Tuesday, May 20, 2008

HH Karmapa in America 2008

Last weekend I had the great privilege to attend His Holiness the 17th Karmapa first public teaching in America. To me it was more than just privilege but very fortunate to have this opportunity to receive His Holiness teaching in person, because I was only very recently took refuge in Tibetan Buddhism, April 28 to be exact.

His Holiness arrived in New York City on May 15, the first stop of His inauguration trip to America. Here is a very good website detailing His Holiness daily activities.

The following are my account of the event. First day's teaching was in Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th Street, the 16th Karmapa had also given a public teaching there more than 3 decades ago. There was a morning and afternoon teaching on"Awakening the Heart of Enlightenment" I mistakenly thought that they're the same teaching in 2 sessions, but in fact it was 2 different teachings, the afternoon session was the continuation of the morning session. Bummer!

I arrived to the afternoon session around noon, there're already a long line of people standing in front of the Manhattan center. As I stood there waiting to be let in, I noticed there were about 5 NYPD cars parked across the street. Curious about the security measure the city provided for His Holiness visit, I asked the security personnel and glad to find out that the FBI and even Secret Service were involved to ensure His Holiness's safety. However the security at the door was not as tight. There was only metal detector but no X-ray scanner to scan bags, all bags were searched by hand.

I was on the 3rd floor box seat, very closed to the stage but on the side of the stage. I was under the impression that cameras were not allow inside the ballroom, mainly because it said so on the website. So I didn't bring my camera, as it turned out no one enforced the rule and flashes were fired all over the ballroom, bummer #2 for me. Never again will I obey rule posted on a website. However I was managed to take a few pictures with my cell phone when I was outside, but the interior of the ballroom was too dark for my puny camera phone. Among the audience, the majority was caucasian and a large number of Tibetan dressed in beautiful traditional costume. To me coming to the event is religious and intellectual pilgrimage, a privilege to see His Holiness and to receive His Holiness teaching in person. It doesn't matter if you're a Buddhist or not, we're all believer of kindness and compassion. Not to say that we're all kind and compassionate, but we're here to learn, to become.

The afternoon teaching began with a musical guest performing contemporary music, which I found to be a bit out of place, I'd expect to hear chanting of Karmapa Chenno or singing of Buddhist Mantras instead of a folk song. While impatiently waited for the song to end, I had a glimpse of His Holiness from behind the curtain. As soon as H.H. stepped onto the stage, the whole place went silence, everyone immediately stood up, with palms closed in front of their chest. It was surreal, His Holiness, the 17th Karmapa was right in front all of us. I had never seen anything in such extraordinary high fidelity before, His Holiness literally glowed on stage. The color of His robe, His glasses and His entire profile were in such clear and sharp focus. But the crystal clear image of His Holiness was quickly distorted by my teary eyes, I didn't know why I cried, it just happened.

His Holiness's teaching was very lively and humorous. My favorite was when His Holiness noted that the stop-and-go traffic in New York City was "a challenge" for patience, especially if you have a cup of hot coffee with you :).

Day 2's teaching was at the Waldorf Astoria, I was told that His Holiness was staying in this hotel during His visit in New York City. As expected, the line was formed long before noon for the 2 PM teaching. The hotel staff made a mistake arranging the seats in my seating area. Our seating area was in a room separated by a wall of French doors next to the main floor. Before the teaching began, the doors would be opened and we would have a partial view of the stage. But believe it or not, the staff arranged the chairs to face the opposite direction of the stage. Obviously most of us turned our chair around, to face the stage. It was a pretty chaotic scene, many not only turned their chair around, but rearranged the chair to ensure a good view of the stage. As you can imagine the result was many chairs right along the wall of doors. Just before the teaching began, someone from the hotel came to our room, announced that once the doors open, we're allowed to enter the main floor and stood on the side line. Woohoo! Sure better than sitting in a room watching the giant screen.

Needless to say, I brought my camera with me today, but only after taking 2 pictures before His Holiness even arrived, a security personnel came to me and told me that no camera was allowed, at the same time flashes were going off all over the ballroom, whatever! I put my camera away and thought to myself, unless she was going to stare at me the whole afternoon, she would not stop me from taking more pictures.

HH took the stage and received the same respectful silent standing ovation from the audience. But today I noticed a handful of people gave the highest respect to His Holiness with the 3 kneeling-bowing ritual. I didn't see anyone did that yesterday, and was caught by surprise. I thought to myself that I should have done that too. After the intermission, the security was loosen up a bit so I walked to the back of the main floor directly facing the stage, as soon as His Holiness stepped back onto the stage, I took my chance to perform the ritual to His Holiness, this time I noticed there were more people did the same too. It's never too late to learn and never too late to give your respect.

His Holiness teachings were full of philosophical wisdom, which I don't pretend to understand all of them, there were many thoughts for this new Buddhist to ponder that's for sure.

The afternoon began with the representative from Major's office proclaimed this week to be "His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Week" in New York City; ended with the event coordinator from the New York City side gave a slightly inappropriate yet touching closing note. She referred to His Holiness as "His Hottie-ness" as she was struck by His Holiness's good look.

It appeared to me from her speech that from the beginning coordinating this event was a messy job to her, but toward the end, after meeting His Holiness and watching His Holiness stood in the rain offering flowers and prayers to the victims of 9/11 at Ground Zero, she began to "fall in love", as she said with her voice began to break down and choked up with tears, His Holiness tremendous kindness, grace and compassion touched her. She expressed gratitude to His Holiness for stepping up to lead the world when the world so desperately needed a good leader, a round of applauds roared through the ballroom. That was a good line to mark the end of the evening.

I left the event feeling rejuvinated and inspired.

For you, my beloved Neko, I want to be a better person.

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