A Historic Moment for UK Buddhism: Joy Abounds at the Karmapa’s Return

by Karma Wangdu on 20 May, 2017

London, England – May 17, 2017

The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, arrived safely in central London this afternoon on his first ever visit to the United Kingdom. His plane touched down mid-afternoon at London’s Heathrow airport at the end of a nine-hour flight from India.  After an 18-mile drive across west London, the Karmapa finally arrived at his hotel still looking fresh and invigorated. He was welcomed initially by senior rinpoches, the event organisers, and the hotel management.

In a video message released shortly before he left India, the 17th Karmapa declared his aspiration that the visit would be an opportunity to renew the strong dharmic connection between the Karmapa lineage and the United Kingdom established by his predecessor, the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, who visited the United Kingdom on all three of his world tours.

The 16th Karmapa’s first European tour (1974 to 1975) began with three weeks in Scotland at Samye Ling, the Tibetan Buddhist monastery established by Akong Rinpoche, and also included a visit to Chime Rinpoche’s Kham House Dharma Centre (later renamed Marpa House), where the Karmapa gave a Milarepa empowerment. In 1977 on his second tour, the 16th Karmapa returned to Kham House and once more bestowed a Milarepa empowerment. He also revisited Samye Ling to give teachings and perform the Black Crown ceremony, a ritual unique to the Karmapa lineage. While there, at the request of Akong Rinpoche, the Karmapa sealed his presence by leaving a footprint on a rock in the grounds of the Purelands Retreat Centre near Samye Ling, and it can still be seen.  He made a last private visit in May 1980 on his way to the United States.

Now, after thirty-seven long years, on a rainy afternoon in London, the Karmapa had returned to the UK. As he walked slowly past a long line of devotees offering white katas,   the 17th Karmapa smiled warmly at everyone, stopping briefly to speak with some. He seemed delighted to meet so many people, and the overcast weather outside could not dampen the joy which pervaded the occasion.

In the official reception which followed, the Karmapa sat at the center of the head table, flanked by the three senior rinpoches resident in the UK— Chime Rinpoche, Ato Rinpoche, and Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche. All three were disciples of the 16th Karmapa, who have been resident in the UK since the 1960s and hold British citizenship. The 17th Karmapa was relaxed and obviously very happy to be in London.  To mark the occasion, he momentarily posed for photographs with a Union Jack flag and a model of Big Ben, then resumed chatting with the three senior rinpoches and Ringu Tulku, head of Karmapa Foundation Europe and the 17th Karmapa’s representative in Europe.

Rather than the traditional welcome of Tibetan tea and sweet rice, the reception took the form of a traditional English afternoon tea. Sandwiches and cakes were delicately arranged on three-tiered stands and included that most traditional of English afternoon treats, freshly baked fruit scones, strawberry jam and cream, all served with copious cups of English tea.

In a short welcome speech, Jo Hollingbery noted how both Tibetans and Britons share a mutual understanding of the importance of history, and expressed both joy and gratitude that His Holiness was finally able to visit the UK.

“Our cultures have a shared understanding of the importance of lineage and its preservation,” she said. “Tibetan Buddhism is preserving the sacred lineage of the Buddha’s teachings, and it is for this reason that we in the UK are so delighted to welcome you, Your Holiness the 17th Karmapa,  to our country, thereby creating another precious link in that lineage.”

Chonpel Tsering, the official representative of the Office of Tibet in London, also spoke briefly, welcoming the Karmapa on behalf of the Office of Tibet and the UK Tibetan community.

Many of those at the reception seemed overwhelmed by the momentousness of the occasion. “It’s like a dream come true,” one rinpoche was overheard to say.

Ato Rinpoche, who served as an attendant of the 16th Karmapa and has lived in the UK since 1967, summed it up: “Three times His Holiness the 16th Karmapa came, and now the 17th  Karmapa Orgyen Trinley has come. We are all delighted. We’re simply over the moon.”

After two days of sight-seeing and private engagements, His Holiness the Karmapa will give a three-session teaching on Geshe Langri Thangpa’s Eight Verses of Mind Training and also a Chenresik Empowerment (20-21 May, 2017). His first visit to the United Kingdom will last eleven days. On the 29th May he leaves London to continue his tour in Canada.

Other  guests at the special reception included Chamsing Ngodup Pelzom,  Drupon Dechen Rinpoche,  Chloe Roberts (Official Organiser), Lama Rabsang,  Geshe Tashi Tsering (Jamyang Buddhist Centre), Tenzin Kunga (Office of Tibet), Pempa Lobsang (Tibetan Community Chair) Pemba Bhutia (Tibetan Community Deputy Chair), Kaji Sherpa (BCC),Yangdi Sherpa (BCC), Narayan Prasad Gurung (BCC), Yuwu Kumari Gurung (BCC), and Harka Gurung (BCC).