Tibetan Buddhism's oldest reincarnate lineage turns 900

he 17th Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje, center, waiting to receive a statue of Dusum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa, during the opening ceremony of the year-long commemoration of the 900th birth anniversary of the latter, in Bodh Gaya, India, 8 December 2010. Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile Samdhong Rinpoche (second left), Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche (second right), Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche (right) and Speaker Penpa Tsering (left) are seen in the picture. Photo: Lobsang Wangyal

Dharamsala, Dec 9 - The Karmapa lineage commemorated the 900th anniversary of its founding in a grand two-day celebration that was held at Tergar Monastery here in Bodh Gaya. Karma Kagyu, or Kamtsang, is the largest lineage within the Kagyu School, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The celebrations, which marked 900 years since the birth of the first Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa, had Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, as Chief Guest. Also present was Mr. Penpa Tsering, the Speaker of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, high lamas from all religious sects of Tibetan Buddhism and other Buddhist schools, as well as thousands of monks and devotees from India and abroad.

The opening ceremony on the 8th had three hours of pageantry, music and dramatic performances to express gratitude to Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa. The exiled Tibetan leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in a special message for the event, offered his prayers and greetings for a successful conclusion of the celebrations.

Speaking at the ceremony, the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje -- currently the holder of this oldest reincarnate lineage in Tibetan Buddhism – called for people to engage in good deeds and to focus on education. A strong advocate of the green revolution, the Karmapa -- who has been living in India since his dramatic escape from Chinese-occupied Tibet in the year 2000 – appealed to the masses to maintain a cleaner environment.

Born in 1985, the current Karmapa fled from Tsurphu Monastery, the official seat of the Karmapas in central Tibet, and has been living in exile at Gyuto Monastery in Dharamsala, the seat of Tibet’s government in exile. 

Samdhong Rinpoche, in his address, said he was hopeful that the present Karmapa would embody the greatness of his predecessors. Rinpoche detailed the history of the Karmapa lineage, and spoke about the close relations that the Karma Kagyu lineage has with the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug sect, himself received his layman ordination from the 4th Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje, when he was three-years old, Rinpoche said.

The unique tradition of reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism started with the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, who was said to have been born in the year 1110 CE in Dreshö, a part of Dreho in Kham province of Tibet. 

The current Karmapa, while speaking on various issues at a press conference that was held on the sidelines of the celebrations, said he supported the Dalai Lama’s “Middle-Way Policy.”

The Karmapa is due to lead the 28th Karma Kagyu Monlam Chenmo that will be held later this month in Bodh Gaya.

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