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At 4 pm on March 23, an entourage of monks walked slowly through the Deer Park in Sarnath, the site where the Buddha first turned the Wheel of the Law after attaining enlightenment. We all gazed at the unmistakeable outline of HH Karmapa, as he walked rhythmically towards the deer. A golden parasol was held aloft to shade him from the sun’s rays. The deer leaped into the air and frolicked excitedly in anticipation, as he tossed some carrots into their enclosure.
Then he sat on a throne with a canopy of garlands around it facing the huge stone edifice of Dhamekh Stupa, built by King Ashoka, and made prayers for auspiciousness. All the monks and followers sat on the grass enjoying precious moments of tranquillity. HH Karmapa did several circumambulations of the stupa, then walked slowly towards the main temple containing a relic of the Buddha. Inside the temple he sat down on the floor in front of the huge golden Buddha, while the recitations continued.

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It’s like I should be thanking the earth and sky.
HH Karmapa, Sarnath 2011

In the famous cave paintings at Ajanta there are frescoes of street scenes in India during the Buddha’s time: courtesans, beggars, kings, romantic couples, animals. There is a sensuality about these scenes completely different to the idealism of Tibetan tangkha paintings. Not even the famous bodhisattva Padmapani is sitting on a white fluffy cloud. Thousands of years ago the Buddha was out on the streets with the ordinary people of his time, sharing the human condition in all its colourful display. In a memorable close up he is standing next to his wife and son. The image is striking because the Buddha is shown as a gigantic figure next to two very tiny people. He walks the earth like everyone else but his spiritual greatness makes him tower above everyone.

The teachings in Sarnath reminded me of these paintings. The Karmapa was admittedly not in top form for the first day. It seemed like the vicious attacks from the press had naturally affected his spirits. “On the first day I felt like I was talking in my sleep”, he admitted. “So I didn’t feel like I taught you the dharma. But maybe I should thank time. It’s the kindness of time that it always changes. We had four days and so I would like thank time for continuing to change.

As the days moved along, the teachings started to come out through the engagement of the listeners. The first question was about maintaining equanimity in the face of lies and adversity:

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On the third day of Losar HH Karmapa performed a special Guan Gong Puja (Tsurphu Protector) in the evening outside in front of Vajra Vidya Monastery. At the end he donned a black ceremonial hat to the delight of the onlookers. The evening concluded with a burst of fireworks which seemed to amuse His Holiness, and were loud enough to terrify the demons of the entire chiliocosm.

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Happy Losar from all of us at Vayra Vidya Institute in Sarnath


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