The Karmapa lineage in Tibet currently is in the 17th incarnation – that is to say that it could be interpreted as older than the Dalai Lama’s lineage which is currently in the 14th incarnation.
I had never heard of the Karmapa or anything about him or the lineage, until Krishnan invited me to go to the public audience on Wednesday afternoon. So on a stunningly clear Wednesday afternoon, we took a rickshaw winding downhill through the backroads of Dharamsala and down a small alleyway we arrived. A structure framed by snowcapped peaks, the monastery is in immaculate condition and the central temple invites you magnetically to come see what it holds in store.
We registered with our passports and went to sit in the hall, which had maybe 300 people, a mix ranging from blond hippie types, Tibetan families, Buddhist pilgrims from all over Asia…typical for Dharamsala, I suppose. I sat down and started to meditate, and was instantly taken over by what I can best describe as electric shocks running all through my body, up my spine and spreading through my arms. The energy was so potent, strong, pure, and it felt so old. I don’t know how to explain. It didn’t inspire the type of bliss that I have experienced with Sadhguru. More closely, it inspired some giant thunderbolt exclamation mark and a simultaneous question mark. HUH?!
There was a flurry of movement as 3 or 4 monks came in, and arranged themselves in the front of the room. People scrambled up and got in line, which moved very quickly, offering the traditional white scarves (faux pas we didn’t have them), and then receiving a red thread from the Karmapa – who, I didn’t even know who he was because he didn’t distinguish himself from the others in any way on the physical level, honestly I could only guess who he was because he was the one in the middle with the red rope. And as quickly as it started, it was over. We had presumed there would be some sort of talk given – we wondered whether he would speak in English or Tibetan – but no such luck. So in the midst of this confusion and speed, we stuck around for awhile. I was stunned speechless. What the hell was that, and what did it mean? I found it very hard to speak for several hours.
Good thing we went to Norbulingka afterwards. This is a breathtaking, instantly calming, peaceful institution also located in Dharamsala. A cultural institution dedicated to preserving all aspects of Tibetan culture, they have workshops on woodcarving, textiles, and of course a gorgeous temple. All this is interwoven through GREEN foliage and water running everywhere…something so Japanese about the ambiance. I felt at home. Despite all the imperfections I see in Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj, and of course the whole Tibetan situation overall, I am so grateful that there is some hope for Tibetan culture to survive to some extent in this refuge.