looked at him with friendly curiosity. Soon we were sitting down and having tea with the Jones’ family and soon everyone was in high spirits. Mr Jones showed us his rare cross breed collection of ‘mules’. The Karmapa selected a few birds and they were put into cages to travel home. As he opened his wallet to pay for the birds, a sudden gust of wind swirled through his wallet lifting the notes. I ran after them trying to catch as many as I could. The Karmapa was watching and roaring with laughing as I ran to and fro over the garden driven by the wind. I returned all the notes I collected to him. Thereupon he gave me one back. I looked at the £50 note which was a lot of money in those days and said no, I could not keep it. But the Karmapa insisted. After three attempts to return the money I decided it was useless to argue with His Holiness. I have kept it all these years treasuring the moment which ended on such a high note!’
Grandfather Burt smiled with delight and winked mischievously.

edited by Naomi Levine

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by Rager Ossel

In 1976 I got off a truck at Rumtek Monastery. No one knew I was coming but apparently His Holiness asked a monk to go down into the fields to pick me up. The monk took my luggage as we ran uphill towards the Karmapa’s summer palace. They pulled me, ‘Come, Come,Come’. As I passed the guesthouse the jalings started. His Holiness was outside in front of the summer palace, sitting on a small throne with a wall behind him, holding the Black Crown in his hands. He waited for me to sit down in front, looked at me and then he put the Crown on his head. I had no idea about anything. That was the first meeting. It was like everything was synchronized; the timing was exact.
He entered into a deep (meditation) .. it was like we melted.. It was a meeting in which I went into his being, his world. Everything danced like that, very spontaneously.

We were going shopping for birds in the countryside of Holland driving towards a well-known breeder. En route we drove through a small village. His Holiness said stop here. We went to the door of a very simple house and rang the doorbell. The wife opened the door. I asked if they had birds. And she said yes and invited us through the house to the back yard. Her husband was there. Birds were sitting on his hands and shoulders. His Holiness especially loved golden finches. The man was at one with the birds and soon they were both talking continuously to the birds. Their sound was so beautiful; it was an experience to hear it. The man brought out a huge bird cage and placed a very ill bird into His Holiness’ hands; immediately it flew away. He put a few birds into a cage and gave it to His Holiness. So we got his birds but we never made it to the shop and we actually didn’t meet the big bird breeder at all.


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It was 1977, in the Château de Chaban, Dordogne, France. His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa was holding group interviews. As one of his secretaries, I was hovering outside the room in which they took place. When the party (of mixed nationalities) emerged, an ecstatic lady came straight to me saying, in a very strong accent, “I had no idea he spoke Italian … and so beautifully and so perfectly. And, it’s incredible, he spoke just about what was on my mind!” During my six months travelling with His Holiness, driving him sometimes, these instances of mind-to-mind communication, which people automatically “heard” in their own language, were so numerous as to seem “normal” after a while. It helps explain such things as why, in the Buddha’s sixty qualities of speech, he can be heard by those at the back of a huge crowd just as clearly as by those at the front.

Ken Holmes
Director of Studies
Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery

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From H.H. Karmapa’s 16 visit to Karme Choling in Vermont
by Stefan Carmien

In 1980 (or 79 or 81 it’s a bit fuzzy) we were at the end of a North America tour of HHK 16 and being told that he was asking wherever he went “are there bears here?” and we, the staff, took it upon ourselves to arrange the rental of a bear costume. I got into it. He would often spend the early afternoon looking out over the land from the landing in the converted dormitory. On this day we arranged for me to amble towards the barn from a retreat cabin and then had the Kasung chase me out of the woods and capture me. I lumbered up the outside stairs to the top and pulled out a khata and offered it to him – he blessed my nose & I will always remember seeing his hand through the restricted eyehole of the bear head reaching out to gently bless his bear.

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Today, December 8th is the opening ceremony to commemorate 900 years of the Kagyu Lineage. As an offering in celebration of this momentous occasion, we are starting our series, Memories, Dreams, and Reflections of the 16th Karmapa. Most of these timeless stories took place when the 16th Karmapa was on the road, travelling from place to place, stopping where he wanted, and interacting with people spontaneously. We dedicate it to the freedom of the 17th Karmapa. May his buddha activity spread in all directions until the whole world is ablaze with the light of dharma.


Maia Saabye Christensen

I met the 16th Karmapa when I was 6 years old in Denmark on his first trip to the west. On my first meeting he gave the Black Crown ceremony. I remember every second of that ceremony crystal clear as if it was yesterday. There is a quality to that Black Crown Ceremony that makes it so fresh -it doesn’t fade. It’s like there have been no time layers since then. Now when I think about it in perspective I would say it was being as awake as you can be. I remember the Karmapa holding the Black Crown, every detail in the room, the sound, the smell, the way everything happened in order. When we arrived at the place there was a huge courtyard in front. The monks had been given bicycles and they were riding the bicycles in the yard. I showed them how to cycle. Then we went into a palatial hall with pillars. I remember the excitement in the voices of the people and a feeling of expectancy. There was a lot of incense in the air. The sun came in through the huge windows and made rays like angel hair. I remember how it came into the room and lit up the incense smoke. Then we went in and sat down in the midst of it all.


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The long awaited Karmapa 900 website will be live on December 7.


We will not be covering the special events on these two days but will begin our series, Memories, Dreams and Reflections of the 16th Karmapa to accompany the 900th anniversary on our blog.

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